Several Jewish traditions are described and are integral to the storyline, so we spent some time learning the Yiddish words used in the book. Every day, Larnel visits Mrs. Katz after school and she serves him a freshly baked kugel. I found that there is a ton of kugel recipes on the internet. I settled on Matzo Apple Kugel because it uses Matzo bread, which is also part of the story. I let the kids taste plain Matzos, which they liked, but they thought them especially nice with slices of cheese. Then they enjoyed crumbling matzos for the kugel recipe, chopping apples and pouring in the other ingredients.
Such a kugel! The whole family liked it.
Mrs. Katz tells Larnel many stories of her younger days. She immigrated from Poland, and K and I talked about the country where her ancestors immigrated from. B and I have relatives who have spent time researching family history, and I was able to show her ancestry records from both sides of the family. There were so many names, and simply understanding the concept of great-great grandparents was kind of mind-boggling for her. To try to make it more accessible, I drew a family tree showing K and her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Seeing it pictured like this helped her understand, and she thought it was funny to find out that all four of B's grandparents shared names. The two grandfathers had the name Edward and the grandmothers were both named Bertha. And all four had the same last initial! Then going back to the ancestry records, I had K choose names of great-great-great-great grandparents from both sides of the family to copy down. I guessed that these people were the most likely to have immigrated. She enjoyed choosing two of her great-great-great-great grandmothers.
Then we bunny trailed a bit to watch a video showing what it was like to cross the Atlantic and land at Ellis Island. We also watched a short promotional video that shows Ellis Island today. K's been interested in the Statue of Liberty lately, so she enjoyed seeing this footage.
A good go-along for this topic was Meet Kirsten: An American Girl. I read this aloud over a period of a few days. Homeplace is also a lovely book that helped K understand the great-great grandparents idea.
Another activity for Mrs. Katz was learning about pattern and texture. After looking at Patricia Polacco's beautifully detailed illustrations, I showed K three paintings, which though they were painted in different eras, all showed pattern and texture.
I also happened to have a variety of scarves (thanks, K!) like Mrs. Katz, which had different patterns and textures. K oohed and ahhed over them and loved having them collected them together as we talked about the colors and patterns.
Then we went on a pattern and texture hunt around the house. We found lots! K was excited to discover that pattern and texture are everywhere.
Another day we read Cats by Gail Gibbons. After K had learned some interesting facts about cats, I showed the kids some kitten videos from cuteoverload.com. This probably doesn't sound very instructional, but I had an ulterior motive. We've been having problems with naughty neighborhood cats recently--one that likes to stalk our bird feeders and others(?) that have been getting into B's garden. Very aggravating. So the kids hear their parents grousing about cats a lot and enthusiastically help shoo them away if they are seen slinking through our yard. I wanted K and T to know/remember that cats can be adorable as well as good companions. So we reminisced (or I did, mostly) about our dearly beloved Betsy and Tacy, as well as Tibbs and her kittens, Jerome, Wendell and Kimberly. I dug up some home video I'd taken of the kittens-- it was fun to watch that and see again our old house in Idaho.
Finally, we took a day to study yeast. Unleavened bread and Passover are discussed in Mrs. Katz; this was a great contrast to our previous row, The Duchess Bakes a Cake, where the Duchess gets carried away and adds six times the yeast she needs to. I used the yeast science lesson described by Tinderbox and it was fascinating. First, we examined yeast granuales and dissolved them in warm water. Then we dissolved a second yeast packet into another container and added sugar this time. After awhile, it was obvious that the yeast with sugar produced many more bubbles than the one without.
We also tried the experiment described by Tinderbox where we put warm water, yeast and sugar in a bottle and then put a balloon over the opening. We talked about how as the yeast bubbles are being formed they release a gas; and sure enough, the balloon went from limp to standing up after a few minutes.
What was really strange, though, was that before the balloon stood up, it actually got sucked down inside the bottle. Even when I worked it up and out of the bottle, it was immediately pulled back inside. I couldn't explain the science of that.
As of this post, I am actually caught up with my FIAR updates! We are just finishing our next book, so hopefully I can blog about it soon.