Monday, February 28

Books to Celebrate the Spring Holidays

As part of our continuing series on Celebrating the Holidays through Literature, this month we are bringing you a collection of spring stories to share with your children!  This includes St. Patrick's Day, Passover, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and general springtime books.  

Books for Saint Patrick's Day

Books about Easter

Children's Books for Mother's Day

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Have a wonderful spring literary adventure!

The Hobbit & Writing a Fantasy Novel

Who doesn't love a good fantasy novel?  This genre can take historical concepts and reimagine them,  incorporating modern aspects and creating a new world!  But have you ever considered writing your own fantasy novel...?

World Building

The first thing you need to do is create a world.  Your reader should be transported to the world you build every time they open your book. To do this, you'll need vivid descriptions to make the experience as realistic as possible.  Visit Building a World with The Phantom Tollbooth to investigate the art of world-building.

Character Development

Design your characters with both intrinsic and extrinsic traits - meaning an inside and outside description.  As an author you must have a very vivid picture of what you are creating for the reader.  To do this, you might sketch out a picture of each character, then label where they are loyal to, what special abilities they have, and any personality features.

Part of the fun of a fantasy world is seeing mythical creatures come to life.  Try incorporating mythical creatures, such as elves, fairies, ogres, and vampires, or create your own.

Give your main characters a goal, which will help create the conflict and resolution in your story. Also give them strengths and flaws that relate to their motivation to give them depth.

When designing characters, you also need to consider how they will change throughout the story. Character development is an excellent way to keep readers guessing.  Maybe a seemingly loyal friend shows his true colors as he switches sides, or an unstable character loses their grip on reality. By focusing on where each character begins, with a good description, you can guide their paths as you develop your novel.

Main Characters

  • Most fantasy stories have a hero, the character with a pure heart who wins the readers devotion.  This character doesn't usually realize they are special until the climax, when they must use their strength to fight the antagonist and solve the conflict.  
  • Try to choose an otherwise ordinary character as your hero. Readers will more easily relate to a character who seems like a mostly normal person.  But also try to foreshadow that the hero is important.  One way to do this is by telling the story from the hero's perspective.
  • Another common character is the mentor, or guide, who helps the hero along through the story.  The mentor knows that the hero is special, but does not reveal it.  The mentor can also be used to explain important concepts to your readers, as he teaches the hero.
  • Every hero needs a villain, the yin to their yang.  Villains don't have to be all bad though; a complex villain will have redeeming qualities.  Audiences will be more moved by your villain's plight if they feel they understand him or her. For example, a tragic back story can help explain why he has turned to evil.

Writing the Story

Fantasy stories usually include a lot of twists and turns, so outlining the general direction of the story can be helpful. Create a timeline on paper, putting in main events and then fleshing in lesser events.  This may take several pages of paper...just tape the ends together.

Remember to introduce the central problem early on in your story, as this hooks the reader into the story even more.  It also helps to propel your hero into the conflict, and eventually allows them to overcome it.  In many fantasy stories, the character leaving home or setting off on a journey is the turning point.

Every event in the story should have a purpose - to help develop your hero character.  Use these events to test your hero's skills, talents, strengths, and weaknesses.  An 'event' can simply be defined as an interaction with someone along the journey.

The climax is the crux of your story; it is where the hero and villain battle.  During the resolution, after the climax, try to tie up any loose ends in the story and sub-plots.  Show how your characters have grown from these experiences.  

You don't have to have a happy ending; you don't even have to have a sad ending, but you do have to have some resolution.  You can also end with a partial victory, with evil left to be defeated, if you want to write a sequel.

Our spine read for this unit study is The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

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Snag the full unit in the Literary Elements Novel Study Bundle!!

Five unit studies covering literary styles and elements. Each unit addresses a new topic and includes introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • After this text, you will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.

  • Literary Elements with Dragonwatch (product sample)
  • Creating a World with the Phantom Tollbooth
  • Writing Dystopia with the Giver
  • Writing Fantasy with the Hobbit
  • Writing Surrealism with Tuck Everlasting

Field Trip to a Recording / Sound Mixing Studio

Ask our youngest what he wants to be when he grows up, and for the past five years running, you'll have received the same two answers: farmer and roadie.  Those two don't really go together, as far as we can tell, but we're all about encouraging him to explore his interests!

Roadie is the generic term for anybody who works on a concert, but it's actually a collective of several jobs, such as Guitar Tech, Lighting Engineer, Sound Engineer, Front of House, Monitors and all those kinds of things.  As our youngest is into the sound engineering aspect, that was the focus of our field trip.

I have been blessed with befriending many people from all fields and facets of life, so this was a double field trip -- a chance to catch up with an old friend and introduce my son to a working sound studio.  D runs a sound studio from his home, and was happy to help an up-and-comer learn some of the basics.  
We go way back, and have always been all about the music...even on Halloween!  It was fun to share this love with my son.  That day, they began with the basics -- what is the equipment called and how is it used - and worked their way up through recording several tracks for the same tune and then putting them together.  This kid is so not into school, but he was all about hands-on learning...asking lots of questions and further exploring once we headed back to our home base for the evening.

How will this affect his future plans?  Well, he still plans to keep his farm business going.  His new plan just involves mom and dad taking care of the animals when he's on the road (ha!).  We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.... 

Dive back into time to discover rock & roll’s roots and see how the music developed along the way. These lessons begin with the various origins, discuss how they intertwined, and proceed through the new millennium. Writing assignments, listening exercises, and videos are included to enhance the learning experience!

  • Introduction
  • Origins
  • Pre-Natal Period
  • Birth of Rock & Roll
  • The Sixties
  • The Seventies
  • The Eighties
  • The Nineties
  • A New Millennium

In the meantime, our research garnered some answers from Andy Reynolds, touring professional and author of Roadie, Inc: How to Gain and Keep a Career in the Live Music Business

What are the types of roadies?

"Guitar or Keyboard Techs set the band’s backline up, and the band’s Front of House Engineer and Monitor Engineer will set up all the microphones, make sure everything’s plugged into the consoles, front of house and monitors. It’s a slow process: a couple of hours of setting everything up, plugging it all in, making sure it’s working, line checking it (which is a technical term for making sure that everything is going to where it needs to be).

“At the same time, if there’s a Lighting Engineer, she will be programming the lights so all the lights will be focused on all the elements on stage, depending on how big the stage is. She will be programming the lights to pick up various scenes and various parts of the stage to make it look pretty.

“Once the doors are open the Stage Manager will oversee times, making sure the first opening band goes up on time, the second opening band goes up on time.

“This all takes place in front of the audience but you don’t really notice it because it’s all done on headphones and hand signals. When everybody’s ready to go, the band go on stage.

“So obviously at that point, the Front of House Engineer is working; she’s mixing the sound for the audience. The Monitor Engineer is mixing sound for the band on stage. Guitar Techs will be looking out for the guitars, tuning guitars; the Guitarist may use a different guitar just for one song, so maybe hand him that guitar for that song and so on and so forth.

“When the band finishes, the stage crew will pack down the backline equipment. Everything goes back in the truck or the van or the semi or whatever and it’s on to the next show.”

How does one become a roadie?

“Build up your network. You need to find people who are in bands and just offer to work with them, usually for free, but soon enough, with a good network or through working as a Stagehand at a local club or whatever you will meet people and you’ll go off. I know loads and loads of Road Crew people who have done exactly that.

“Working in a club, just doing a really good job, some band comes through town and go, ‘Hey, you’re really good and our Front of House Engineer just quit’ and you’re off. It really is that simple. It’s a simple process, it’s not easy.”

What kind of education and experience do you need?

“On-the-job experience in the live music industry is essential for members of the Road Crew. Basically you are a communication and problem solver. You were hired so that things don’t go wrong. Musicians can set up their own equipment; they’re more than capable.

“But Road Crew are there to make sure things don’t go wrong and if they do go wrong, [to] fix them, and if they can’t figure it out, find out how to fix them. So it’s just like being a Plumber. You don’t call a Plumber because you want to give a Plumber a job, you call a Plumber because you’ve got a plumbing problem. It’s the same with Road Crew.

“You definitely need some type of sound training or appreciation of sound. You can go into being a Lighting Engineer, but admittedly the majority of the work is going to have to do with the actual sound — the front of house or monitor — and/or the backline. The things that make noise. If you understand sound, you’ll be able to communicate with your band as well, more easily.

“So if you’re in college, it’s ideal if you go to lots of gigs and you know lots of local bands; just keep in there and keep saying, ‘I can help you. Let’s work something out where I can help you.’”

You can also attend a production school such as Berklee College of Music or Full Sail University.

Wednesday, February 23

"Remember the Ladies!" History from Another Perspective

Any time we can learn through novels and short stories, we do!  You guys know just how much we love our novel studies - we've created more than a hundred of them, after all - and when we discovered this book series that brings early American history to life through female lead characters...we knew we had to share!

Abigail Adams once admonished her husband to "Remember the ladies!"  That's exactly what Libby Carty McNamee does with her American history series for children and young adults.

Currently, there are two books in the series, with a third coming soon.  Each has its own accompanying study guide, too.  These highly organized workbooks include chapter-by-chapter vocabulary words and multiple- choice reading comprehension questions, along with an answer key. In addition, there are discussion questions pertain to each chapter and the novel as a whole. And an interesting factoid -- these books are so well-researched that In 2019, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously created “Susanna Bolling Day” on December 5, which is Susanna's birthday, based upon Libby’s research!

As the former Colonies struggle for freedom, the American Revolution is in the hands of a brave and resourceful teenage girl. At sixteen, Susanna Bolling is like America in rebellion; she craves independence. While her brothers are off fighting for the Patriots, she longs to do more than tedious household chores and attend spinning bees in sleepy City Point, Virginia. When British General Cornwallis invades her family’s Bollingbrook Plantation, she overhears his secret plan to defeat the Patriots. Much to her shock, she finds herself at the center of the war. Now America’s fight for liberty hinges on her. But can she overcome her mother’s objections, face her own fears, and outwit the famed General and his entire Army? Based on the TRUE story of revolutionary courage and conviction that’s sure to captivate readers of all ages.

Libby has done an excellent job of researching the era, both in historic fact and in cultural terms.  She brings the reader right into the action through her use of sensory language, description, and period-relevant language.  This book was a fabulous read-aloud...even to a house full of boys!  It features Susanna, a real-life female from Revolutionary War history, who overcame her fears to help the colonies in her "life's moment."  It also details everyday life during this era, including the struggles and small things that defined this time.  It's a story of courage, sacrifice, and everyday heroes.

Best Book in U.S. Historical Fiction, Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, Fall 2021

Amidst the nonstop turmoil of the War of 1812, the decisive First Lady takes action and inspires an anxious nation.  Dolley Madison faces a bitterly divided Washington City when her husband, James Madison, becomes our fourth president. The prospect of war against Great Britain threatens to tear our fragile republic apart. The "Presidentess" hosts open parties in the new President's House to unite political foes and cultivate an American identity.  When President Madison declares war with disastrous results, Dolley carries on, ignoring the threats against her. However, as British soldiers march toward Washington City, she becomes their target. Now America's Second War of Independence hinges on her. What must she do to save the United States while also saving herself?  The true story of a woman with humble Quaker roots who rallies America during the War of 1812!

Similar to the first book, this one is well-researched and teaches a lot of history in its pages.  The War of 1812 was sort of like the Second Revolutionary War, and not something that gets much attention in the grand scheme of things, so for that reason alone this is an important one to add to your read-aloud collection.  It tells the story of the fourth "presidentess," Dolley Madison, and how she navigated the tumultuous struggles of this era.  It's a fast-paced book, full of real-life adventure, that will keep your students engaged and wanting to learn more on their own.


Want to know about the third book?  It hasn't released yet, but we've got the details for you.  Titled "The Union Spymistress in Richmond: Elizabeth Van Lew,” it features Elizabeth Van Lew, a Unionist in Richmond who organized an extensive spy ring that orchestrated a prison escape, infiltrated the Confederate White House, and reported directly to General Grant.  Exciting stuff!!  Go ahead and check out the first two so you'll be ready when it drops later this year...  

Visit the author & learn more:

  • Website:
  • Facebook:   LibbyMcNameeAuthor
  • Instagram:  libbymcnameeauthor
  • Goodreads:  Libby McNamee

Find ALL the novel studies...

Tuesday, February 22

The Things They Carried + the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was fought between communist North Vietnam and the government of Southern Vietnam. The North was supported by communist countries such as the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. The South was supported by anti-communist countries, primarily the United States. The war lasted for twenty years, something the US never expected when it joined in the fight, and ended with the country of Vietnam going to the communists...

I’d Rather Fight Than Pay (Chuck Dockery)
In 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which required all men aged 20-30 to register for military service. This led to acts of civil disobedience by men refusing to register, which then led to the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it illegal to "willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production" of the things "necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war."

During the Vietnam War, individuals could receive a deferment of service for being a college student; being a student at a divinity school, or being a clergy leader; having dependent children; being the sole supporter of a parent; and various forms of medical exemptions. Opposition to the draft during Vietnam was widespread, with some personally opposed to forced military service and some opposed to the war as a whole. The deferment system led to a disproportionately working class force in Vietnam, with as many as three quarters of those who served in Vietnam coming from working and lower class families. 

What Are You Fighting For?  (Phil Ochs)
Vietnam had been under French colonial rule since the 19th century.  During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Vietnam. To fight off both Japanese occupiers and the French colonial administration, political leader Ho Chi Minh formed the Viet Minh, or the League for the Independence of Vietnam.  Following its 1945 defeat in World War II, Japan withdrew its forces from Vietnam, leaving the French-educated Emperor Bao Dai in control.  Seeing an opportunity to seize control, Ho’s Viet Minh forces immediately rose up, taking over the northern city of Hanoi and declaring a Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) with Ho as president.  Seeking to regain control of the region, France backed Emperor Bao and set up the state of Vietnam in July 1949, with the city of Saigon as its capital.  Both sides wanted the same thing: a unified Vietnam. But while Ho and his supporters wanted a nation modeled after other communist countries, Bao and many others wanted a Vietnam with close economic and cultural ties to the West.

The Vietnam War and active U.S. involvement in the war began in 1954, though ongoing conflict in the region had stretched back several decades.  After Ho’s communist forces took power in the north, armed conflict between northern and southern armies continued until the northern Viet Minh’s decisive victory in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.  The French loss at the battle ended almost a century of French colonial rule in Indochina.  The subsequent treaty signed in July 1954 at a Geneva conference split Vietnam along the latitude known as the 17th Parallel (17 degrees north latitude), with Ho in control in the North and Bao in the South.  The treaty also called for nationwide elections for reunification to be held in 1956.  In 1955, however, the strongly anti-communist politician Ngo Dinh Diem pushed Emperor Bao aside to become president of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN), often referred to during that era as South Vietnam.

With the Cold War intensifying worldwide, the United States hardened its policies against any allies of the Soviet Union, and by 1955 President Eisenhower had pledged his firm support to Diem and South Vietnam.  With training and equipment from American military and the CIA, Diem’s security forces cracked down on Viet Minh sympathizers in the south, whom he derisively called Viet Cong (or Vietnamese Communist), arresting some 100,000 people, many of whom were brutally tortured and executed.  By 1957, the Viet Cong and other opponents of Diem’s repressive regime began fighting back with attacks on government officials and other targets, and by 1959 they had begun engaging the South Vietnamese army in firefights.  In December 1960, Diem’s many opponents within South Vietnam—both communist and non-communist—formed the National Liberation Front (NLF) to organize resistance to the regime.  Working under the “domino theory,” which held that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, many other countries would follow, President Kennedy increased U.S. aid, though he stopped short of committing to a large-scale military intervention.

Eve of Destruction (Barry McGuire)
From 1961 until 1971, the US military dropped more than nineteen million gallons of toxic chemicals on southern Vietnam. The chemicals were identified by the colors painted on their 55-gallon-drum shipping containers, with the most-sprayed being Agent Orange, a herbicide known by the late 1960s to contain often dangerous levels of persistent-organic-pollutant (POP) toxins. The goal of the spraying program was to deprive the resistance fighters of food supplies by destroying crops and to deny them cover through deforestation.

There is growing scientific evidence that those exposed during the war may experience increased incidence of cancer, type 2 diabetes, nervous-system conditions, reproductive problems, disabilities among offspring, and other health problems. The environmental impact continues in present-day Vietnam from the loss of forests and the presence of “hot spots” with high concentrations of residual toxins. 

Run Through the Jungle (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Whereas World War II was an ‘airplane war,’ the Vietnam War relied heavily on helicopters to ferry soldiers in and out of the thick jungle. The helicopter design was improved upon between wars, and by the 1960s it had a speed and agility that no plane could match. This made it much easier to bring troops, weapons, and supplies into the difficult terrain while evading enemy fire. The CH-47 Chinook and Ch-54 Skyhook were two popular models frequently used.

The jungle was a difficult place to fight a war. The Northern and Southern Vietnamese looked the same, so it was difficult to know who the enemy was, and there were booby traps and underground tunnels. Troops were being ambushed constantly and had to deal with medical issues such as jungle rot, heat stroke, and digestive problems.

For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
As the first U.S. troops were withdrawn, those who remained became increasingly angry and frustrated, exacerbating problems with morale and leadership.  Tens of thousands of soldiers received dishonorable discharges for desertion, and about 500,000 American men from 1965-73 became “draft dodgers,” with many fleeing to Canada to evade conscription.  Nixon ended draft calls in 1972, and instituted an all-volunteer army the following year.  Problems were also occurring back at home.  

The anti-war movement, which was particularly strong on college campuses, divided Americans bitterly.  For some young people, the war symbolized a form of unchecked authority they had come to resent.  For other Americans, opposing the government was considered unpatriotic and treasonous.  The invasion of these countries, in violation of international law, sparked a new wave of protests on college campuses across America.  During one, on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University, National Guardsmen shot and killed four students.  At another protest 10 days later, two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi were killed by police.

War is Over (John Lennon)
One of Richard Nixon’s first missions as President was to end the war. He began removing troops from Vietnam in July of 1969, and on January 27, 1973 a ceasefire was negotiated. In April 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam and the country became officially unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam - a communist country.  

Millions of Americans had watched the first televised war, with footage that literally brought the struggle into their living rooms, they had seen the lottery drawings each evening for the draft on the nightly news, and now they watched Nixon as he began to bring the troops home.  The troops were often poorly treated upon their return home, and many suffered from PTSD and other health problems that stemmed from their service.

After the US pulled out of the region, conflict between North Vietnam and its Cambodian allies began almost immediately in a series of border raids by the Khmer Rouge, eventually escalating into the Cambodian–Vietnamese War.  Chinese forces directly invaded Vietnam in the Sino-Vietnamese War, with subsequent border conflicts lasting until 1991.  The unified Vietnam fought insurgencies in all three countries.  The end of the war and resumption of the Third Indochina War would precipitate the Vietnamese boat people and the larger Indochina refugee crisis, which saw millions of refugees leave southern Vietnam, an estimated 250,000 of whom perished at sea.  Within the U.S, the war gave rise to what was referred to as Vietnam Syndrome, a public aversion to American overseas military involvements, which together with the Watergate scandal contributed to the crisis of confidence that affected America throughout the 1970s.

Psychologically, the effects of the Vietnam War ran deep.  The war had pierced the myth of American invincibility and had bitterly divided the nation.  Many returning veterans faced negative reactions from both opponents of the war (who viewed them as having killed innocent civilians) and its supporters (who saw them as having lost the war), along with physical damage including the effects of exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, millions of gallons of which had been dumped by U.S. planes on the dense forests of Vietnam.  In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C.

  • November 1955 – The US helps Ngo Dinh Diem get elected in South Vietnam. This comes after the French leave a power void in the region and the country divided into two parts.
  • March 1959 - Ho Chi Minh declares war in order to unite Vietnam under one rule.
  • December 1961 - US military advisors begin to take a direct role in the war.
  • August 1964 - The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is passed by the US Congress after two US Destroyers were attacked by the North Vietnamese, allowing US troops to use armed force in the area.
  • March 8, 1965 - The first official US combat troops arrive in Vietnam.
  • January 30, 1968 - North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, attacking around 100 cities in Southern Vietnam.
  • July 1969 - President Nixon begins the withdrawal of US troops.
  • March 1972 - The North Vietnamese attack across the border in the Easter Offensive.
  • April 1975 – South Vietnam surrenders to North Vietnam.


  • The Things They Carried
    • Depicting the men of Alpha Company—Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three—the stories in The Things They Carried opened our eyes to the nature of war in a way we will never forget. It is taught everywhere, from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing, and in the decades since its publication it has never failed to challenge our perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, and courage, longing, and fear.


  • Apocalypse Now
  • Experience the Vietnam War through this 4-minute video
    • This video is a better overview of the war, and better than the 2nd one below, but YT would not allow it to be embedded.  It must be viewed directly on YT due to restrictions.

Make / Do

  • Create a timeline of the Vietnam War
  • Using pictures, turn your timeline into a slide show
  • Write a letter to Kiowa's father explaining his death
  • Using a map of Vietnam, label locations from the novel
  • Interview a Vietnam War vet about their experiences
  • Create an infographic educating others about PTSD
  • Explore the underground tunnels of the war
  • Find other Vietnam War activities in:


  • topography
  • comport
  • amortizing
  • deferment
  • reticence
  • napalm
  • mundane
  • digressions
  • cadres
  • piasters
  • catharsis
  • complicity
  • snipe hunt


  • What does O'Brien mean when he says, "I realize it is Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story" ?
  • It's often said, 'War is hell."  Do you believe this is true?  Find examples from the story to support your opinion.

Explore more with the Advanced High School Literature bundle!

Includes six unit studies covering a variety of topics presented in more mature literature selections.
  • Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!
Units include:
· Oliver Twist & the Industrial Revolution
· Things Fall Apart & the Colonization of Africa
· The Chosen & the Zionist Movement
· Five People You Meet in Heaven & Human Impact
· The Things they Carried & the Vietnam War
· Crime and Punishment & Free Will vs Determinism