Sunday, October 4, 2015

And then there were four...

In "Switchbacks to the Top," I talked about how our homeschool journey has been anything but a straight line. Two weeks ago, our path hit a decisive fork in the road.

Deciding last spring to leave the private school they had attended for two years and bring our girls back home was a pretty simple, straightforward choice. Our boys were another matter. My husband had a very social high school experience, one remembered more for the conviviality of band and theater than for its academic rigor. Despite a decidedly less than stellar secondary education, my husband not only attended college but went on to earn a graduate degree and successfully provide for our family. My background was very different. My father is an academic who believes very strongly in the importance of a rigorous education. My mother, a farm girl from a poor family that depended upon the labor of their children to run their dairy, received a very inadequate education in her youth and worked hard to graduate from college in middle age. The combination of my parents' views resulted in a home were education was not only valued, but a source of camaraderie and enjoyment.

Given our different viewpoints on secondary education, the choice of an academically sub-par public high school or our homeschool was a difficult one. My husband felt strongly that education is what you make of it and that if the boys took what they were offered and maximized their learning, they could still receive an adequate education while also experiencing all the positive social aspects of public high school. Since our boys are solid young men, well-grounded in their value system and faith and surrounded by quality friends, neither of us were too concerned about the influences of the more concerning population of the school.

While I agreed with my husband about the social influences, I was not at all impressed by the academic rigor of the program. My concern was the lack of a laudable curriculum and the fact that the teaching model used in the vast majority of classes was one which used many methods I find both tedious and ineffective. However, I agreed to let the boys take the helm of their education and make their own choice. 

In the end, like most parents, my husband and I reached a compromise. Carter was vehemently opposed to attending the local high school, and his twin brother, Quinn, was very excited about the prospect. We all agreed that they would both give it an honest try and that we would re-evaluate the choice either at semester or the end of the year. What ensued in the following month was surprising for all of us.

Of the two, Quinn is the quiet academic and the social butterfly. Carter takes his studies very seriously and puts a great deal of stress upon himself to do well. Given those facts, I thought that Quinn would take what education came his way and thrive in the social high school atmosphere. Instead, he was the first to become disenchanted with what the school offered, and his reasons were sound. Quinn said that the teachers "yammered at" the class for fifty minutes about things that he "either already knew, could grasp in half the time reading for himself, or couldn't care less about" and rattled off the homework assignment as the bell rang. In short, he was bored, uninspired, and felt like his class time was being wasted, only to have his evenings filled with busy work.

Carter found the work to be lamentable in its lack of academic merit. Both boys were registered in a special program called the World Discovery Seminar. We chose the program for its similarity to the model of teaching that both I and their school of the last two years used. Instead of teaching to a test, as honors and AP classes do, the boys and I felt that the model of collaborative projects, primary source materials, and discussion would be a better fit for both boys. It sounded good in theory, but the reality was far below expectations. As one example of something the boys complained about: they were given portions (not complete) of primary source documents and writings to study. One of the things they were told to do--one of the few generally useful things--in the course of perhaps the silliest method of analysis I have ever seen, was to annotate any vocabulary with which they were unfamiliar. Neither boy found a single word, in a month of school, that they didn't know. I believe them, because I read some of the pieces. Carter kept getting marked down for not highlighting any words; Quinn just picked a few so the teacher would get off his back. Eventually, Carter took a picture of the running vocabulary list that I keep on our white board, defining words from the girls' read-aloud, to show his teacher that his third and sixth grade sisters' vocabulary far exceeded anything in his assignment.

The abysmal standards to which their writing assignments were held--Carter turned in one quickly written paper in science, worried that he would be lucky to get a "C," only to be appalled that it actually earned him an "A"--was a constant source of frustration for both boys. Coming from strong writing backgrounds, and holding themselves to high standards of performance and their teachers to high standards of expectation, they were repeatedly shocked by what was deemed perfectly acceptable.

Both young men quickly came to the same conclusion. Making the most of what you were offered was one thing, but what about when no one was offering anything that even remotely pushed the boundaries of what you already know? How do you improve your vocabulary when the words aren't new? How do you grow as a researcher and writer when work that you do not feel proud of earns you the highest grade in the class and no suggestions for further development? Why is a textbook, with its dull prose and surface knowledge questions at the end of each section, seen as an acceptable way to teach science and history? What good does it do to learn about the beliefs and practices of people and societies in the past if you never coexist with their ideas and philosophies, processing them in relation to your own tenets?

Perhaps the most disturbing element in this whole scenario is the fact that neither of our boys would be classed as academically gifted. They both work very hard for a "B," celebrate an "A," and settle for the odd "C" now and then. The only thing that sets them apart from their peers is that for their first seven years in our homeschool and the two years they spent at private school, they learned that they could be more, do more, experience learning at a different level. They know that even the best student still has more to learn and it is a teacher's job to mentor them towards even greater accomplishments.

And so they chose to come home. Home to the mother who, while I celebrate their achievements, also knows that every paper can be elevated to the next level, every discussion can go deeper, and personal research will trump a textbook every time. They want to be challenged, to feel like their ideas have value, and to understand why their assignments are relevant to who they are and who they are becoming. They need an environment where critical thinking, not just the ability to put the textbook's key points--and other's ideas--into the correct blanks, is fostered.

We welcome the chance to grow and learn together in our homeschool that is now twice the size it was when we all optimistically launched our various academic efforts six weeks ago. Major changes are in the wind for the girls, as we merge their pursuit of knowledge with that of their brothers. We are letting go of some of the elements of our curriculum that have been a mainstay in past years, in favor of new materials that we are opting to explore.

In the coming year, we look forward to sharing our journey, with all its switchbacks, with all of you. Good and bad, we hope that our stories, projects, reviews, and experiences enrich your homeschool, too. If you don't homeschool, we hope you enjoy following us along the trail and learning how education happens for one family who embraces whole books, Socratic Method, and collaboration with other homeschoolers.

BUILDING THE MACHINE - The Common Core Documentary

As homeschool parents, we are very fortunate in that the vast majority of states do not require us to teach to a specific set of standards. Even in Alaska, where we are lucky enough to receive funding for our home schools, we do not have to commit to someone else's set of state standards. When I put together the Individualized Learning Plan for each of my children, I am asked for each subject area if I will teach the state's standards (and if so, check this handy little box here), or if I choose to teach my own set of skills (and if so, please list in the box below those topics and academic goals you will cover). Isn't it interesting that parents of publicly educated children do not have the same choice? Alaskan schools, like those in 44 other states, have adopted Common Core, and they adopted it without due public notice and without a vote by the people. As a homeschooler, I can choose. You cannot.

So why does this detail matter? It matters because I can tailor those topics, skills, and goals to match my children's academic needs in a given moment, without regard to what grade they are in and what they should be learning--whether below, at, or above the standard mean. I can also take into account their individual goals and passions. If public school teachers were given this same opportunity, to tailor what they taught to what their current group of students need and want, your children would receive a much richer academic experience.

Why, as a homeschooler, do I care about Common Core when I am lucky enough to have children who are not going to be affected by it in their K-12 schooling? Because it will affect their college experience. One of the lesser known facts about Common Core is that state universities located in Common Core adopting states, in accepting funding through the initiative, have pledged that any student who has taken a college preparatory course in high school will not be placed in a remedial course upon college entry--they must be placed in a credit awarding course. In an academic climate where 60% of freshman who have taken these so-called preparatory classes end up taking at least one remedial course, there can only be one end result. The standards of the courses will drop in order to meet the students where they are truly at. Those children lucky enough to be educated to a higher standard in secondary school will be funneled into these same dumbed-down general education classes with their peers. 

Every parent makes their own education choices for their children. Homeschooling is not the chosen path for most, for a variety of reasons. Whatever you have chosen for your children, I encourage you to watch the video below. Building the Machine gives some interesting background information about the genesis of Common Core, some of the controversy, and why it matters. This video was produced by a legal organization committed to helping homeschool parents stay current on education legislation that affects all children, not just those who are educated at home, and defending against the encroachment of the federal government and other financial entities into the education of our nation's youth. It basically comes down to one question. Who do you want making critical decisions about your children's education--Washington? Or you?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Odysseus in the Serpent's Maze by Jane Yollen and Robert J. Harris ✮✮✮✮✮

A review by Reagan (6th grade)

So guess who’s back with another great book to review? Me! Reagan! This time I am reviewing an even better book than Mara. I am reviewing…ODYSSEUS!! Yes, I am reviewing Odysseus in the Serpent’s Maze by Jane Yollen and Robert J. Harris. This book is about Odysseus and his adventures. Odysseus and his friend Mentor are visiting Odysseus’s grandpa, and then they are on their way home when (plot twist) there is a major storm and they get thrown into the ocean. Some pirates find them, and that is where Penelope and Helen come into the story.  What will happen next? They die! Just kidding! They don’t die, but you will have to read the book to find out. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Overall, I loved the book. I never felt like it was just dragging on an on, and I would read it again. I also really loved Penelope and Helen, who are both clever in their own ways.

I liked Penelope more, because Helen is spoiled rotten, and Penelope puts up with it. She always puts the others’ needs first, and we have got to consider the fact that she volunteered to go inside the maze so that Helen wouldn’t have to.

I hated Helen in the beginning, but towards the end she shows that she is much more than just a pretty face. She uses her beauty to distract the guards multiple times, and when facing lack of food, water, and bathing facilities, she handles it decently. When they go to Crete and stay at the prince’s palace, she is treated like royalty (because she is), although Odysseus and Mentor are not. However, when Penelope is thrown into the maze, she gives up all the comforts that they have given her to help Odysseus and Mentor so Odysseus can go into the maze and save Penelope.

Mentor is a good friend, but when Helen comes along he is too mesmerized by her beauty to be of any use.

Odysseus is seriously heroic. He saves Mentor, Helen, and Penelope way too many times, he goes into the Labyrinth to save Penelope when she is thrown in, he slays Ladon, and he helps kill the bore. Sometimes, he does want to be a man a little too much, but in this book he was much more heroic than your average man. 

The scene and setting description is pretty good. It doesn’t mention any years really, but if you know when Odysseus lived that shouldn’t be a problem at all. Except for when they are lost at sea, you can always tell where they are.

I think that the book is very good, and I rate it 4.9/5 stars. Anyone who likes mythology would love this book. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A PLACE IN THE SUN by Jill Rubacaba ✮✮✮1/2

A review by Chloe (3rd grade)

A Place in the Sun by Jill Rubalcaba is about a boy named Senmut, whose dad gets attacked by a cobra. Ooops! Can’t tell you what happens next, ‘cause that would be a spoiler! He goes into a desert with a group of people, and the rest of the book is about what happens to them.

I would say that my favorite character was the head guard, who had the greatest lion’s roar ever. The mother was also a good character—she was really caring. My least favorite character was the cobra. I mean, look at it on the cover of the book! It’s really scary!

The story takes place in Egypt, in the region of Nubia. You know it takes place in Ancient Egypt because of the gods they worshipped and because it is during the reign of Queen Nefertari and Ramses II. When Senmut’s dad was bitten by the cobra, they went to the pharaoh for help, because he was kind and they believed he could help, instead of the hospital, where we would go today.

This was about a pretty good book—I would give it about three and a half stars. I liked this one much more than I liked Casting the Gods Adrift, the the ending was sadder than I wanted it to be. Those who are interested in Ancient Egyptian mythology, like my brother Quinn, would like this book. 

MARA DAUGHTER OF THE NILE by Eloise Jarvis McGraw ✮✮✮✮

Welcome to Reagan's (6th grade) first book review!

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, is about a girl named Mara who was a slave and then some dude freed her. Not really though because it turns out he makes her go to be the interpreter for a Syrian princess, but she’s actually secretly a spy. SAY WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT??!?!?!?!!?!?

If I were to just hear the plot of the book, I would think it sounded lame and stupid, but it had great reviews on the back, so I read it. However, I loved how Ms. McGraw wrote later on in the book, but it was very hard to get into in the beginning. It wasn’t until pretty far into the book that I was actually agreeing with those reviews. I also loved how she wrote her characters.

I liked Mara because she was sly, witty, smart and brave, but after she met Sheftu, she started getting a little bit annoying because she was so lovesick. Sheftu was, well, um, he was odd. Yeah he is very hard to describe. He has a lot of mood swings. One moment he’s all happy and chill, and then the next he’s all mad at random people for no reason. I don’t think I would want to be his friend. Innanni was really sweet, and I really liked her. She was the Syrian princess that Mara had to be the interpreter for.

A couple of the secondary characters were Thutmose and Hatshepsut. Thutmose was silent, but when he did talk he could be very mean. Nobody really liked Hatshepsut, because she wasn’t a very good ruler, at least, not in the main characters’ perspectives. I thought that she was actually a great person to take the throne of Egypt. 

Even if they didn’t mention they were in Egypt, it was very obvious that they were, but only because they went to a pyramid and Hatshepsut went the ruler. I think the setting was very shoddily described because she didn’t mention any dates or cultural things.

Overall, I loved the book, and I would really recommend it to anyone who likes a smart female main character who is brave, sly and witty, and who likes a loooooove storyyyyyy. Ooooooooohhhhhhh… <3 <3 :) :)

Friday, August 28, 2015

From Kandinsky to....

You plan, you pull resources, you set up, you begin the lesson. And then it all goes off the rails. How common is that in your homeschool? Happens all the time in ours! However, it is often during those organic moments, those times when kids are feeling free and permitted to experiment with their own education when some truly memorable moments happen.

Vassily Kandinsky

We had such an event yesterday. Incorporating little ones in our homeschool hasn't been a necessity for quite some time, but this week we spent an afternoon watching a nine week old baby and a nineteen month old toddler while their parents worked and spent their spare hours moving house. Although we are studying the ancients, I decided to throw in an impromptu modern art lesson, since many are so easily managed by a toddler. I chose that old school favorite, Kandinsky's circles.

While the baby slept and the toddler played with toys, I used our favorite art books (click here to be linked to the page that lists them) and some pictures on the web to introduce the girls to Abstract Art and Vassily Kandinsky. We spent some time flipping through our main spine and observing how realism slid into the softened images of Impressionism, followed by the blurred lines of reality and abstract that became known as Fauvism. Kandinsky abandoned reality and became one of the first to create truly abstract art. We put a few key points on the white board, along with our favorite Kandinsky quote. I showed the girls one of Kandinsky's circle paintings and sent them to gather supplies.

Using countless lids, cups, bowls, etc. in different sizes, the girls and I traced a stack of circles. By this point, the toddler, Bowie, was rather intrigued by what was happening at the table, and I put him on my lap. Holding his fingers in the scissors, I coached him through cutting out the circles. Somewhere along the line I started naming the colors for him to see if he would use the words. Moments later I decided that the lesson would be better if we cut out other shapes as well, so we decided to cut out squares, then triangles, then rectangles--all in different colors. As we cut, we named the shape and color names. 

Bowie's masterpiece

Of course, when it came time for gluing, our little guy was all over the idea of mastering the glue stick!

Kazimir Malevich

Since it seemed silly to only glue on the circles, Bowie did his own thing and his Kandinsky turned into a Kazimir Malevich. Pretty cool, right? The little guy moved himself into the next great art movement all on his own! Organic homeschooling is the best!

Reagan's masterpiece

Of the two girls, Reagan was the only one who stuck to the lesson plan (for the most part) and her final product looked like a more true-to-the-original reproduction. 

Chloe's masterpiece

Chloe, bless her, just couldn't let go of realism long enough to embrace the abstract for even the one assignment. You can tell what the beginning of school means to her--bring on the snow!

After Bowie decided his own masterpiece was complete, he decided that Reagan's Mod Podge technique wasn't quite up to par and took it upon himself to assist. Reagan is so awesome with the little people--she didn't even hesitate to let him leave his stamp on her project.

Chariot Challenge

For our first project of the school year, the girls made chariots to go along with our study of ancient Sumer. Our process is very different than that commonly used for projects: instead of giving them a set of directions and a pile of supplies that I bought in advance, I gave them a single image:

One afternoon last week, the girls and I went to the craft store. They brought along their picture for reference, and I gave them a few other guidelines they had to follow:
  1. They had a budget of $10 each.
  2. They had a time limit of 20 minutes.
  3. They had to use at least three different media.
  4. They could use items from our art cupboard at home.

It did not take long for the girls to reach the conclusion that they could purchase a wider variety of items if they pooled their resources. This discovery led to baggies of wooden wheels, wooden stars and several sticks that were long enough for both. That was when they realized they had a problem. Too much wood, not enough variety in their media used. They considered spending a good chunk on some thin copper sheet metal, but could not think of a way to attach it to the base--and what to use as a base? They found some paper mache boxes that were a nice oval shape. They were the perfect size, and easily cut down to the chariot's body shape.

The most difficult part for me is always leading them to workable ideas without giving them mine. This comes from asking lots of questions. Sometimes, if they are a little overwhelmed by all the choices, I will direct them to a certain aisle and ask them what they see that might be helpful.

In the end, they used some very diverse media, including paper mache, wood, decorative wire, and paint.

On project day, the girls assembled their purchases and items from home and got busy. Like most any project, some things, such as the first steps of cutting the chariot bodies out of the paper mache boxes and painting them, went as planned. As with the purchasing phase, I did not tell them what to do or give them a set of directions. They looked at the picture and thought through their own designs.

Things got a bit trickier when it came to attaching the axle (the girls used barbecue skewers) and the wheels. Reagan's original idea was to glue a fixed axle to the bottom of her chariot, affix a star to each of the chariot's sides just above the axle to keep the wheels from rubbing all along the chariot's sides, and then hot glue another star on the outer edge of the axle to keep the wheel from falling off. Unfortunately, she cut her axle too short, and when she glued on the outer star, it became attached to the wheel, preventing it from rolling. I asked how she felt about the idea of trying to detach the axle and cut a new one. She weighed two thoughts: did she want to waste supplies✴︎ and would pulling off the axel ruin her paper mache chariot base. She came to the conclusion that whether or not the wheels rotated did not matter to her and she did not want to risk ruining her main body of the chariot.

✴︎This matters because the difference between what they spend and what their budget was goes into a fund towards a trip out for ice cream.

Chloe decided that she wanted to try something different from Reagan in how she attached her axel, so she pushed holes through the side walls of her chariot (using a cork screw) and threaded her skewer axel through. She purposely cut her axel long enough to borrow Reagan's idea (Reagan called it stealing!) to secure the wheels on the outside with a star that was glued in place on the axle with the hot glue gun. Instead of putting a star on the inside, Chloe thought that a rim of glue on the outside of the chariot body around the hole where the skewer came through would be more secure and would interfere less with the rotation of the wheels.

Something we all thought would be easy, cutting the skewers to length to be used as axels, ended up posing a problem to solve. The small saw we found in the garage had far too large a serration to work. Initially, Chloe was going to opt to wait until her older brother, Carter, could help her cut it with his camp saw. Reagan decided to try the technique of clamping the skewer in scissors and twirling the skewer, thus slowly working through the wood. It worked very well, and all that was needed was a few strokes of Reagan's nail file to give a smooth face on the tip of the skewer that would affix to the star. In the end, Chloe also used that technique, as it worked well and she did not want to wait to finish her project.

Both girls opted to use a flat, narrow dowel and tooth pick, which they bound together with jewelry wire, to form the shaft and yoke.

In the end, the girls were both very happy with their project. By not giving them a pre-selected group of supplies and step-by-step directions, the girls were able to create a project they took ownership of and which made them proud.
Chloe's Chariot

Reagan's Chariot

Using this method, where students are not given a supply list and written instructions, teaches them so much more. This model of project completion maximizes children's creativity and sharpens their critical thinking skills. They have to visualize, experiment with materials, and work through construction concepts (and problems) on their own. It is a model that is easily employed with any project you do. Simply give them the picture and let them decide on the materials and process of construction on their own. It is very important that you do not offer suggestions; use questions to guide them toward their own ideas.

Chloe's Thoughts on Casting the Gods Adrift

Welcome to Chloe's (3rd grade) first book review!

My first impression of this book was that it was going to have a lot of monkeys! Look at the first page. A boat full of monkeys!

The main character was not a monkey, thank goodness. His name was Tutmose and the story tells us that if your dad is really upset, don't try to do anything naughty; make him a peace offering. The reason why he is really upset is that the boys' mom got a disease when they were moving to a different area of the country and she died.

Tutmose, his brother, and his father had a hard time because his father was really worried that he wouldn't be able to watch after his kids and make sure that they were okay and that they had enough money to buy dinner and all that.

A half-woman, half-man, half-god (yeah, that's a weird character!) helps them. Because he helped them, I liked him (her? it?) a little more, but I still thought it (he? she?) was kinda kooky. Everything turns out okay after all.

If you compared this plot to a roller-coaster, it started out going straight (kinda boring), then it went  up (really, really boring), but then it went down really, really fast--which was very exciting. Three quarters of the book was humdrum, but the ending was flashy enough to make the book worth reading.

There were some interesting details about ancient Egypt in the book. As a girl, I liked learning about the different ways they did their hair. The more important people had their hair done in fancier styles. I learned a lot about ancient Egypt from the illustrations--more than I learned from the text. The sketches were very detailed and are the biggest reason I enjoyed the book.

Cats played a big part in the story, so if you like cats, read the book!

I am eight year old girl and in the third grade. I might recommend this book to other kids my age who are studying ancient Egypt. I am not really crazy about ancient Egypt, but I think you might like this book if you are fascinated by this time and place. There were also not that many girls in the book, so I think boys might enjoy it more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Gilgamesh and the Sumerians

Many history programs for young people begin their ancient studies with the Egyptians, which is a shame because in doing so they miss one of the most pivotal early societies, the Sumerians. Modern historians have dated the genesis of this Mesopotamian society at as early as 5500 B.C., making it easily, by anyone's reckoning, at least 1000 years older than the dynastic period of ancient Egypt.

From the Sumerians, we have the earliest written language (cuneiform) and the first wheeled vehicle, potter's wheel, sailboat, and sundial. A Sumerian tablet gives us the world's oldest-known medical handbook, from which we learn of a poultice of "rotted grain," which when placed on a wound would prevent infection--perhaps the first known use of what we know today as antibiotics. The first known written code of law originated in the Sumerian city of Ur, under the reign of Ur-Nammu, in about 2100 B.C., which supersedes by 300 years Babylonian Hammurabi's Code, the one most often given credit as being the first legal code. The Sumerian's also developed the sexagesimal system based on the number 60, from which our system of minutes and seconds and the geometric concept of the division of a circle derive.

Of all the things that we have gained from the Sumerian society, my favorite is, of course, a literary form. The epic, that great poem of heroism and history, was first written about a Sumerian king, Gilgamesh, who ruled from Uruk around 2700 B.C. Luckily for all the children out there, there is a fabulous trilogy of picture books, written and illustrated by Ludmila Zeman, that share his story:

Gilgamesh the King, the first book, introduces Gilgamesh the tyrant king, Shamhat the beautiful temptress, and Enkidu, the wild man. While introducing these characters and sharing their interactions, Zeman, through her breathtaking illustrations, brings the lavish world of ancient Mesopotamia to life. Depictions of the architecture, dress, and instruments, to name but a few things, are accurately depicted, with the border of one page even replicating the famous art work, The Standard of Ur.

In The Revenge of Ishtar, tragedy strikes after much shared adventure. Again, the illustrations expand upon the tale itself. Favorites of mine include the stunning mosaics in the palace and a depiction of a game, known as the Game of Twenty Squares, that was originally found in a royal tomb in the city of Ur and believed to be the oldest known board game.

The final book of the trilogy of picture books, The Last Quest of Gilgamesh, tells the tale of Gilgamesh's search for immortality. In this book, Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, once a great king of a fallen people, who tells of the great flood which he survived thanks to forewarning which caused him to build an arc and gather his family along with animals and plants. Gilgamesh is one of many ancient epics that tell of a great flood. If you are a religious family who accepts the Old Testament as part of your scripture, your children will see the parallel with the story of Noah.

My favorite nonfiction book for teaching elementary age kids about the Sumerians comes from a series by Heinemann called Understanding People in the Past. The book, authored by Naida Kirkpatrick, is simply titled The Sumerians. This book is written in fairly simple terms with just the right amount of detail for this age. The print is a bit larger than is often found in kids' nonfiction and there are a good many color photos and maps. Just about every aspect of their culture is covered, making it a great buy if you just want to purchase a single book for your study.

For fun, engaging learning, nothing beats Scholastic's series, You Wouldn't Want to... This series has books on just about every historical subject imaginable. The one that pertains to the Sumerians is called You Wouldn't Want to Be a Sumerian Slave! Accurate historical and cultural facts are shared via very funny and eye-catching cartoon illustrations. We own about thirty of these books, and they are always favorites of my kids, from Kindergarten through high school.