Play and Learn Spanish by Ana Lomba

My son Raisin has expressed an interest in learning Spanish. Although this interest comes and goes, I’ve decided to embrace his interest as much as I can. I studied Spanish extensively in college and spent a few months in South America, but in the past decade, I’m sorry to say I’ve let my Spanish usage and training lag. I am a long way from where I used to be. Language learning is not like learning to ride a bicycle: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Enter: Play and Learn Spanish by Ana Lomba (McGraw Hill 2011), a audiobook/textbook combination providing a series of conversations full of vocabulary that children really use. My son and I loved the songs, and after listening to some of the conversations a few times, I find it much easier to incorporate Spanish in to my daily conversations with my children.

In the reviews of the program, there were some complaints about how it seems impossible to “learn Spanish” by using this product, so I feel it’s necessary to re-emphasize the author’s instructions for how it works. This is not a program that works by handing it to a child and saying “go for it.” This is a program for a parent to use if he or she is interested in providing a child with an immerse experience in a second language. In other words, the parent needs to learn Spanish along with the child as they listen to the dialogues together.

The accompanying book has the Spanish and English translations written for the parent (I do not believe the book is as helpful for the child, although the pages are bright and interesting, and my son always wanted to turn pages along with the CD). As the parent learns the phrases, he or she should then begin using said phrases in daily conversation with the child. I found the CD to be very successful in helping with pronunciation (reminders in my case, since I was at one point familiar with it). Ms Lomba speaks with an accent from Spain; my previous Spanish had been South American. After listening to the CD a few times, I found myself pronouncing the s‘s and z‘s as “th” as they do in Spain. It was interesting to me how, even with my previous training, listening to vocabulary repeatedly gave me a subtle change in my own pronunciation.Continue Reading

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson (to be published October 2012 by Basic Books) captures not just culinary history but cultural history, describing the foods eaten throughout history based on the tools available to prepare them. Continue Reading

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez (2012 by Lerner Publishing) is a children’s graphic novel with eight stories illustrating the lives of two small children in China during the 1970s. The stories are based on the author’s life, and focus on the two girl’s awakening understanding of the world around them: crying when Mao has died, even though at age 4 they don’t understand; searching for rats to kill for a school assignment; helping in the rice fields.

The title story refers to when one of the girls goes to visit her father’s village. She is shocked when all the children are dirty; they all touch the velvet white duck on her jacket, leaving it dirty black. It was an eye-opening trip for her to understand the people do not all live as she does.

The illustrations are in full color. I liked the drawing style. If I have any complaints, it is that I could not tell the two sisters (Da Qing and Xiao Qing) apart from each other in the stories. It also was so short, I found myself wanting more. In general, though, this would a nice introduction for young readers to be introduced to a different country. The book ends with a glossary of Mandarin Chinese terms used, as well as a timeline for Chinese history. It is a good introduction for helping children see the world as larger than their own experience, as Da Qing’s experience in her father’s village illustrates. Little White Duck may help children understand what a childhood in China was like a few decades ago.

Note: I read a digital copy of this book via for review consideration.

Pride and Prejudice Revisited

I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) as a young teenager. Like many girls, I loved the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, the clever conversation, and the rags to riches aspects of the Bennet’s story. I’ve reread it a number of times since my first encounter, and I’ve also enjoyed the movie retellings. I was excited for the chance to discuss this favorite novel in a book group discussion format.Continue Reading