If you are a longtime reader of my column, you know I have as much passion for books as I do for cows. When I am frazzled or find too many things out of my control, I turn to books to get me on the level again. In the past month, as I have done my best to stay away from the over-abundance of news, I turned to books. In addition to the books I am reading for my personal benefit, I made a wonderful discovery: a delightful bonus of homeschooling has been having more time to read aloud to my students. We may not cover every lesson I have planned every day, but we always find time to read and to listen. Good books have such a power to draw children in and carry them away with the words. The same reasons I read for my personal pleasure are the reasons I strive to read aloud so much daily. I want them to grow to feel the power like I do.
    “Resistance Women” by Jennifer Chiaverini is a novel chockfull of real-life details about its incredible cast of characters. The author began her research after learning of Mildred Fish, a Wisconsin woman who was executed by direct order of Hitler in WWII. How she and her comrades went from being students at UW-Madison to teachers and professors in Germany, and eventually fell under the watchful eye of the Reich are the fascinating parts of the story. I will honestly say that I learned more about WWII and the politics surrounding it, and other countries’ involvement, than any other book I have read. My dad also read it, and his absorption kept the television off for a week. If reading about the very real and terrifying events of WWII is too much for you, the author also has an entire series, “Elm Creek Quilts,” which are as cozy as quilts themselves for your reading pleasure.
    When our real world craziness became too much for me to handle last month, I started to turn the pages of a time traveling love story. “The Rose Garden” by Susanna Kearsley took me to present-day Cornwall, and then pulled me along as Eva Ward finds herself in 1715 at the same manor. Walking through the woods, a new path appeared and upon following it, she met a man that made her question in which time she truly belonged. A fast read that made me ponder where I would travel to if I could find the right paths and hidden doors. It had a twisting story, but was a nice escape from everyday life.
    Last week I read “Carnegie’s Maid” by Marie Benedict. Irish immigrant Clara Kelley steps off the boat and hears her name, though no one expects her. She responds and attempts to fill in the footsteps of the other Clara Kelley, who apparently has not survived the tumultuous journey over. This places her as an experienced lady’s maid in the home of Andrew Carnegie and his demanding mother. She is a very strong woman, and intelligent beyond what most expected of women at that time. This is a wonderful story built around the theory that a personal relationship changed Andrew Carnegie from a business-focused man to the world’s first philanthropist. The author has other books, as well: “The Other Einstein,” about Albert’s first wife, and “The Only Woman in the Room,” about actress and scientist Hedy Lamar.
    In our daily schooling we are currently reading three chapter books aloud. This may sound like too much for a small brain to handle, but I challenge you to test your children’s limits. They can follow much more than we think. I am not doing this on purpose, but because of the range of ages, I am reading a different book with each group. This past week, I realized the big kids were just as invested in the little kid’s book as the little ones were in theirs. It was a marvelous discovery to me. Our third book is our snack time book. Three plots unraveling each day – their minds are being filled to the brim with words.
    As soon as we heard that our kids would be home for schooling, I went to my bookshelf. I began reading the classic “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder aloud to the younger boys on the first day. They and Cora were instantly hooked on Laura’s adventures with her family in the woods of Wisconsin. They can repeat the tales about Pa and the screech owl, Grandpa and the panther, and how they make maple syrup. It has added new words to their vocabularies and brought about new play for Cora, as she is now sure that all of her bulls are oxen and they need yokes to pull things.
    The older crew and I are reading aloud “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” by Richard and Florence Atwater – another oldie but goodie. Antarctic fanatic Mr. Popper gets a special delivery in the mail from a renowned explorer whom he admires. As the tuxedo wearing Captain Cook waddles out of the box, their lives become much more interesting. It is a hilarious tale that all of the kids are enjoying.
    Our snack time treat is the wonderful Roald Dahl book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It is a fun read aloud, involving many different characters to voice and the terrific made-up words that Dahl is known for. Poor little Charlie Bucket gets a treasured Golden Ticket that invites him to the famous Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. What happens next? We haven’t gotten that far yet.
    When you feel like you have done nothing for your children’s education in this crazy time when homeschooling is the norm, pick up a good book and read. It will be a great way to connect with your children in these wild times, and I bet it will relax you a bit, as well.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.