Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: Minn of the Mississippi

I recently finished reading Minn of the Mississippi by Holling Clancy Holling, aloud to the children.  When we started, I had everyone sit in on it (ages 2-13 at the time), but by the end I wasn't insisting that my older two be part of it -- decided they could read it later if they wanted to.  But it was part of school for Zion, my 4th/5th grader.

The book is about a snapping turtle named Minn, who travels down the Mississippi River through the course of her life, seeing many sites and encountering many adventures as she goes.  Through telling the story of what happens to Minn, Holling teaches lessons on history, geography, and even some science, all tied into the story of the Mississippi River.  It's a pretty clever concept, and from that standpoint, as well as his detailed illustrations, his books are truly a work of art.  They are a neat way to bring learning to life -- good examples of what Charlotte Mason would have called "living books."  It's no coincidence that I discovered the Holling books through Ambleside Online.

I enjoyed the book overall, but for some reason it was sort of tough to use as a read aloud.  Something about Holling's style?  His prose can be almost poetic at times, but was sometimes hard to follow, when read aloud to squirmy little ones.  Maybe part of it is the phase I was at w/my listeners on this one.  Abraham (2/3 years old) is not a good one to sit still for reading aloud yet, unless he's very engaged with a book that is geared toward him.  Listening is not his strong suit.  Reading aloud worked fine for us years ago with some of Holling's other books -- Seabird and Paddle-to-the-Sea.

Liberty (age 4/5) enjoyed the book.  She thought the pictures were especially interesting.  Tirzah (age 7/8) also liked it okay.  She said she liked the first and last parts better than the middle.  She liked best when it talked more about Minn and what happened to her, and less about the places she saw.

Zion (age 9/10) said she liked the book about the same as the other Holling books we've read -- in her opinion, they are okay, but not great.  Peter (age 11/12) didn't care for the book much at all.  Bethany (age 13/14) thought it was okay, and said she would give its content 3 out of 5 stars.  She also didn't care as much for the incorporating of information about things along Minn's journey at times.  It does slow down Minn's story, but of course she realizes that it's sort of the point of the book.  I'm not very good at giving stars as a rating system -- I always hate to commit somehow -- but I might give it 3.5 stars.  I appreciated the teaching stuff enough to put it up a notch from Bethany's rating, yet I also appreciate and identify with her criticisms.

As usual for me, there are things I wish were different about the book.  Holling weaves bits (and sometimes more, depending on the book and the part of it) of spiritist/shamanist/Native American religious perspective into all his books, which is something to be aware of as a Christian reader.  I decided against two of his other books (Tree in the Trail and Pagoo) because there was what seemed on a somewhat casual perusal to be significantly more of that sort of content in those books.  But there is still some in the ones we did read.  There is also evolutionary content at times.   I discussed and/or edited various sections.  It seems Minn of the Mississippi may have more than Paddle-to-the-Sea or Seabird, but it's there in all of them.

I found Minn of the Mississippi to be a pretty good resource for historical, geographical, and scientific learning, with some qualifications.  I will probably continue to use it in the future, but now that I've read it myself, I think I may just let my children who read it do so independently (technically all of them have heard at least portions of it now, though the younger ones probably won't remember), possibly with some discussion along the way.  If it's used for school, we may include some narration, and ideally some map work.  It worked pretty well for narrations for Zion. 

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