Summer Reading Book Reviews - SLO Classical Academy
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Welcome to Down Home, San Luis Obispo Classical Academy’s blog! We are a classical school offering several options to make our education work for families with infants through high schoolers. Our signature hybrid program, which is part-time classroom and part-time home instruction, provides an engaging education for preschool through middle school (with full time options available). We also have a university model high school. This blog is meant to support and encourage on the home front because, in so many ways, the heart of what happens at SLO Classical Academy happens down home.

Semper discentes—always learning together.
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Summer Reading Book Reviews

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We love good books, and bet you do too! Hopefully you received the Summer Reading handout with book suggestions for parents, families, and students. To help further spark the love of reading over the summer, today we have a guest blogger who has reviewed a few additional books for us. Emily Ferrarini, a 2nd year parent who works in our bookstore, has a librarian degree and a particular interest in children’s literature (although she is quick to say that doesn’t qualify her half as much as being a SLOCA mom does!). Thank you Emily, for sharing your expertise with us and contributing to the blog today! 

My first clue, upon discovering SLOCA, that we were among “our people”, was this community’s emphasis on families reading together. I started reading aloud to my kids when they were just babies. And even now, my preteens – who are fully capable and independent readers on their own – look forward to our cozy family tradition of a chapter (or two) of the latest story before bed. The benefits of reading aloud to children are too numerous to list. My favorite reason to go for it? There are some really wonderful books for children out there, and if you happen to have a kid or two around, no one will look at you strangely when you confess that you spent several days reading Peter Pan.

Don’t limit yourself by age categories too much – older kids love the opportunity to relax to the simple charms of a fairy tale, even if they are capable of tackling Shakespeare. And given the opportunity, young kids will surprise you by following along with a book intended for the big kids. Another thing I have learned: kids have different listening styles. One of mine tends to fidget, so he will knead with clay or draw quietly while I read. I also occasionally pass the book and have the kids take over for a few paragraphs. This gives me a chance to take a drink of water, and it has helped them learn to pronounce difficult words, learn to read with expression, and even gain confidence in public speaking. I try not to make it too “homeschooly” though – especially over summer break. Read for the joy of it!

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Everyone knows the Disney version of this story, but it’s well worth your time to read the original. I was instantly charmed by the tone of this book. Barrie did not speak down to children, but clearly considered them deserving of fine language and nuanced characters. The Peter of the original stories represents youth in all its facets: he was not only adventurous and whimsical, but also stubborn, selfish, and cocky. The book places high value on storytelling, particularly mothers reading to children: “Do you know,” Peter asked, “why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories.” Although this book can be criticized for its somewhat dated view of adventurous, rambunctious boys versus docile, timid girls; I have always considered this an opportunity for discussion, rather than a reason to disregard a classic story. The quality of writing and universal fun of this book transcends its old-fashioned ideals.

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Masterpiece by Elise Broach – My son introduced me to this story. He read it on his own, but convinced me that it would make a great read-aloud. I have to admit that I wasn’t immediately thrilled to start reading it – it’s about a beetle that makes friends with a young boy. I like to honor my kids’ choices every now and then, and since I’m always encouraging them to stick with tough books, it seemed only right to set an example. I am so glad that I did. I fell in love with the character of Marvin the beetle. The book also provides a subtle lesson in art history, as the boy and Marvin find themselves involved in a bit of a crime involving the work of Renaissance-era German artist Albrecht Durer. This is a lovely account of true friendship, along the lines of Charlotte’s Web. “A great friendship was like a great work of art, he thought. It took time and attention, and a spark of something that was impossible to describe. It was a happy, lucky accident, finding some kindred part of yourself in a total stranger.”

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Abel’s Island by William Steig – A warm, winning tale by beloved author William Steig. He also provides the text with adorable illustrations. This is one of his shorter chapter books, easily tackled over the course of a lazy weekend. Abelard Hassam di Chirico Flint, a mouse, is picnicking with his wife, when he is swept away in a storm. He finds himself stranded on an uninhabited island, where he must find a way to endure the hostilities of nature, and eventually make his way back to civilization. In the meantime, this rodent Robinson Crusoe discovers resourcefulness and strength within himself. Alone with his mind, Abel’s poetic reflections on life and nature provide the most enjoyable parts of this little adventure. Not many modern children’s book authors throw around language like, “He became somnolent in his cold cocoon.” Big vocabulary words and musings on the nature of the universe aside, this book is funny, easy to read, and guaranteed to make you smile.

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Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – My sons groaned when I insisted they listen to the first couple chapters of this classic. There could not be a girlier book. However, even my little cynics were won over by Anne’s unrelenting and dizzying optimism. Anne Shirley, an orphaned eleven year-old, comes to live at Green Gables, the country home of an old, childless couple. Anne has got to be one of the most delightful characters ever written, due in large part to her penchant for making amusing mistakes. Her mistakes are usually made in an earnest effort to secure meaningful friendships, and many of her long rambling speeches – which admittedly can get a little tedious – are at their heart an expression of her deep craving to be loved. She’s a flawed little creature, and it’s her negative traits that make her that much more relatable. She is vain, silly, self-righteous, and impetuous. She has to learn to channel her intelligence and excitability into more constructive projects. I think most children can relate to her on some level, and if not identify with her, admire her strong spirit and joyful approach to life.

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