Opera Buffs

A while back I made two new friends. We have something in common – a love of opera. Yes, it’s true, I like opera and all that goes with it. Singing, dancing, a good or goofy story or even a sad one and some very cool music. My new friends have many interests, including eating well and saving the planet by using less gasoline. They not only like opera, they know many parts by heart in English, Italian or German and they sometimes perform opera for selected guests.

And here the kicker — they are 7 years old.

Keoni and Maceo are twins with uncommon energy, talent and joie de vive. Their parents are performers and in order to keep the family together when they are on the road, Mom and Dad have chosen to homeschool this lively pair. A neighbor volunteered to teach them opera one day, and after that their parents noticed that every time they were out playing together, what they were ‘playing’ was opera. Each day the rambling garden with its hllocks and hideaways of twined vegetation, pathways and wild sculptures, would reverberate with scenes and tunes from The Magic Flute, Hansel and Gretel or Amahl and the Night Visitors. Then one day the idea for Applesauce Theater took shape and before long neighbors were being treated to a staged performance of The Barber of Seville in the spacious dance studio behind their home.

Maceo and Keoni did need some help to do all the parts, so there were standout performances that afternoon by Panda, Koala and Shrek. But the twins stole every scene with their vivid portrayals of Doctor Bartolo, Rosina, Count Almaviva and Figaro, the barber. Their voices are not yet ready for some of these arias so they are not singing, but it was clear to this opera goer that they not only have a remarkable grasp of the words, but also a keen sense of the music and the story. Keoni deftly shifted from one role to another while adjusting her costume to suit whichever character was signing. Maceo gave a stunningly athletic performance during one of the choruses as he sat astride his mount (a big inflated ball) and rode (bounced) across the stage, sometimes flying off into the air, only to return and mount another assault. This, perhaps his signature move, is not something you are likely to run into in most opera houses. More’s the pity!

Singing, dancing and performing for others have given Keoni and Maceo a wide range of learning experiences. For this one performance the twins not only learned lots of music and cues, they also made the tickets and designed the play bill, made the set and worked out the choreography.

Parents Mark and Veronica have found that keeping journals of what they are studying together has been an important part of the homeschooling process. The twins sometimes write their own stories and are interested in publishing them someday. Oh, and they are raising 4 chickens too! I wish you could see the hen house. It is a masterpiece of reclaimed fence wood and looks like a miniature cottage in the woods where Hansel and Gretel met the witch.

It’s not uncommon for homeschooling parents to wonder if they are providing the right instruction for their children, and Veronica and Mark are no exception to that. But when she looks at all that her children know, Veronica says she is amazed. She feels they know much more than she did at their age, like gardening, something she never got to do when she was growing up in southern California. And they sure know their opera!

Read On!

Amanda Lorenzo

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Filed under Around the Neighborhood

Oceans Apart

         Book A                                       Book B

The two books in this review both tell stories about young girls and the sea and that is all they have in common. Book A: strong and interesting title, Book B: weird title that I suspect was some marketer’s idea, rather than the author’s. Book A: surfing girl, Book B: sailing girl.

Both books are written by men, but Book B’s author writes like a woman. Yes, I know this will come off as sexist, but I actually picked up the book without looking at the author’s name, however unconscionable that may be for a reviewer, and only realized half way through that the book was not written by a woman. I admire a man who can write like a woman. (Yes, I know . . .)

I teamed these two books up primarily because I hate writing negative reviews, so it won’t surprise you that, I loved one of these and hated the other. Can you guess which is which from the clues I have already given you?

Book B is the winner hands down. Hippie Chick is the story of a girl who, while sailing alone, is knocked overboard and struggles throughout the night to stay with her capsized and water logged boat as long as she can. When something bumps her beneath the water she is sure that a shark has found her, but fortune provides otherwise. A small family of manatee have briefly come close to her location and she must decide whether to continue to cling to her boat or try her fate with them. Hooking her fingers into a deep propeller scar on the largest of the sea-going mammals she becomes a fellow traveler on their journey to a hidden, warm water lagoon. Though not an outright rescue, this act of faith and courage  on her part eventually pays off.

The author, Joseph Monninger, does not romanticize this story nor spin a tale of noble manatees who consciously set out to befriend and save this young girl. The writing is deliciously sea-worthy, clean and sensuous. It pulled me along page to page.  When I put the book down at night its images swam in my thoughts and dreams, making me pick it up again in the morning for a few more pages before starting the day.

My only puzzlement is the title. Hippie Chick as a title brings to mind the free love days in the San Francisco of the 1970s, not the isolated struggle of a lost girl in a mosquito infested mangrove swamp in Florida. But if the marketers are right and the title draws people in and if they find a great read and learn something about the beleaguered manatee, then so be it. Fair warning though, this underage girl has a 20-something boyfriend. Though that alone could raise a parental eyebrow, the relationship itself does not carry much weight in the storyline in this girl-against-the-sea novel. Any self-respecting HomeSchooler can easily turn that aspect of the book into a lesson.

On the other hand I was completely taken in by the title of Book A: Waves of Grace, having been a long time follower of grace in its many forms. But Book A was a colossal disappointment I’m sorry to say. Fourteen year old Marguerite, sometimes referred to as Grace or Gracie without explanation, is an Outer Banks surfer girl with the requisite crumby home life, an alcoholic Mom and  Mom’s beastly brute of a live-in boy friend. The plot is thin, the dialogue unreal, the writing is abysmal and the outcome is unbelievably Pollyanna-ish. She wins the big surfing competition, her Mom falls through a plate glass coffee table inadvertently saving her daughter from rape, the attacker goes to jail and Marguerite doesn’t even have to testify. Did I already say, “Unreal?” I also found the characters in this book doing odd things with their faces and bodies, such as:

       “Rick was hastily turning his body into the coach in the living room.”
       “Marguerite shifted her lips to one cheek . . . .”

The aforementioned bodily contortions and teen characters saying things like “good times for sure” and “couldn’t get much better if you ask me” left me thinking the tide was out for good on this volume. You’ll be money ahead if you don’t add this one to your HomeSchool bookshelf.

So there you have it, don’t judge a book by its cover OR by its title. The winner’s are out there and you can find them.
Read on!
Amanda Lorenzo

NAARF is out to get you! Their weasel hencemen are sniffing out your location even as we speak.

Find out more when my new Runt Farm books make their debut. It won’t be long now.

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Filed under Around the Country, YA Novels

You Have Been Schooled

schooledReview: Schooled
by Gordon Korman
Hyperion Books for Children, 2007

As previously promised here is my review of Korman’s book about a commune-raised hippie kid, Capricorn Anderson, who finds himself suddenly attending Claverage Middle School after his grandmother, Rain, breaks her leg and can’t take care of him. It’s hard to imagine a kid being as sheltered and naive as Cap is, but it’s a delicious plot point nevertheless. He knows Tai Chi, but has no idea how a checking account works. He is sensitive, kind, peaceful, and oh, so gullible, making him the perfect patsy for Zach Powers, the Big Man on Campus and his cronies.

Zach and the other kids routinely refer to their school as C Average Middle School (even altering the school sign, by dropping the ‘L’), but they show anything but average hostility to the new kid in school. Can you picture it? His wild hair is peppered with spit wads everyday, the kids rig the school elections to set him up as president and then tell him he has to learn the names of all eleven-hundred students. They invite him to non-existent meetings and give him the run around at every possible opportunity.

Reading along in this book I couldn’t help but think it would make a great movie. I’m sure Gordon Korman is on his knees praying for that to happen. Why not? Even if it is a bit unrealistic in its premise, it’s no more so than many a tale out there these days. It’s just so satisfying to see the worst intentioned efforts of the majority of the students roll off Cap’s tie-died back and to watch it turn around, as his home schooled ways rub off on his classmates.

Funny, well-written, satisfying, ready-made for Hollywood; what more could you ask? I think you’ll like it.

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

Does your school or home school teach high tech rescue?
Read about one when my new book series, Runt Farm, comes out in 2009.

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Filed under Around Town

Warrior Homeschooler

I met Ruth and Sabuk a couple of weeks ago at a freeform dance class in a little Sierra foothills town in California. A handful of people ages 14 to 76 gathered in the Stomper’s Hall, a square dance venue, and our dancing was anything but square. Sabuk circled around the perimeter of the worn hardwood floor, while the older folks grooved in the middle. Later he and the teacher did an impromptu duet of goofy moves, mirroring one another.

A few days later I met my new friends over dinner at the local burger joint to talk about homeschooling. Ruth decided to home school Sabuk when his school told her he needed to repeat first grade. She knew her son was quiet and it was clear to her that continuing in public school might mean he could just fall through the cracks. Ruth would not describe herself as a super-human, got-it-all-together, gung ho home school teacher, she just knew her son needed more and she and her husband signed up to provide it.

Sabuk did repeat first grade, at home. He told me that they did some unschool for awhile too, but literally he could have just played video games all day. He decided he wanted more than that; he used the word ‘boundaries’ on his own. Sabuk, now 14, takes college classes where he has a 3.75 GPA. He says that being homeschooled has allowed him to explore things with passion. I have to like a 14 year old who talks like that. He has a passion right now for making his own chain mail. No, not those annoying letters and emails that ask you to send copies to 10 other people in 5 minutes or you will be cursed, but rather a type of armor used by ancient warriors to fend off wicked sword and arrow attacks. Sabuk wears his handmade chain mail in medieval style battles with blunted and padded weapons.

Homeschooling allows Sabuk to set projects for himself and to delve as deeply as he wants into a given subject. He told me about various styles of chain mail, how it is made and what attributes a given style possesses. He made his mail by wrapping wire tightly around a metal rod and then cutting the wire into pieces. Each circular chunk is then interlinked to form a strong and flexible mesh. And that how you get a mesh of mail!

Sabuk will tell you that he has friends and also that he can be lonely. Most of his friends are in school all week and he lives in a small mountain town. His advice to parents who are homeschooling is to help their kids find friends. After school and weekend events, community happenings, clubs and lessons can be a good start. Through these Sabuk has acquired a multi-generational batch of pals, including me.

At the end of the our dance class we all stood in a circle and talked about our experience. Sabuk thought for some time before saying, “I realized that . . . I’m okay.”

Hey, I’ll say . . . and then some!

Do you have home school stories to tell, advice, ideas or good books to suggest? Sabuk and Ruth have been reading a book entitled Schooled by Gordon Korman. I’ll review it here soon.

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

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Filed under Around Town