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I had recently visited my favorite Waldorf bookstore, and I came across a very colorful little book entitled “Little Gnome Tenderroot.” The cover was painted in a rainbow of colors in a style evocative of Waldorf wet-on-wet watercolor paintings. The gnomish face poking out of that array of colors was impish and intriguing. What was Little Gnome Tenderroot’s story, I wondered. Better yet, would Little Gnome Tenderroot be of interest to any of the children participating in a bookswap with my child? I was certain they might–not having actually read the book–and I picked up the gnome book fully intending to gift it. However, I thought that I would need two of these books. I couldn’t deprive my son of the joy of this tale, so I inquired about a second copy. Nope. This one little book was it. I hate to admit it, but I decided that my son needed this book more than any of his friends, so I grabbed a copy of the can’t-go-wrong Wind in the Willows and left with my books. Later, I came to the realization that Little Gnome Tenderroot would not make the ideal Secret Santa type of gift.

Once I got past the cute cover, I realized that this was not the typical Waldorf fairy story. Instead, the Tenderroot tale seemed less of a tale and more of a dramatization of Rudolf Steiner’s complex metaphysics. I have read chunks of Steiner’s Nature Spirits, so I got the gist of what Steiner theories were being personified through the gnome, tree spirits and other entities in the narrative. However, I realized that persons with no familiarity of Steiner would not be able to make heads or tails out of the strange goings on. Sadly, I realized any non-Waldorf person receiving this book might think it a cruel regift or some sort of bizarre ramblings. I am not entirely into Gnome Tenderroot as a story. However, I may try to revamp the clunky narrative in my telling and try to incorporate it into our homeschooling adventures in a way that would make sense to a child who is not read up on Anthroposophy. I will also try to read the original author (Jakob Streit) in various translations to see if the story in other narratives seems to fall as flat due to phrasing.

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Little Gnome Tenderroot

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This year, I wanted to make an effort of incorporating Advent into our holiday schedule. I had already made the “Advent box,” which my son took to calling the “Mystery box.” I had vainly attempted to needle felt an advent spiral mat, and I had contemplated getting the four candles. However, Advent didn’t come to fruition in the way that I had imagined. Instead, this little book fell into my lap. Actually, it didn’t fall upon me in any, real serendipitous or mysterious way. I actually bought it in a Waldorf/Anthroposophical bookstore. Still, I certainly hadn’t intended to buy it, and I didn’t really know what I was purchasing. I liked the cover, and I assumed it was a collection of unrelated Christmas stories with gnomes and fairies and talking mice. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was a collection of stories that followed Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. True to Waldorf form, there were four blocks of stories that each related to Mary and Joseph’s interaction with the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms. If one is not into Waldorf, per se, this may not be a familiar concept. Suffice it to say, this is not the typical journey to Bethlehem that one might first envision. Instead, the tale starts off on a road–any road, in a non-descript place–and that road is fraught with perils. The first perils are mostly rocks to big to bypass or gravel to sharp for the travelers and donkey to walk on. The stories tend to resolve with events such as boulders rolling away of their own accord in deference to the holy couple or shards of useless stones turning to crystals or jewels. The second block of stories pertains to vegetation that makes itself available as food or ornamentation to the couple, despite the vegetation’s being out of season. The blocks of stories continue on in this manner until they reach their destination and their child arrives.

Finally, the stories themselves are generally very spare and brief. As stories, they may be too brief and straightforward to really involve a child’s imagination. However, I believe there would be much value in the book, if it were paired with a miniature Advent spiral. Here, I mean a spiral shape made out of wood, fabric, clay or some other material. It would likely have some type of figures that would move along it to mark the passing of the four weeks until advent. I’ve seen many such spirals and they often have rocks, plants, animal figures and human figurines decorating their edges. Pairing the themed stories in the book with the stories in the book would be be a great way to slowly build up the Advent spiral and the general excitation surrounding Christmas.

The Light in the Lantern

The Light in the Lantern

Granpa is an award winning, short children’s film adapted from a John Burningham book. The film is less plot oriented and more impression driven. The film revolves around a little girl who seemingly lives with her grandfather. The story tracks their relationship across seasons, as Granpa and the girl delight in one another’s company and the rich fantasy life they share. Quite late in the story, Granpa begins to decline and die. Despite the ending, the film remains buoyant and dreamy and the brief sadness gives way to renewed joy at the presence of grandpa’s subtle spirit. This was a great book to introduce my son to the concept of death and remembrance in a non-threatening and comforting way.

While I was searching through the library for Halloween-oriented videos and DVDs, I came across an old VCR tape with the words “The Halloween Tree” scrawled on a piece of paper. The original label was gone. There was no indication on the tape as to what the VCR contained. It was entirely mysterious. I already had some Goosebumps type DVDs in hand. However, I have seen Goosebumps features on many occasions and they are decent yet fairly predictable and corny. I decided therefore to put one of the DVDs back and take a risk with The Halloween Tree. Boy, was I surprised. This is a great tale crafted by Ray Bradbury. It tells a very compelling life and death story using Bradbury’s own words, and it provides insight into the confluence of cultures that contributed to the modern Halloween. I love this video and may purchase a copy so that we can watch it every year.

The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree

We made a trip to the library to read up on pumpkins. We have focused on plant and animal lifecycles in the past. Consequently, I sifted through a variety of books that focused on the growth and development from seed to finished product. Here are a few of my finds:

I also identified a great book that touched on the history of the pumpkin and its role in various cultural festivals and lore.

And, the reading list would not be complete without a bedtime story that mirrored the excitement that my son felt as he picked a pumpkin during the day and set it outside to light the night.

I fondly recall mention of Johnny Appleseed back in my own childhood days. Over time, though, I forgot that Johnny Appleseed was actually a real person. Instead, I came to think of him as a Pecos Bill or John Bunyan type of character; more legend than history. One of my recent library finds was an old book on the man, and it was as revelatory as it was boring. It was boring in so far as the book was written in a style that was as dry as could be. It was completely matter of fact on the subject of a very bizarre and complex man. Though I wanted to regal my son with the biography of this colorful individual, I felt that I was torturing him with the over dull story book with very busy pictures. Fortunately, I came across Shelley Duvall’s Tall Tales & Legends video series. The series borders on the hokey, and it’s filled with puns (yawn). However, it is honestly a fun video to watch. Martin Short’s presentation really brought this complicated man to life, and my son was captivated by the man’s struggles with nonconformity and wanting to belong. It’s definitely worth half an hour or so of your life.

Steven Kellogg's Johnny Appleseed

Steven Kellogg's Johnny Appleseed

Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales & Legends

Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales & Legends

Throughout the years, I have often deposited old college text books or novels that I had read into the overnight drop boxes at various libraries. I assumed that the books would be sold off and that someone out there might appreciate my old, moldy, heavily underlined copy of Being & Time or my half-read novel collection. However, it had not occurred to me that library sales would be amazing sources of unusual, fun and inexpensive homeschool material. Fortunately, I became aware and subsequently hooked on book sales after my local library had a $5 all-you-can-carry sale during a Labor Day event. I believe I went on three $5 rounds and came away with a car load (quite literally) of books.

Library Book Sale

Library Book Sale

We did not go wild with book purchases this September. Instead, we made due with library finds. This September’s topic was “Migration, Hibernation & Adaptation.” Here are a few books that we enjoyed throughout the month:

Time to Sleep
Old Bear

The highlight of our December focus table was our wooden calendar with an attendant Jack Frost, Tomten, and Snow Spirit. We also had a menagerie of sleeping animals interspersed with animals attired in their winter finest. The calendar (created by Etsy artist MamaRoots) is based on a european folktale called the Twelve Brothers. It’s quite similar to Cinderella stories and has a seasonal aspect to it. MamaRoot’s calendar is a beautiful and functional depiction of the story, and we will treasure it for years to come.

The books were less inspired. I had originally wanted to focus on a weather theme, but I went the easy route and purchased a pile of seasonal and holiday books from Building 19. One book stood out among them. It was entitled The Christmas Candle, and it was written by Richard Paul Evans. It’s a beautiful story that addresses the issue of social justice at this seemingly charitable time of year.

December Focus TAble

December Focus Table

Picture Books
Owl Babies

Fiction
Animal Lore & Legend: Owl
Owl at Home
Poppy
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark

Non-Fiction
Barn Owl (Science I Can Read Book)
All About Owls
Owl Puke
See How They Grow: Owl
Snowy Owls