A family book study

Even though school has started, and our summer of travel long over, I am posting this travel related piece anyway. Since I wasn't sure if slogging through Colombia for three weeks was enough to make the kids despise me, we've decided to do a family book study, complete with chapter by chapter mini projects and the dreaded discussion questions, for the next few weeks. Luis came up with the idea and chose the book, The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois. The kids are aghast that we could come up with yet another way to ruin their lives. As middle school educators we are keenly adept at conjuring up ways to torture kids.

The book, written in 1947, is actually pretty interesting. I am surprised that a book exists that we could all enjoy, but then again I have never tried to do something like this before. In a nutshell, the story is about how an explorer came to be found in the Atlantic Ocean among 21 balloons when he had only departed San Francisco 40 days earlier in a single hot air balloon. I have been writing the discussion questions and coming up with the mini projects as I read.

We do the discussion parts at meal times to take advantage of the captive audience. The very first page describes two kinds of travelers...one kind is all about getting to the destination and enjoying it when you get there, the other kind is all about the journey. We talked about which type of travelers we were and under what circumstances. We related the styles to the different experiences we had in Colombia.
For our hands on project we designed our own hot air balloons using helium balloons.

In chapter 2 when Professor Sherman finally reaches San Francisco to tell his balloon adventure story "a hero's welcome is prepared" by decorating the city with all kinds of balloons. We prepared our own hero's welcome by making mini hot air balloons.

Half way through the project someone decided we should let our balloons go when we were finished.

Maya added a note for the lucky finder of her balloon.

They look pretty cool! Even though we got in at least 3 arguments during the making of these things, I would say it was a pretty successful family project. The kids definitely forgot all about how much they hated it.

And the balloons are free!
Since all they really want to do is have maximum screen time, the next task involved doing an Internet search of hot air balloons capable of crossing an ocean. Then they were to design and draw their own ocean crossing balloon. They could use any of the features they learned about but they had to include at least one of their own design. For all the moaning and groaning they did on this task they each produced a pretty good drawing.

Jack made a four level structure. His features furniture made of bamboo for its lightness and a propane powered stove. His "food floor" is stocked with turkey, mutton, cheese, pickles, bread, and water.

This is a birds eye view of Maya's ocean crossing balloon basket, which is actually an inflatable boat. A pantry stocked with meats, fruits, veggies, and water on one side and a pillow and blanket with a journal and a pile of books on the other.

Her design was in two parts. This second drawing shows the side view of her boat/basket.
The main character crash lands his hot air balloon on Krakatoa and encounters an inventive and utopian society. We had some nice conversations about what kind of characteristics and skills would make a person good candidate for living on a small uncharted island. Each of us, like the islanders, had to come up with an invention that would make island life easier.
Reading this book together was a nice bridge from travel to home, in part because it was all about travel and also because it gave us reason to spend time together which is something we get pretty used to doing on the road.
We had grand intentions of building a hot air balloon out of tissue paper and powered by sterno fuel or candles as a grand finale...but as the start of school approached we became increasingly apathetic. Building a hot air balloon remained on our family "to do" board for weeks, and I think it is still there. It's certainly doubtful that we will do it now that school is in full swing and the kids are in constant book project mode. Anyway, like Colombia, the family book study had highs and lows but was worth it all the same.

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