Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Schoolhouse Crew Review: Jim Hodges Productions

We love audiobooks. I have one daughter who's an auditory learner, meaning she learns much better by listening than by reading things herself, another daughter who's pre-reading, and my 3rd daughter is equally happy to read or be read to. So, overall, read alouds work better than independent reading. And to save my voice, and sanity, whenever possible, we look for audiobooks, especially for longer books. A few years ago, I happened to pick up several audibooks from Jim Hodges Productions and we have loved them, and sometimes bemoaned the fact that we can't find as good a quality audiobook for other books we read. So, when we were given the opportunity to choose from an extensive list of Jim's recordings for a review, the only hard part was deciding which one we wanted to review. Since we already had several of his recordings, that narrowed down our list, so we finally settled on A March on London.

We received this audiobook in the form of an mp3 CD. This means that, while it is a physical CD, it was recorded in mp3 format, so it won't play on a regular CD player that doesn't support mp3 format. This format does, however, play on most computers. I downloaded the story off the CD onto my computer and we listened to it from my computer at bedtime. These files can also be copied onto an mp3 player and used like you would use any downloaded mp3 files. We also received the Study Guide in PDF Format to go along with our audiobook. The mp3 CD audiobook is available for $25 and the study guide is available for $12.

All of the audio books offered to the Schoolhouse Review Crew during this review were G.A. Henty's novels. George A Henty was an English novelist in the 1800s. He wrote many adventure novels set in various historic times. As is often the case with older books, these novels are long and include some complex plots and vocabulary, making these audiobooks best suited for children ages 10 and up.

Set in 1381, A March on London tells the story of Wat Tyler and the Peasant Rebellion through the eyes of a young knight. 

We are currently studying the early Middle Ages for history and haven't yet reached the 1300s. However, we happened to already have the novels that more closely lined up with what we are currently learning about, as well as the stories based in ancient times. So we chose to jump forward in time a few hundred years. Because this story didn't line up nicely with what we are currently learning about, we chose to use it as a bedtime read aloud. We all enjoyed this story and found it easy to follow the storyline even though none of us have any knowledge of the historic events presented in the story.

In general, I wanted our main focus to be enjoying the story and learning from it, not "dissecting" it too thoroughly, especially since we haven't studied this time period yet. With this in mind, I chose to use the study guide as a jumping off point for discussion together, and not for independent work. This is a very thorough and challenging study guide (here is a sample of one of the other study guides, to give you a better idea of what the study guides include).  Because of the challenging vocabulary of these books, the vocabulary in the study guide includes many words that aren't typically used in normal conversation. We found it challenging, even working together, to define the words out of context, even though my daughters rarely have to ask me what words mean while listening to the stories.

The questions and projects in the study guide are not simply reading comprehension questions, but rather require a good knowledge of the historic period that story is set in. We used it as a way to discuss together some highlights from that time period, but did not dig in and try to answer the questions as thoroughly as we would have if we were using this as our main history lessons. The project assignments were mostly research and writing assignments which again, we chose not to attempt to do, in depth, when it isn't our main history focus. One project that both girls, but especially my artist, enjoyed was learning about women's fashions in the 1300s. The study guide included links to look at to learn more about fashions of that time period and, after looking them over, they drew their own pictures of some of the fashions of the 1300s.

While we didn't fully utilize the study guide at this time, I was very impressed with how comprehensive it is. I can see it being a good way to turn the book into a comprehensive unit study of the period studies, or using it near the end of your studies of the time period to make sure you have learned all about it. I do think, for elementary and middle school students, it would be over kill to do all of the projects listed, I think we may use this study and re-listen to the story when we get to that time period in our history studies, but I will encourage the girls to choose one project per week, rather than trying to do all of them. These study guides seem most appropriate for middle school and high school students.

The audiobooks themselves are best for ages 10 and up. We listened to our first audiobook of a G. A. Henty novel, With Lee in Virginia, when Ashlyn and Lexie were 9 1/2. They enjoyed it, but I don't think we could have gone much younger, and I think it was more enjoyable for them because we had spent the past several months learning about the Civil War, so they were very familiar with the historic events mentioned in the book. More recently we've listened to several more of these audiobooks during our studies of ancient history and the early middle ages and they have enjoyed them all.

I would recommend these audiobooks as a wonderful addition to any living books history study for children ages 10 and over (and living books are by far my favorite way of learning, and teaching, history, so I tend to recommend that approach often). The study guide, I would recommend for older children, and only if you plan to spend significant time on the story/study, you will not be able to rush through this study guide!

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