Friday, June 05, 2015

Strikes Against the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)

For those who question the wisdom or evidence in support of the schedule currently recommended by our CDC, there are generally many layers of questions.  Many question the schedule itself; with yet another dose of flu shot being recommended this year and the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine recommendations being expanded again-- our vaccine schedule seems quite full to many, especially in the first two years of a child's life (at least 25 shots by age 2, a total of 36 doses).  It certainly is more aggressive than most of the rest of the world.  (google a few and notice just how widely they vary from nation to nation, both in schedule, frequency, and diseases vaccinated against.  For example, Japan's schedule- which recommends 22 doses by age 2, or the Swedish schedule- which recommends 21 doses by age 2 as opposed to ours)

Then there are many who question the one-size-fits-all approach instead of considering each child's environment, personal health history, current health, family history (genetic predisposition) and even weight/body type (there is no dosing difference between a shot given a 5 lb or 10 lb newborn, for ex).

Then we come to questions and concerns about individual vaccines.  Many families feel more comfortable with certain shots than others, and their concerns may vary from shot to shot.  Their concerns may be ethical, practical, or medical in nature.  This is why so many feel insulted and frustrated when all vaccine questions are answered with a pat "oh, don't worry about autism!  That's been disproved so many times."  Whether or not it has, that generally is not the sum and total of a parent's concern on this issue.

Lately one vaccine seems to keep popping up in my life, whether it's reading yet another online story about the "horrible measles outbreaks", or an article in a magazine in which parents are encouraged to speed up their child's doses in preparation for travel, or in an admission form for kindergarden... that vaccine is the MMR.  The issues with the MMR are myriad, and I would like to list them one at a time.  My purpose is simple: to explain clearly why parents may desire to delay or omit this vaccine.  I am not a medically degreed individual, just a parent who enjoys research, can stomach reading medical studies until her eyes start crossing, and desires to empower other parents to make their own decisions, in discussion with their own trusted care providers.  Perhaps this list will be a good starting point for a conversation with your own medical care provider.  I certainly hope so!  As always, please follow the links in order to read primary sources on your own.

1. The MMR is a live vaccine-- that's how it is classified according to its Merck packaging.  According to the CDC's Pink Book, "Live attenuated vaccines are produced by modifying a disease-producing (“wild”) virus or bacterium in a laboratory. The resulting vaccine organism retains the ability to replicate (grow) and produce immunity, but usually does not cause illness."   A few of the main concerns regarding live-virus vaccines:
- Live vaccines seem to be better at provoking more immunity (because they are more like the original disease), and they unfortunately have more side effects for the same reason. The US has therefore traded the live oral polio vaccine (OPV) for the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).  Again quoting from the Pink Book:
"The more similar a vaccine is to the disease-causing form of the organism, the better the immune response to the vaccine.")  "When a live attenuated vaccine does cause “disease,” it is usually much milder than the natural disease and is referred to as an adverse reaction. [...] Live attenuated vaccines may cause severe or fatal reactions as a result of uncontrolled replication (growth) of the vaccine virus. [...] A live attenuated vaccine virus could theoretically revert to its original pathogenic (disease-causing) form. This is known to happen only with live (oral) polio vaccine." 
The CDC states that live-virus vaccines are only a danger to those with certain immunocompromisation (HIV etc), however many parents wonder if those listed sources of  are the only potential sources-- could family (or personal) history of autoimmune disorders indicate susceptibility?
- encephalitis (brain swelling)-- Travel of a virus into the brain is a rare complication of several viral illnesses, including measles, and is a topic of ongoing research.  Unfortunately, it seems live virus vaccines also carry this risk, as this case study illustrates and as the vaccine inserts themselves state (see all three types of encephalitis listed under "Adverse Reactions").  According to the Mayo Clinic, "Secondary encephalitis often occurs two to three weeks after the initial infection. Rarely, secondary encephalitis occurs as a complication of a live virus vaccination." this in turn can be a factor in developing autism or other learning disabilities.  Encephalitis/encephalopathy is listed as a "Table Injury," meaning it is recognized as a possible vaccine reaction that will be compensated by the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.  Two children were compensated for it this earlier this year.
- live virus vaccines "shed," meaning they are able to be passed on from a recently vaccinated person.  The NVIC's report is here.

2. The MMR is a combination vaccine- by that I mean that it is not a shot for a single illness, but rather for three:  measles, mumps and rubella.  The technical name is "polyvalant." It stands to reason that giving the body three separate pathogens to identify and mount antibodies against would be more taxing than giving one at a time. One recent study (published in Human & Experimental Toxicology) analyzed reported adverse vaccine effects by number of vaccine doses given at one time, and found
"Our findings show a positive correlation between the number of vaccine doses administered and the percentage of hospitalizations and deaths reported to VAERS. In addition, younger infants were significantly more likely than older infants to be hospitalized or die after receiving vaccines."
(Interestingly this is also being discussed among vets and dog-owners, as multiple vaccines at once is linked with higher adverse reactions, especially in small dogs. Example here.)  Many parents (myself included!!) would like the option of monovalent (single dose) vaccines, but separate shots for each MMR component are no longer available in the US though they can be found in parts of Europe and in Japan.

3.  The MMR is a viral vaccine- viruses are very very very tiny, so small they can only be seen under an electron microscope.  So, when they are cultured, there is no way to isolate just the viruses.  Rather, infected tissue (of whatever animal the virus is being cultured in) is used.  While many efforts are made to purify and test the tissue for harmful substances, there is no way to test for every possible contaminant:  you can only test for what you know might be there. Viral vaccines therefore are most at risk for being contaminated.  Several examples include the contamination of several batches of past polio virus vaccines with simian virus-40, now implicated in numerous human cancers (I explored this topic more thoroughly here.), or pig virus contamination (PCV1) of the rotavirus oral vaccine in 2010.  The FDA suspended the use of the vaccine during investigation and determined that the viral contaminants would not harm humans.  However, the very fact that it was unexpectedly present in a vaccine is a bit alarming.  (Was 4 weeks really long enough to evaluate long-term effect on children?)  There have also been findings of contaminants in measles virus cultures and a monkey virus contaminant in RotaTeq.

4.  Measles is not a dangerous disease in healthy children- contrary to what our media would have us believe, measles is neither deadly nor risky in healthy children.  Sure, the typical symptoms are not exactly pleasant:  high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a rash (according to CDC), but even when measles infection in childhood was nearly universal, with 3-4 million cases per year, the number of deaths was approximately 500/year (source: Pink Book).  That works out to a 0.017%- 0.0125% death rate, or between 1 in 6000-8000. (If you got the measles, you had about a 1 in 7000 chance of dying of it, and if you survived, you were immune for life.  No more chance of dying of measles ever again in your life.)  Just for perspective, in 2015 in the US our odds of dying in a cataclysmic storm or from heat stroke are around 1 in 6, 700.  Our odds of dying from choking on food are double that (1 in 3000), and our odds of dying in a car accident or poisoning is about 1 in 110. (All numbers from the National Safety Council.) The odds of dying of measles are about the same as dying in a tornado or hurricane... way less likely than dying of choking, and even less likely than dying from poisoning.

There have been no measles deaths in the US for the past 10 years.  In other countries, where malnutrition and poor sanitation are concerns, measles complications can be fatal (which isn't surprising, given that anything is life-threatening for a malnourished person)-- however even then, the WHO says:
All children in developing countries diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. This treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that occur even in well-nourished children and can help prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have been shown to reduce the number of deaths from measles by 50%.
The virus is quite contagious due to coughing but is fairly easy to eliminate from surfaces, "rapidly inactivated by heat, sunlight, acidic pH, ether, and trypsin. It has a short survival time (less than 2 hours) in the air or on objects and surfaces." (Pink Book)

5. Mumps is not a dangerous disease in healthy children- similarly to measles, mumps was once viewed as a childhood rite of passage (my mom remembers getting it as a child).  Like measles, mumps infection confers life-long immunity.  The options for supporting the immune system through the infection with vitamins, nourishing foods, rest and herbs are myriad when the patient is a healthy child. Mumps symptoms typically are swollen glands under the throat, headache, fever, tummy ache and malaise.  Even the CDC FAQ on the disease states:
Almost all people with mumps fully recover after a few weeks. During the illness, many people feel tired and achy, have fever, and may have parotitis. Some may feel extremely ill and be unable to eat because of pain around the jaw, and some may develop serious complications. Men and adolescent boys can develop orchitis, which rarely results in sterility. Women and adolescents girls may develop oophoritis. Meningitis and loss of hearing can also occur, and in rare cases this hearing loss can be permanent. The most serious complication is encephalitis, which can lead to death or permanent disability, although rarely.
As with many "childhood" diseases, disease complications tend to increase with age; in this case, only males that have gone through puberty are at risk for potentially developing sterility.  It is worth noting that with vaccination, formerly childhood diseases such as mumps have shifted to diseases which adults or babies are more at risk for (due to moms not being able to pass on natural immunity via breast milk, and vaccine protection wearing off in some individuals).  This is concerning to many.  As far as the encephalitis risk, see point #1 which points out that this is also a danger with vaccination-- arguably more of a danger than it was with the natural disease itself.

6. Rubella is a danger to unborn babies of moms who've never had rubella- it is not a danger to healthy children, nor even to unborn babies of moms who have had rubella.  So the question is whether or not routine vaccination of children is the most effective, most risk-free way of avoiding infection of moms during pregnancy in order to avoid CRS (congenital rubella syndrome).  Would it be advantageous to allow children to contract it naturally, allowing girls to then convey that rubella protection to their own infants later on via breast milk? Vaccine immunity can wear off in many individuals, and doesn't transmit as well via breast milk. Perhaps a vaccination for girls who show no immunity to rubella by age 12 would be a better option?  (This study on CRS in women in Saudi Arabia discusses just this, mentioning that immunizing children seems to limit CRS in younger mothers while increasing risk of it in older mothers as immunity wanes, while selective vaccination does better at allowing for life-long natural immunity but doesn't lessen the incidence of rubella itself.  However this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the study describes rubella as a "mild, self-limiting viral infection.")

7. Concerns with the measles component include many indications that it compromises gut health- Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (MD) has written extensively about this in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, where she describes the findings of live measles infections-- of the same strain in the vaccine-- in the guts of certain patients, causing extensive gastrointestinal problems, and surprisingly, a host of chronic and neurological conditions, among them Autism Spectrum Disorder. Read one study finding association between measles virus in the gut and developmental disorders here.  The gut dysbiosis-autism link has begun to be studied from several angles, among them the use of probiotics to reduce symptoms of autism (especially after this study in mice- here summarized by Autism Speaks).

8. Concerns with the mumps component include indications that the vaccine is ineffective and falsified data was used to obtain FDA approval- this article summarizes the current 3 court cases well.  Essentially, the concern is that Merck used one form of the attenuated mumps virus in testing in order to show 95% efficacy, when in practice that efficacy has not been true since at least 1999.
"Merck fraudulently represented and continues to falsely represent in its labeling and elsewhere that its Mumps Vaccine has an efficacy rate of 95 percent or higher. In reality, Merck knows and has taken affirmative steps to conceal -- by using improper testing techniques and falsifying test data -- that its Mumps Vaccine is, and has been since at least 1999, far less than 95 percent effective." (Read more in the court documents for Chatom v Merck. )
There is evidence supporting the idea that the mumps component is not efficacious from India as well.

9. Concerns with the rubella component include its origin in tissue taken from aborted babies, which raises ethical concerns for many, and health concerns due to the presence of foreign human DNA. - From the MMR insert:  the rubella component contains the "Wistar RA 27/3 strain of live attenuated rubella virus propagated in WI-38 human diploid lung fibroblasts." As this 1964 paper entitled ""The Limited in vitro lifetime of human diploid cells" explains, "WI-38 and WI-44 [came] from female human fetal lung. All embryos were obtained from surgical abortions and were of approximately three months’ gestation."  (And as I understand it, the numbers refer to the number of cell lines that were "tried" before this cell line worked... so many many more than two babies' bodies were used to develop just those cell lines.)  The cell lines used to culture the current rubella vaccine came from a healthy human child whose life was ended by her mother at 3 month gestation for no medical reason-- many parents who believe abortion to be murder find any connection to aborted fetal tissue abhorrent-- even those who believe in the efficacy of vaccines.  Until a new medium is found for the rubella vaccine line (as the pope has urged Christians and pro-life individuals to clamor for), many parents find it reprehensible to use the current rubella vaccine (as well as other vaccines using human tissue obtained through abortion), and as such would object to the MMR.
- Those who may find no ethical dilemma in the use of cell lines originating in aborted human babies still may have concerns about the medical consequences of the injection of any tissue containing foreign human DNA-- recently, researcher Helen Ratajczak implicated the use of human (fetal) DNA in vaccines in the rise of autoimmune diseases, among other factors (published in the Journal of Toxicology).  Here is part of her explanation of why this may be:
"Because it's human DNA and recipients are humans, [...] That DNA is incorporated into the host DNA. Now it's changed, altered [... and the] body kills it. Where is this most expressed? The neurons of the brain. Now you have [the] body killing the brain cells and it's an ongoing inflammation. It doesn't stop, it continues through the life of that individual"  (source)
Another analysis of vaccine safety data has implicated the human tissue in the varicella, Hep A and second dose of the MMR in rises in autism disorder.  (Article from the Journal of Public Health here). Levels of human tissue in vaccine samples were found to be far above the current "safe" level.  The human tissue is implicated in a rise in childhood leukemia and lymphoma as well. (quote from study author Dr. Deisher here.)

10.  Childhood infectious diseases involving fevers (such as measles, mumps and rubella) may actually be beneficial in healthy children.  
- There is evidence that infectious diseases in childhood are protective against chronic or autoimmune diseases later in life, reducing the risk of cancer, asthma & allergies.  Fevers have even been used as part of cancer treatments and infectious diseases (including measles!) were found to cure disorders of the kidney in the past.
- Other research has collaborated the "old wives tale" that fevers always come before growth spurts, perhaps because the stimulation of the immune system by disease provides a "push" that allows the child to then grow.
- The protective/positive effects seem to be due partially to the effect fever/infection-suppressants has on the gut flora of children, and partially due to the need for all aspects of the immune system to be balanced and properly developed (Th1- cell-mediated immunity which includes the use of fevers, Th2 - antibody immunity).  The same mechanism that will kill tumor cells gets trained to "clean up" by killing viruses using fevers.  Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was reported to say:  “Give me a medicine to produce a fever and I can cure any disease.” Maybe he was on to something.

My point in summarizing these 10 "strikes" against the MMR is not to suggest that anyone who uses the MMR is stupid, uneducated, or irresponsible-- no, my goal is to explain that the reasons why SOME parents choose not to use this particular shot are varied, not one-size-fits-all.  If you hear that a friend or patient, client or family member has chosen to skip this vaccine, remember that they may not be worried about "that guy who said the mercury in the MMR causes autism."  They likely have multiple reasons for their choice, based in ethical, medical, or personal reasons!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Looking Forward to First Grade (2015/2016 School Year)

Wow.  I can't believe that.  Wasn't I just pregnant with her?  How is she already in "real school?"

Life Skills:  with a new little brother or sister coming in the Fall, Lord-willing born at home, she will be getting a very detailed course in Infant Development, Home Management, Surviving Without Mom, Independent Foraging/Cooking, and Self-Entertainment.  :)  Honestly for the first few months, this may be the bulk of her education, lol.  At least Liam will be enrolled in a local 2-day preK program.  But assuming we get past the sleep deprivation and correct whatever tongue tie issues this child has (I'm just assuming it will have them, considering all the grandkids on one side have it and all but one on the other side have too.)... here is our slightly more academic home education plan for 2015/2016.

Math:  Saxon 2, with workbooks like Littlest Pet Shop Math Practice and Grade 1-2 Everything for Early Learners for extra practice.  I actually find the "Everything for Early Learners" series to be really good as far as workbooks go!  We are using it through the summer to reinforce and practice too.

Language Arts:
- Spelling: All About Spelling 2
- Grammar: First Language Lessons, level 2 (This book has both levels in one book which is very economical and good for crowded shelves)
 - Handwriting:  Cursive First, Prescripts (Classical Conversations)
- Writing:  Bible Heroes from Institute of Excellence in Writing, and a daily journal.  Each day she'll have a prompt and write & illustrate her answer in this book (My Picture Story Book by millerpadsandpaper).  I think we'll use our well-loved Q & A a Day for Kids questions as her prompts.
- Literature:  First Favorites Guides Volumes 1 & 2 and More Favorites by Veritas Press.  I'm not really sure we "need" these since we tend to talk about books as she reads them and she gets plenty of reading comprehension practice that way, but since I know my time and brain power will be seriously curtailed by "Baby Blue"'s arrival early in the school year, I think this will be helpful, as anyone who is helping me (Daddy, grandmas, friends) could use this.  I also got them second hand at a good price, which helps. :)  I'm hopeful that this book - Reading Roadmaps- will help me handle literature from here on out to a good ways.  We will be reading tons of good quality kids books (thank you local library) as well as readers from Christian Light Publishers:  I Wonder and Helping Hands.  They are beautifully illustrated, well-written readers that are both edifying and interesting.

History:  Ancient History-- finally buying the full Classical Conversations Acts & Facts Cards set!! Woohoo!! Bede's History of Me is a fun little book we'll be trying too.  (Ebook available from Veritas Press) I have accumulated many coloring books that tie into Egyptian, Roman, etc. Ancient History, from Miracle Hill (local thrift shop w books for 50 cents), friends whose homeschooled kids have graduated, and yard sales.  We will be going through Story of the World Volume 1.  I actually have the Activity Book for it too so that will be fun. :)

Geography: CC

Science: maybe Nutrition 101: Choose Life from Growing Healthy Homes.  I hope to use this on a rotating schedule throughout all our homeschooling years!  It combines Nutrition and Anatomy in a comprehensive, Biblically-sound curriculum adapted to both older and younger students.  I'm just not sure I'll be able to handle it next year... we will see.

Fine Arts:
- Music- Suzuki violin? Suzuki piano? lessons. We are exploring options but she will for sure have SOME kind of instrument lessons. (Summer participation in 2nd Presbyterian's Musical CAT Kids, May-Aug).
- Visual Art- ArtPac 1 by Art with a Purpose, also CC
- Ballet

PE- ballet!!

Bible:  Truth & Grace Memory Book #1 and an intro to Hebrew with Purple Pomegranate's kids CDs Yeladim for Y'shua and You Gotta Jump, as well as their book Walk with Y'Shua through the Jewish Year.

Foreign Langage:
- Spanish:  I'm seriously considering this 3-DVD series, Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids, which is immersive in its approach, and from all accounts is quite popular with kiddos.  I watched a few clips and was so relieved that the kids all have GOOD accents!  However, the $25/DVD price tag is quite steep... I may wait another year until they start being sold used...

Liam will be in a K3 class at a local church school two mornings a week (along with his bestest buddy Levi), mainly to give him a chance to obey a non-parent and learn to function in a group, and to give me the chance to get two full mornings of school in with Sis, I do hope to have plenty of learning opportunities available for him, especially while I'm working with Eowyn more formally than ever before.  I was so impressed with the book The Homegrown Preschooler especially as a former preschool teacher myself-- it is so reassuring, empowering and non-stressful, not to mention pedagogically sound and downright beautiful to look at.  Imagine my joy when I found out that the authors have now published a full curriculum, entitled A Year of Playing Skillfully.  It is just as well-laid out, beautiful and doable as their book!  While the book makes it very clear that you don't need a formal curriculum, with a new baby coming I am in favor of anything that minimizes need of brain-power for me. :)  I plan to use this both this year and the next for our little preschooler.  As he desires to I will also start some phonics/reading with him too-- he's already pretending to sound things out, recognizing letters and wanting to do everything Big Sis does, so I think he may be ready.
- Dance... he really really wants to try it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Szrama Summer School

Zoo with Daddy!
I tend to prefer a laid-back, "chilltastic" approach to schooling, especially in the little years when they so desperately want to learn EVERYTHING, but get tired so easily, and need lots of time to just play.  I also found as a teacher that so much is lost over the summer that I really think it "works" better to take more frequent shorter breaks rather than one huge long break-- or at least to keep some mind-stretching activities going even when "school" isn't in session.  So around here we do school year-round, but we never spend long days in school.  We go to the zoo and the museum, the library, the pool, the park, the backyard, Nina's creek, and to play with friends.  We listen to books on tape, we try dance, choir, gymnastics and art... it's all learning and it goes year-round.

In some ways summer is my favorite time of "schooling."  It's warm (ok fine-- HOT) enough for my favorite activities of creek-splashing, lake-jumping, beach-combing and plain old pool swimming.  We grow lots in our garden, we take trips to exciting places and we get more time with friends and family.  There are weddings and cookouts and all of that is great for learning!!  All of our weekly school-year commitments are over so we are free to stay home, or to leave for a week.  We use the summer to "catch back up" at our laid-back pace.

Our basic summer schedule is to spend the first hour each morning on "school."  I pull out more workbooks than we use in the school year (my kids think they are super fun since they hardly ever use em), and we just do a page each in math, phonics and reading/grammar.  Then I rotate subjects where I need to actually teach-- grammar, spelling, and math.  Over breakfast I read them a devotion from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing and write in Eowyn's journal.  (Liam has a Kumon sticker workbook he LOVES or he cuts paper or he works on his Everything for Early Learning Preschool workbook.)

Reading happens quite naturally these days, yay!
Reading:  Eowyn's reading has taken off so I don't work on that directly anymore-- she chooses to read on her own whenever she gets the chance, so I keep a good supply of great books at or just above her reading level available from our library.  I use Best Books and The Read-Aloud Handbook for ideas.

Handwriting:  this is THE area where she really needs to focus right now.  Her spelling, grammar, reading and composition ability are quite advanced-- she is just held back by her freaking out about writing.  So, slowly but surely we are remedying that.  Just one page of handwriting each day, and slowly she is gaining confidence.  Lots of praise, lots of stickers, and plenty of working alongside her.

Spelling:  we really enjoy All About Spelling and would be done if I did more than one lesson/week.  I'm making it last through the summer though. :)  She enjoys it and so do I!

Math: We are going along with Saxon 1 and lots of workbook practice bc she enjoys it.

Grammar: First Language Lessons Grade 1-- we often do 2-3 grammar exercises at a time.  She loves memorizing the poems and the activities are fun.  I love how oral it is, so it really isn't dependent on ability to write! I think we'll be on track to start Grade 2 right as next school year begins.

Read-alouds: we are loving read-alouds... Mathilda, How to Train Your Dragon and various E. Nesbit books are on our list right now.  We have finished The Hobbit on audiobook and I read James and the Giant Peach aloud.  Liam still asks for "more Bilbo" every night but will condescend to The Tale of Despereaux.  We have started Rabbit Hill, and the kids are enjoying it more than I am.  I shall persevere and finish it.  Probably.

Exploring shaving cream plus water

Fine Motor/Sensory:
we are working our way through quite a list of sensory dough/goops.  These really do add to imaginative play as well as being good for them.  I hope to build a sandbox this summer for them too.  They get TONS of water play, and the legos, trains, cars, blocks, playmobils, barbies, and lincoln logs are good for little hands too... and cutting/pasting. They love that.  My floor does not...

Gross Motor: we joined the Y and I'm teaching the kids water safety and swimming and if they haven't grasped it by August we'll do lessons.  Both kids will take horseback lessons at a local stable for the month of June as we've done for the past 2 years.  Liam is VERY excited that he gets to ride this year too!

Special foci:
Music:  I just started a 6-week music class in my home.  8-10 little friends come over and we are exploring pitch, beat, rhythm, the idea of notation, music telling a story (Peter & the Wolf), and the orchestral instruments.  Super fun!!!  In August I hope to do another 4-week series using another classical music piece (probably Carnival of the Animals) and do more with notation.

Read-Alouds are such fun!
Road Trip!!
Geography:  I'm actually super-excited about this!!!  I'm taking the kids on a three-week road trip through Pittsburgh, Toronto, Chicago and Louisville, with stops in Charleston (WV) and Detroit.  We will use this as an excuse to reinforce state geography and also to enjoy museums and zoos all around the country.  I am getting to use the books my mom bought for that very purpose when we did our long road trips, and since they no longer print the little US State Sticker "Passports" we loved filling up, I found a printable version as well as printable stickers.  I saved some big old Atlases that are falling apart so E can help me map our route.  She is already very excited about her role as "navigator" who gets to tell us about each state, and I've promised we'll stop at a Welcome Center for each state we pass into so she can get her book stamped and we can look at cool stuff.  This trip, speed will NOT be the name of the game...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mid-Year K5 Report

Well, it's officially Spring and my kids are already looking forward to the summer and warmer weather (not that it's been all that cold in South Carolina).  We headed to Rita's for our free Italian ices today and my kids were asking if we could swim and when we would go the beach... not yet, guys, not yet. :)

Ok so here is how our year has shaped up, where we are and where I hope to be by next Fall (2015):

Math:  We really find Saxon to work well for us-- we abbreviate & combine lessons, use our own manipulatives, as described here.  No stress, no mess, no need for me to prepare a lot ahead of time.  I didn't buy the Saxon 1 workbook 1 (though I did find book 2 for a good price), so we've used various workbooks to reinforce concepts each day, and plenty of play with our pattern block sets, manipulative and chalkboard.  I often do mini "worksheets" on the chalkboard for her, sometimes copying the Saxon workbook problems exactly.  Saves paper and the extra tactile input from writing with chalk seems good for her.  She still enjoys our Lentil Math set and is more and more able to work completely independently on it.  (Lil bro LOVES getting into the bean box which is an excellent sensory activity for him.  I am thrilled to say his last vestiges of sensory integration disorder have GONE!!!)

Language Arts:  We finished TYCTR around Christmas time and since then have done tons of reading from books on her level.  I personally have found the Step Into Reading graded readers to be the most accurately leveled, with a wide variety of topics.  Seems like TYCTR puts kids at a solid Level 2, able to stretch and read some of the Level 3s with a bit of help.  We also enjoy the Bob Books (Levels 4 & 5) and Elephant & Piggy books.  First Language Lessons 1 has been great for grammar.  I visited a homeschooling curriculum fair and was intrigued by All About Spelling so we bought it and have started it Level 1.  So far so good!  It's well-designed, not stressful and so far we are flying through it.  I'm hoping to start off with Level 2 in the fall.  (See Cathy Duffy's review of the curriculum here.)  E's discovered the joy of audiobooks and we get many from the library.  So far she's enjoyed multiple Magic Tree house stories, Winnie the Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Redwall and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  She listens to them as she falls asleep and often when she first wakes up too!

History:  Our progress has been slow, and we've chosen to stay in the Revolutionary/Colonial era until now, and are just starting to get into the War of 1812 (Caroline books in the American Girls series).  However I'm confident that she does have a pretty good grasp on the Colonial Era-- the Felicity books & movie have been hits, and the PBS series Liberty Kids has been good too (our library has them all on DVD).  One thing I've noticed in the American Girls books is that the older versions of the books-- the 6-book series rather than the 2-volume series they sell now-- are much better for younger children.  They are illustrated, more manageable as shorter volumes, and have such helpful endnotes on the time period, complete with photos of actual places and artifacts.  So go for the older books if you can find them!  At her age I'm happy to linger in one "era" a while and just do rote memory of the History Sentences.  (Side note:  I've been amazed at how much WILLIAM loves the AG books, be they Kaya, Felicity or Caroline!  He begs to read them and sits fairly riveted while I read them.  I'm not sure if there's a comparable series with a male protagonist, but we may just use the AG books when he comes along too!  Moms of boys, any suggestions?)

Geography:  we've made less progress in this area than I expected, though I don't worry about it too much.  We are still working on the states and their capitals as well as US geography.
Science:  Eowyn LOVES the Magic Schoolbus experiment kit and asks to use it regularly.  Alas I haven't been able to get to it as much as I'd like.

Foreign Languages:  our friends MOVED unexpectedly in January and we miss them AND our Spanish classes!!!!!  We are learning John 1 in Latin in CC.

Fine Arts:  we enjoy what we do at CC (studying masters of painting last semester and orchestra this one), and do our share of painting, chalk art, and table time at Creating Artists for Tomorrow (thank you livingsocial again).  I also picked up this little drawing workbook last week: Things Girls Love and it's been quite the hit.  I will snag some more in the Watch Me Draw Series if I see them!

Bible:  BSF has been great to keep us moving through the Pentateuch and having really good discussions on sin, complaining, pride and faith.  I recently acquired the "Go to the Ant" chart from Doorposts and am so eager to use it in addressing current difficulties in both kiddos.  I love that the chart helps them ask themselves heart-probing questions which take the focus off of me, and make it clear that I'm NOT "getting onto them" for "something I don't like about them," but rather am helping them identify and correct an attitude that their Heavenly Father warns against.  I am so impressed with the Doorposts material and as soon as they come out with an ESV version of their charts (it's in the works!!) I hope to buy their "Parenting Essentials Package" to use in character training in my own home.  I love that their materials don't focus on the negatives of God's commands but help them read about examples of those in Scripture who both ignored and obeyed God's word, allowing them to see both the consequences of disobedience and the blessings of obedience.  It's far from moralistic, is Scripture-rich and very practically laid out.  Each time my kids see how far they fall from obeying (or even wanting to obey) God's word, it's a chance to remind them of the Gospel, their need for a Savior and of the One who is Able to strengthen and change them!

Last week we had a few days of very warm, very pleasant weather (high 70s!) and I had the pleasure of taking my kids to play in my parents' creek... not only did I have flash backs to happy memories of my own childhood-- largely spent in that creek with my sisters and cousins (when I wasn't reading a book)-- but I got to witness childhood unplugged.  For HOURS my 5 year old and 2.5 year old played completely contentedly with leaves, sand, rocks, water and a few toys-- a Lego pirate boat set and a cup.  They watched ducks paddle by, they dug and imagined and yes there was a short-lived episode of mud-slinging that ended with one of them crying and the other very apologetic.  I can't wait to have more days like this.  We brought our schoolwork outside and did "games" on the back porch, splashed and played, and only came in when it was time for a quick lunch and naps.

My little crafty Christmas elf, hard at work
It's been a great year for our family; I've loved watching Eowyn really "get" reading and start to pursue it on her own.  Recently her little bro was upset (of course during dinner prep so I was not very available) and all on her own, she consoled him and convinced him to sit and let her read to him.  Five books later his tears were forgotten and they were playing together happily.  I was amazed and so thankful for her initiative and compassionate heart!  I keep remembering Susan Wise Bauer's advice to new homeschooling parents to just start with math & grammar and then add one subject in at a time.  That has been so helpful!  I do feel like our math and grammar are solid, and so we've added in spelling as another area to emphasize.  Next year I'm not sure which subject I'll pick to make solid-- probably music or science-- and will continue to just memorize the CC sentences for Latin, science & history and take them slow.  I'm also determined to continue to pursue Scripture study & memory with my kids!! All the academic knowledge in the world is useless without a sturdy character underneath it... and how will they know of Whom they have not heard, and how will they hear without a preacher (me) and the Word itself, dividing soul and spirit?

PS- I've started a book club with some friends and I LOVE IT!!!!!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Dr. Sears, I Don't Buy the "High-Needs Baby" Theory...

Babies are all high-needs at first.  But they are simple creatures.  They don't send subtle messages.  They don't have complex emotions.  They don't get offended at your word choice; they get hungry.  They aren't passive-aggressive; they're just helpless.  But they WANT to be quiet, to be happy-- because they WANT to be clean, dry, comfortable, safe, warm and fed.  If they cry, it's for a simple reason: something is wrong.  Most parents learn to run down the list of what could be wrong very quickly:  dirty diaper, too hot, too cold, lonely, hungry, needs to burp, frightening noise, tired... But there are babies for whom nothing "works"-- clean, dry, held tight and loved, they cry and cry and cry.

This is where the estimable Dr. Sears and I must part ways.  He would have us believe that some babies come out of the womb "high-needs;" naturally a bit more demanding; having a narrower spectrum of "comfort" or perhaps just a little ticked off that the world is so bright & cold... and that this is a normal personality variation.

Those of you who've worked nursery or held many children are probably holding up your hands right now, wanting to tell me-- just wait a minute, Christina, there ARE some kids like that!  And I agree.  Yes, there ARE babies who are more "difficult," more "demanding," who cry more and sleep less easily.  Where I differ with Dr. Sears is the assumption that these children are healthy.  These children don't have "high needs personalities;" they are in pain.  While "attachment parenting" can do these babies a tremendous service of ensuring that their needs are met in babyhood, it can also do them a tremendous DISservice of encouraging their parents to stop there-- to meet their needs and no more-- instead of working to correct whatever underlying issue is causing the crying, the fussing, the sleeplessness.

It seems to be common sense that babies would be designed to want "happiness."  Who doesn't want to have their needs met and be pain-free?  Babies are designed to cry until they get what they need from their parents.  If a baby keeps crying, it's because he still doesn't have what he needs.  If he keeps crying, he's in pain.  If he doesn't nap except in snatches, if he doesn't smile, if he seems tense, if he has reflux, if he doesn't want to be put down ever, then your mommy intuition is probably right:  something is off.   (I would extend this to children, too.  If a child is consistently whiny, fussy, defiant, unreasonable, angry, and unpleasant, my first question would be whether they feel well-- physically, then emotionally.  I am snappy and harder to live with when I have a headache!  This could be an entirely different post, but, barring turmoil and inconsistency in the home life, I would be suspect food allergies, vitamin deficiencies, subluxations and other neurological stress.)

But back to "high needs babies."  Having had two who seemed to fit that bill but who actually had underlying medical conditions I've been mentally compiling a list of possible reasons for "colic," "causeless crying" or "high-needs babyhood" over the past 4 years.  They are:

1. torticollis/ subluxation
2. tongue tie
3. other pain/discomfort- digestive, headache or earache- all related to food intolerances
4. neurological damage 
5. overtiredness
6. hunger
7. parenting style

Taking each of these in turn:

1. Torticollis/subluxation- either in the womb or during birth, some babies' spines are "kinked," especially their necks.  Some get into an odd, asymmetrical position during their last few months of development (especially twins), some have a strange presentation during birth or even birth trauma due to caesarean delivery, forceps or vacuum usage or pitocin-induced contractions (often far stronger than natural contractions).  Go back mentally to the last time you had a neck-ache... often it hurts to look or bend to one side, and at times nerves are actually pinched.  In babies with torticollis muscles on one side of the neck are shorter than the other, causing tension and pain of many kinds, or discomfort when a baby tries to turn its head one way.  As a speech pathologist friend once told me-- "We are designed to be pretty symmetrical.  Whenever a baby isn't, that's a sign of a problem."  One of the major nerves that goes through the neck and is easily affected by even slight tension is the vagus nerve, which affects digestion and heart rate (and mood).  In a baby, vagus nerve compression can cause sucking and digesting issues.

Hints that torticollis or subluxation is an underlying problem:

- baby holds its head always tilted the same way
- baby prefers to nurse only on one side
- baby prefers to lay on same side
- known birth trauma


- chiropractic care- you can find a certified pediatric chiropractor in your area here. Many chiropractors will come to your home days after delivery and adjust baby and mama.  A few testimonies of children helped by chiropractic care here and here.  The pressure used to adjust babies is the same amount you use to check a fruit for ripeness-- nothing scary or potentially damaging! Find a pediatric chiropractor here.
- craniosacral therapy - this therapy focuses on making sure the fluid that surrounds the spine and brain can flow correctly, without any pressure or difficulty.  Practitioners use a light touch-- some are licensed massage therapists, some are chiropractors, and some are occupational therapists.  Some success stories here.
- stretching as directed by a health care provider, and in some cases, physical therapy

2. Tongue/lip tie-  As you may know, this played a huge part in my son's disposition.  There are the obvious ways a tongue tie can cause issues-- baby gets too fatigued eating so he stops before he is full, then wakes up crying, or baby can't coordinate sucking and swallowing so he chokes-- again, leading to crying-- and with a lip tie, he can't get a good seal, so he often swallows air, leading to painful gas, and/or reflux again leading to crying. But tongue and lip ties also cause a fair amount of tension due to the restriction they impose on the lips, tongue and whole mouth.  This tension can lead to tension in the whole body.  I am on the Tongue Tie Babies Support Forum on Face Book and have seen some truly remarkable before & after pictures, of babies whose whole bodies were tense all the time, and after revision became the relaxed, happy infants they were meant to be.  Often, tongue-tie release (frenulectomy) goes hand in hand with bodywork (chiropractic care, CST, as described above).  It is the recommended follow-up to laser or scissor revision according to most care providers (including our son's doctor, Dr. Larry Kotlow).  Many children with tongue ties struggle with sensory integration and anxiety-- especially if they haven't had bodywork following their revision, or have not had a revision. One mom's testimony here.  Another here.

Hints that a tie is an underlying cause:

any of these symptoms
- a visible or felt tie.  Check for one yourself here.  Many of the preferred care providers on the TTSG list will also allow you to email in pics of your child's mouth and will give a preliminary evaluation based on that and a description of symptoms.
- baby being called "a lazy eater" 
- baby nursing frequently yet never seeming full- this also usually interferes with sleep


- complete tie revision by a knowledgable practitioner (usually dentists, a few ENTs) - usually done by laser but some providers use scissors
- "bodywork"- CST and/or chiropractic care
- suck training (sometimes occupational therapy, other times speech therapy)
stretches, massages and other strategies

3. Other pain-  This includes tummy pain due to indigestion, often due to imbalanced gut flora (too much "bad bacteria or yeast" and too few "good guys"), or could be migraines due to food allergies (yes, even babies can get them), or it could be pain from food sensitivities-- my son reacted to onion, echinacea, nutmeg and potatoes in my milk.

Hints that pain is an underlying problem:

Liam's bright red allergy-cheeks, 3 mos
- baby seems averse to nursing (and a tie has been addressed or been ruled out by a knowledgable practitioner)- he could be reacting to something in your milk and know it instinctively
- eczema or bright red cheeks following nursing (keep a food log to track these)
- gas, burping, drawing up of legs when crying, noisy belly, constipation followed by blow-outs
- baby popping on & off the breast, never fully draining a feeding
- visible signs of thrush in baby or yeast in mom; pain while nursing 


- have baby's ears checked.  Some babies (especially those with dairy intolerance) have constant low-level ear infections, which are painful but don't always manifest with a fever.  Natural treatments (such as garlic oil or onion; we use an ear oil similar to this one) of ear infections are often very effective in children, as are dietary reduction of sugar, salt and pasteurized cow's milk (all these tend to create mucus).  In cases where diet doesn't help, tubes may be recommended.  See below on probiotics & ear infections.
more allergy break-outs at 10 months old
- chiropractic adjustment- this specifically can help recurrent ear infections.  I've personally felt my ears drain following an adjustment as an adult!
- probiotics.  If baby's gut flora is off, she can't digest her food properly, causing gas and constipation and this hurts. In one study, L. reuteri was very successful at reducing crying time in "colicky' breast-fed & partially breast-fed babies. BioGaia drops have specifically been studied and found helpful (you can buy on Amazon).  Probiotics are also helpful at preventing and treating ear infections.  In another recent study, l. rhamnosus was used to treat anaphalactic peanut allergies, with promising results.
- be checked and treated for yeast.  Helpful resources here.  One friend's baby never nursed for longer than a few minutes at a time, popping off the breast and nursing around the clock, even at night.  She was also very very hard to soothe to sleep. These behaviors all greatly improved when her mom was treated for yeast.  Remember that mom AND baby should both be treated simultaneously, even if one seems to be asymptomatic.
- essential oils or herbs- many blends are helpful in digestion, often including chamomile, ginger, peppermint and fennel.  Oils would be diluted in a carrier oil and applied to feet or on belly.  Herbs would be made into a tincture or strong tea and fed in very small amounts (1/8 -1/4 tsp of tinctures, teaspoons of tea) to baby via dropper or in a bottle.
- elimination diet for nursing mom or solid-eating toddler - read Doris Rapp (MD)'s "Is This Your Child?" on diagnosing and treating food allergies.  As a child gets older, the GAPS diet may be useful in healing the gut and curing many pervasive chronic conditions, including food allergies and sensitivities.

4. neurological damage- this is the most controversial category, and potentially the most broad. Signs of neurological damage include an inability to sleep long stretches, difficulty regulating breathing, and sensory integration issues.  Several factors that could cause neurological damage include EMFsmetals in the environment (including mercury-contaminated fish in pregnancy), or other known toxins such as pesticides, both before and after birth.  Exposure to plastics- even pre-birth- like BPA can also cause a healthy person's DNA to have impaired methylation, as if they have a MTFHR mutation (more on this mutation later).  Highly recommended reading:  Gut and Psychology Syndrome (Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride) and Healing the New Childhood Epidemics (Dr. Kenneth Bock).

One big potential for neurological damage is vaccinations.   One vaccine is routinely given at 12 hours old:  the Hepatitis B vaccine.  This vaccine aims to protect against a disease that is mainly sexually transmitted, and includes yeast and .25 mg of aluminum. Read the vaccine inserts for all possible reactions-- they include encephalitis & encephalopathy (brain swelling), migraine, multiple sclerosis, neuritis, neuropathy, paresthesia, Guillain-Barré syndrome and Bell’s palsy, optic neuritis, paralysis, paresis, seizures, syncope, and transverse myelitis.  (source) One such reaction to the vaccine is here, another here. In these cases the result was death, but there can be a whole spectrum of adverse reactions due to neurological damage, including the following.

My friend Megan M. has allowed me to share a bit of her son J's story:
J was a sweet healthy newborn who nursed well, slept well, and had a lusty cry the few times he let us hear it (such as his heel prick).  However, just before discharge at 2 days old he was vaccinated with the Hep B vaccine.  Immediately he screamed a high-pitched strange scream... and didn't stop screaming.  For the next day he screamed and nursed, sleeping in snatches of 5-15 minutes instead of the peaceful several-hour chunks he'd slept before.  When he finally fell asleep after 24 hours, I was so relieved.  He seemed to sleep deeply, finally.  However my relief turned to terror as after 4 hours I could not awaken him.  He remained limp and non-responsive, even as we undressed him and had ice on his feet.  As I tried to wake him up, he suddenly convulsed, his eyes flew open, and he stopped breathing.  I will never forget his face as long as I live.  I screamed to my mom, a nurse, to help.  She started CPR while I called 911.  By the time EMS arrived we had managed to get him breathing again.  We were rushed to the hospital where every imaginable test was run; blood tests, x-rays, even a spinal tap.  Every test was the same-- inconclusive.  No one could tell us why our perfectly healthy little boy had suddenly stopped breathing.  In the hospital he again had episodes of apnea (not breathing) but each time we were able to "get him started" again.  We mentioned the vaccine repeatedly but each time were told "the Hep B vaccine is safe."  After two days of testing, we were sent home with the diagnosis "unexplained life-threatening event," and given the rather empty assurance that "it probably won't happen again."  However, J stopped breathing multiple times for the next few months.  We slept with him on our chests so we could wake up and pat him until he would start breathing again.  He also never again slept long stretches-- he'd sleep half an hour and be awake the next 1.5 hours around the clock.   He did not sleep through the night until 17 months old.  As a concerned mom, I began to research the Hep B vaccine J had received and found that all but one of his symptoms were listed as potential effects on the vaccine insert.  Why, then, had his doctors been so adamant that it could not have been responsible?  

J was a very "high-needs" baby, and became a high-needs toddler;  sweet and happy, very smart, yet very intense, clingy and anxious when faced with change like separation from mama, with repetitive behaviors and odd fixations.  This past year we received an autism spectrum diagnosis.  Thanks to many strategies and therapies he is thriving in our homeschool; at age 6 he has nearly completed 3rd grade and is learning so well.  J's story is far from over, however, we will never know what his beginning would have been like without the Hep B vaccine."

It is a fact that at least some children will have an adverse reaction to vaccines; they are legally classified as "unavoidably unsafe"-- thence the establishment of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to provide for & make reparations to families of children injured or killed by CDC-suggested vaccines.  Unfortunately, very little effort has been made to ascertain what risk factors could predict which children are most likely to have an adverse reaction. (you'd think with massive vaccine campaigns this would be important!) "...research suggests that most individuals who experience an adverse reaction to vaccines have a pre-existing susceptibility. These predispositions can exist for a number of reasons – genetic variants (in human or microbiome DNA), environmental exposures, behaviors, intervening illness or developmental stage, to name just a few, all of which can interact. Some of these adverse reactions are specific to the particular vaccine, while others may not be. Some of these predispositions may be detectable prior to the administration of vaccine; others, at least with current technology and practice, are not.” – Institute of Medicine, 2012 (source)

However, there are a few factors that might raise risk:  a tongue-tie or other midline defect (sacral dimple for ex), because it can be a symptom of a MTFHR mutation, which impairs remethylation, crucial for detoxification (this blogger sums it up well and has done her research well); personal history of overactive Th2 branch of the immune systemeczema, food allergies, seasonal allergies; family history of same; family history of vaccine reactions; anything GAPS related; personal history of mild to moderate vaccine reactions (high fever, high-pitched scream, lethargy, catatonia).  Many children who end up with a serious adverse reaction to vaccines had one or several "mild" but increasingly serious reactions to prior vaccines, especially vaccines in the same series.  This is an area where there are glaring gaps in research:  "The committee found that evidence assessing outcomes in subpopulations of children, who may be potentially susceptible to adverse reactions to vaccines (such as children with a family history of autoimmune disease or allergies or children born prematurely), was limited and is characterized by uncertainty about the definition of populations of interest and definitions of exposures or outcomes.” – Institute of Medicine, 2013"  (some research is being done but it is very limited)

Vaccinations during pregnancy are another factor to consider.  While the CDC currently recommends several vaccines to all pregnant women, the vaccine inserts themselves caution that there is no safety data regarding use in pregnancy (and breastfeeding, in some cases) and caution that the drug should only be administered "in cases of real need."  (See all inserts here.)  The flu shot is particularly controversial, firstly because in its injected multi-dose form it does contain mercury (thimerisol), but secondly because viral antibodies & fever during pregnancy increase the risk of autism and other neurological damage in the baby.  The point of vaccines it to trigger antibody production. If antibodies are a factor in autism, why risk anything that intentionally creates more?

Hints that neurological damage is a root cause:

 - change in disposition or sleeping habits soon after vaccination
- family history of vaccine reactions
- known MTFHR mutation in family or child (very helpful summary of MTFHR)
- family history of autoimmune or chronic disease (for ex. type 1 diabetes, eczema, serious food allergies, asthma, ADHD, ASD, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, childhood cancer, celiac disease)
- mother vaccinated during pregnancy
- family home near cell towers or high-voltage power lines
- high degree of EMFs in room where child sleeps
- known interaction with pesticide or other environmental toxins


- avoiding further vaccination at least until child's neurological condition has resolved
detox baths to aid in detoxification
GAPS diet in children, best done under the supervision of a certified GAPS practitioner
- switching from vitamins and foods fortified with folic acid to the natural form, folate
- glutithione supplementation and eating foods high in glutithione (ex. avocados)
- coming under the care of a DAN! doctor, who look at chronic conditions in children from a multi-faceted biomedical model

Well, that sums up the first 4 medical reasons why a baby might be labeled "high-needs." That was pretty long; kudos to you if you're still reading! :) Tomorrow I will attempt to tackle the last 3 contributing causes which sound so much more ordinary. :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Thanksgiving Books We Love

One of the easiest traditions we have is also one of my kids' favorites:  seasonal books.  I have a box for the major seasons (well, more than one for Christmas!), with the decorations, books & special toys I've collected for that season.  Our "Fall" box has our beautiful autumn placemats, silk flower arrangements, halloween trick-or-treat bags, a pretty "thankfulness leaf" glass jar, my "Harvest Blessings" wooden pumpkin centerpiece... you get the idea.  But the best part (according to the kids) is the books.  Starting small and adding a book or two each year has gotten us a great collection in just 7 years of marriage's time.  Here are some of the books in our Thanksgiving/Fall collection now, along with a few I hope to buy this year.  I keep my eyes open at thrift stores, consignment sales and Amazon Marketplace (used & new) and the most I pay is $4 for a really nice copy.

-- The First Thanksgiving, by Linda Hayward, illustrated by James Watling-- this simple reader is well-illustrated and gives a wonderful brief overview of who the Pilgrims were, why they left England, their voyage aboard the Mayflower, their first winter in Massachusets, their friendship with Samoset, Squanto & Massassoit, and the first "Thanksgiving" (harvest feast).  I appreciate that the text doesn't try to revise history or make any political point:  the story is simply told, both groups (I feel) fairly and positively represented.

-- Squanto & the Miracle of Thanksgiving, by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis-- I can't read this book without choking up a bit.  The tragic events that God used to allow the first Plymouth colony to survive are not widely known:  that Squanto (Tisquantum) had been kidnapped as a young man and sold as a slave in Spain, that he was bought, set free & discipled by Spanish monks, that he lived & worked in London for 5 years, that he finally came back to his home village after 10 long years to find it completely emptied by plague, himself the sole survivor, that it was this very village, with its abandoned huts, graveyard & stores of corn which offered enough shelter for the shivering Pilgrims to survive that first winter, that Squanto's understanding of English ways & language prevented misunderstanding & allowed the Pilgrim survivors to have a bountiful harvest that summer, that their coming gave a broken man renewed faith in the God who made use of his misery... all these weave together to make a beautiful backdrop for that first feast of Thanks.  Beautiful illustrations.  Together they lead you to praise the sovereign goodness of God.

-- Cranberry Thanksgiving, Wende & Harry Devlin-- This tale about a famous cranberry-bread recipe and its would-be thief is Eowyn's favorite book right now.  She remembered making the cranberry bread (recipe included! We just de-glutenized it =D) from last year and can't wait to make it again.  The story & illustrations are just perfect.  A fun story set at the time of Thanksgiving with the message that not all are what they seem; friendship is found in the most unlikely places.

-- Over the River & Through the Wood,  poem by Lydia Maria Child, woodcut illustrations by Christopher Manson-- This is my personal favorite.  The woodcut illustrations perfectly evoke a 19th century New England Thanksgiving.  I love giving my children a glimpse into what life was like at that time.  Note:  there are many different illustrations for this one classic poem.  Manson's are my favorite of them all. :)

-- Over the River & Through the Wood, illustrated by David Catrow-- this book was actually mailed to me by mistake when I ordered the above version, and it is definitely not one I would have bought.  The cartoonish illustrations are set in modern times (so there is the value of comparing travel then & now), with a baby floating out the window into a Macy's Day Parade and being caught in Grandma's baseball cap.  Ehhh maybe it will grow on me... I just really don't like the style of illustration.

-- If You Were At... The First Thanksgiving, by Anne Kamma, illustrated by Bert Dodson-- one of the excellent Scholastic books in the question & answer style.  It does a great job answering all the questions children want to know about life in Plymouth & that first Thanksgiving.

-- ...If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Anna DiVito-- overlaps a bit with the above volume but focuses more on the voyage, presented in ways a child unfamiliar with month-long trips in small spaces with NO DVD players, can grasp.

Books I hope to snag & add soon:

-- Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
-- A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving, by Irene Smalls
-- Thanksgiving Graces, by Mark Moulton, illustrated by David Wenzel
-- An Old- Fashioned Thanksgiving, abridged & illustrated version by James Bernadin-  I had this vibrantly illustrated children's version given to me by a student's parent when I taught preschool... and alas I think I must have left it in my classroom when I moved to SC because I can't find it anywhere!  I also would like to eventually buy the unabridged version when my kids are a little older.
-- The Berenstein Bears Give Thanks, by Jan & Mike Berenstein-- (and/or any of the other BB Thanksgiving-themed stories)-- only because my kids are both absolutely enthralled with these books (I remember being the same way as a kid).  I don't know what it is about these books that so fascinate kids (I kind of groan now when they ask me to read them... which they do... every day), but whatever it is, this series hones in on it!
-- The Great Thanksgiving Escape, by Mark Fearing
-- A Pioneer Thanksgiving, byBarbara Greenwood, illustrated by Heather Collins

There are quite a few books out there that look great-- see my ongoing "wish list" here!

What books do you remember reading about Thanksgiving?  Most of our favorites have been recommended by friends like you!