Monday, July 24, 2017

Reading Journal Questions for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor

In the first term next year, First Son will spend twelve weeks studying the United States in the twentieth century, found in the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis. One of the suggested further reading books (remember, one every six weeks) is Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, a book I also read in eighth grade.

Most of the further reading books will just be read without any narration or other assignments, but I wanted to make sure he and I had a chance to discuss this book a little more, so I've assigned a reading journal question for each week. Just in case someone else might be interested in adopting or adapting the questions, here they are.

Week 1: Chapters 1-2
Describe the difference between the Mississippi schools for white and black children at the time of the novel.

Week 2: Chapters 3-4
Give examples of some of the racism you have read so far in the book.

Week 3: Chapters 5-6
Write a narration of the history of slavery and black people in America, based on Mrs. Logan’s explanation to Cassie.

Week 4: Chapters 7-8
Describe the friendship between Stacey and T.J. What about that between Stacey and Jeremy? Why does Mr. Logan give Stacey the advice he does about Jeremy?

Week 5: Chapters 9-10
Describe how options are limited by the poverty of the black sharecroppers and how that poverty is maintained by the white landowners.

Week 6: Chapters 11-12
Choose one of the characters from the book and explain how he or she was courageous.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Faith Amidst Horror: The Hiding Place

by Corrie ten Boom

This is one of many worthwhile books proposed as further reading in the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis. One reading book should be chosen for the six-week study of World War II, but oh, how to choose just one?! Only a few are ones I had read myself, so in a hopeless search of the perfect choice (since they are all excellent), I'm reading many of them myself for the first time.

The Hiding Place is a memoir of Corrie ten Boom's life. In her late forties when the Nazis invade her Dutch homeland, she and her family courageously protect and shelter Jews from the invaders. Eventually, they are caught. She and her sister are imprisoned and moved from camp to camp until the war's end draws near. The book is one of faith and trust, describing how her saintly sister's hope and prayers sustain them and bring light to the world in a time of tremendous darkness and evil.

Corrie's family is Christian and her thoughts often dwell on how a Christian should behave when the world has gone mad.
We knew, of course, that there was an underground in Holland--or suspected it. Most cases of sabotage were not reported in our controlled press, but rumors abounded. A factory had been blown up. A train carrying political prisoners had been stopped and seven, or seventeen, or seventy, had made it away. But always they featured things we believed were wrong in the sight of God. Stealing, lying, murder. Was this what God wanted in times like these? How should a Christian act when evil was in power?
Though they always balked at murder, her family members and their underground often stole and lied to protect people from the Nazis.
Love. How did one show it? How could God Himself show truth and love at the same time in a world like this?
By dying. The answer stood out for me sharper and chillier than it ever had before that night: the shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world.
In the concentration camps, Corrie's sister, Betsie, recognizes the greatest needs and sorrows within the guards and other employees at the camp. Though their bodies suffer less than those of the inmates, their souls endure grievous wounds. Betsie always insisted there was hope for them, that they could be taught to love.
I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us. I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat; Betsie saw a wounded human being.
And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of a person she was, this sister of mine...what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on the all-too-solid earth.
Working in Germany after the war, work her sister envisioned before her death at their hands, Corrie met one of the SS men they had encountered in a camp. Though she had been serving the German people and speaking repeatedly of forgiveness and love, she stood dumbstruck, angry and quivering. She prayed:
Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Corrie's story is a powerful one of holding fast to the Truth and Beauty of Jesus in the face of absolute horror in the concentration camps. Yet it maintains the dignity of all human life, even those who participated in the camps or turned their backs rather than speak out.

It is a book strikingly Evangelical in character; it's purpose is to share the story of Betsie and God's redeeming work in the world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Servant of God and War Hero: The Miracle of Father Kapaun

by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying

This book grew out of newspaper articles written by Wenzl and Heying about Father Emil Kapaun, a man maybe little known outside of Kansas, but someone who has inspired the local Catholic population.

Emil Kapaun grew up in Pilsen, a small town in rural Kansas, became a priest, served as a chaplain in World War II and Korea. He died in a prisoner of war camp after inspiring hundreds of men, bolstering their hope and their chances of survival.

Mater Amabilis™recommends in Level 4 a saint biography for each term, one focused on a twentieth century saint to correspond to the literature and history recommendations. Though Father Kapaun is not on the list, as he is not yet a saint, he seemed a natural and really necessary choice for our son growing up in Kansas.

This particular book focuses on Father Kapaun's ministry in Korea, incorporating interviews with surviving POWs and people in his home diocese. Additionally, it describes the actions of those campaigning for Father Kapaun's receipt of the Congressional Medal of Honor (awarded in 2013) and the cause of his sainthood.

Materials have been submitted to the Vatican and many in Kansas pray daily for Father Kapaun's beatification. He has already been named a Servant of God and Vatican has placed him on the expedited list for consideration because he would be the first saint from his diocese. (Expedited for the Vatican means something like seven years to consider the cause rather than fifteen.) Wenzl and Heying describe some of the purported miracles attributed to Father Kapaun's intercession.

The authors are not Catholic; they are journalists. The actions of Father Kapaun in the war and the miracles are often presented with an air of detached amazement. They do not discount the miracles, however.

I did find it a little annoying how the book is often written in snippets, as they try to present multiple storylines simultaneously.

I enjoyed reading the book. The stories of Father Kapaun's courage and hope in the prisoner of war camp are inspiring and reveal what such places are often like. The later chapters about the Medal of Honor and canonization provide information on what those processes can look like, something usually neglected in saint biographies. However, it's not really a proper biography of Father Kapaun. It moves very quickly over his boyhood in Kansas and even his service in World War II. While I would like First Son to read this book, I'm not entirely sure it's the one I'd like to assign. to read another book!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Contemplating God in Prayer: Prayer and the Will of God

by Dom Hubert van Zeller

This is one of the best books on prayer I've ever read.

This book is divided into two parts. Part 1 addresses prayer and Part 2 is focused on the will of God.

Right from the beginning, this book is an encouragement to prayer.
If we can honestly say we are trying, we can just as honestly say we are praying. So long as I am really trying to please God in my prayer (or in anything else, for that matter), I am pleasing Him. All He asks is that I should try to serve Him. The moment I try, I am in fact succeeding. I do not have to feel that I am doing it well, and that my prayer is pleasing God, because feelings are likely to be quite wrong about the goodness or badness of our prayers. All I have to be clear about is that I am making an effort.
Prayer does not have to be something complicated or intense. Early in the book, van Zeller compares prayer to gazing at a work of art.
Say you were to stand in front of a painting, a masterpiece. If you were ready to take in what you saw, you would gain in knowledge. Your knowledge would make you like the picture. Your liking for the picture would make you understand a little about the artist who painted it. So, altogether you would be a lot better off, in regard to art, from having stood for a while in front of a masterpiece and gazed at it. The perfection of the work would have revealed itself to you.
In the say way, spending time in prayer, regardless of what you think is accomplished, allows you to receive something of God, which can nurture a love of God within you.

Some of the advice is quite solid and practical, especially in Part 1. Why we pray, how we pray, when we pray, distracted prayer, and unanswered prayer. There are also three simple questions (on p. 15 for those who care to look them up) to contemplate when reading Scripture.
The purpose of prayer is not to bring God's will down to your level so that you may get what you want. The purpose of prayer is to lift your will to God's level so that you may get what He wants.
Evaluating prayer is almost impossible this side of heaven. We simply do not understand enough about God to determine our prayer is unfruitful.
You may not see much during your prayer, but afterward and because of your prayer, you come to see more and more of God's light wherever you look.
Of course, such results may take years or decades to become apparent to us.
What happens is that our faith is strengthened by every prayer we make, and with faith we view the world differently and the whole of life differently. There is nothing miraculous or exciting about it. It is simply the result of having been nearer to God for a bit.
The second part of the book, on God's will, is not so easily quoted. Many of the arguments and explanations go on for a few pages, but they are worthwhile. The author is not afraid to confront the dilemmas of prayers like the truly consuming work of struggling to know God's will, to align our own will with His in trust that it is best.

This is a Catholic book. There are probably many chapters that would appeal to non-Catholic Christians, but the author does draw on liturgy and tradition in addition to Scripture.

I usually read a chapter or half a chapter each day, with sometimes many days in between to consider what I had read. This would be an excellent book to bring to Adoration, inviting an honest conversation about its words with the Lord.

There are plenty of books on prayer I have read and passed on to others, but this is one I intend to keep and read again. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hard Work and Family: The Good Master

by Kate Seredy

Cousin Kate, weak and unruly, breathlessly arrives at the smoothly run far of her uncle, the Good Master. She learns from her aunt, uncle, and cousin Jancsi how to care for plants and animals on the farm and control her own behavior. She grows strong and healthy surrounded by a beautiful land, beautifully described.
From the distant, shadowy line where earth and sky merged together, golden shafts of light rose, piercing the white mist over the plains. A few lingering stars flickered and were drowned in the brightening sky. Then slowly, majestically, the red sun rose above the horizon. It seemed to hover for a second, as if reluctant to tear itself away from the earth; then it came into full view, painting everything to the smallest seedling in Kate's garden with its glorious light. The full-throated warble of a robin rose from the apple tree, heralding the new day.
The children are frequently visiting throughout the Hungarian countryside and often hear stories of myth and history.  The illustrations are simply delightful (and I believe are the same in the book I have and the paperback linked on Amazon).

There were a few stories of gypsies that had me cringing a little. I never know how much of what's told of gypsies in older books is prejudice and how much is based on actual behavior. I may talk with my children about that a little when we get to those parts. There are also a few parts where the children tease each other, speaking disparagingly of "sissy" behavior. We don't talk that way around here, but I'm not going to let it stop us from reading and enjoying the book.

In one chapter, the children meet Mikulas (St. Nicholas) at the train station and help him distribute gifts to the children in the village. (He turns out to be Kate's father, dressed in red and wearing a fake white beard.) If you have little ones who still believe Santa Claus or St. Nicholas leave gifts, this episode might raise questions in their minds. I'm pretty sure all of our children know we are the ones who leave gifts so I'm going to risk it.
"You know who the real Mikulas is? He is a different person to every child. He is always the one who loves you best in the world. We left beautiful gifts for the village children, but each of them will find some other gift, too, tomorrow morning. Perhaps it will be a very, very simple little gift, but it will be precious to those children because it was given with the greatest love."
I have a lovely hardcover copy printed in 1967. I bought it used on a whim because I recognized the name of the author and am delighted it appears as a recommended supplemental book for World War I in the Level 4 history plans at Mater Amabilis. The Good Master takes place before World War I. I intend to read it aloud to all the children: eighth grade, fifth grade, third grade, and first grade.

The sequel, The Singing Tree, is also recommended, which takes place during World War I. I just found a used copy of that on Cathswap so we may read that one as well.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Like Pearls Slipping off a String: Anne of Avonlea

by L. M. Montgomery

My ten-year-old daughter recently finished the Anne series. I started along with her, but don't have as much time to devote to reading as she does. Of course I read all these books when I was a little girl, but they have a new sweetness to me as an adult.
Saturday proved an ideal day for a picnic...a day of breeze and blue, warm, sunny, with a little rollicking wind blowing across meadow and orchard. Over the sunlit upland and field was a delicate, flower-starred green.
Why, oh why, is nature study not like that? We can't even manage a nature walk imbued with that kind of softness and peace. I think there must be a difference between a group of elvish teenage girls and my raucous thirteen-, ten-, eight-, and six-year-olds.

Anne is seventeen and working full-time as a one-room schoolhouse teacher, supporting her aunt and distant relation six-year-old twins, but her thoughts are far different from what we expect of modern teenagers. Perhaps they shouldn't be.
In the delicate, white-browed face beside her, with its candid eyes and mobile features, there was still far more of the child than of the woman. Anne's heart so far harbored only dreams of friendship and ambition, and Mrs. Allan did not wish to brush the bloom from her sweet unconsciousness.
Anne of Avonlea, when Anne is teaching school, prompted questions in my mind about the kind of life we're living each day in our homeschool.
"After all," Anne had said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string." 
Anne's days are ones of hard work compared to our modern ones. She didn't have dishwashers or washing machines or vacuum cleaners, but how lovely they seemed to be. They are imaginary, of course, but I can't help feeling I could improve our days by focusing more on peace and relationships rather than activities and screens.
Perhaps she had not succeeded in "inspiring" any wonderful ambitions in her pupils, but she had taught them, more by her own sweet personality than by all her careful precepts, that it was good and necessary in the years that were before them to live their lives finely and graciously, holding fast to truth and courtesy and falsehood and meanness and vulgarity.
Kansas Dad reminds me all the time that we are creating this kind of environment for our children, a much different one from that found in most homes, but it's difficult not to see the room for improvement. Anne of Avonlea provided some much appreciated encouragement and inspiration.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Rich World Bereft: Joan of Arc

by Mark Twain

This book was our book club selection, one long enough we spread it over two meetings. I enjoyed this book much more than Tom Sawyer. It's long, but moves quickly along so it doesn't feel particularly long.

I do not know how historically accurate this book is, but it seemed to agree what what I had know of her life. It was told with some of Twain's characteristic sarcasm like this passage when Joan was taken away from a stake and a crowd greatly disappointed by the lack of a burning:
Then suddenly everybody broke into a fury of rage; maledictions and charges of treachery began to fly freely; yes, and even stones: a stone came near killing the Cardinal of Winchester--it just missed his head. But the man who threw it was not to blame, for he was excited, and a person who is excited never can throw straight.
There were also lovely sentiments:
Yes, she was gone from us: Joan of Arc! What little words they are, to tell of a rich world made empty and poor! 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Our Level 4 (8th Grade) Six Week Unit on World War I

Mater Amabilis™ gives some lesson plans for History in Level 4 (8th grade) in which a student studies national history for twelve weeks followed by four six-week terms chosen from six options.

In the first term, First Son will follow the Mater Amabilis™ study reasonably closely, modified only a little to add in a few Kansas-related books.

Beginning in the second term, First Son will spend six weeks studying World War I. Mater Amabilis™ recommends Witness to History: World War I by Sean Connolly as the main book but our library didn't have it and I already owned The World Wars by Paul Dowswell, Ruth Brocklehurst, and Henry Brook so I decided to use that instead. You can find it on Amazon, but I bought my copy from a friend who sells Usborne books. 

Because my main book is different than that recommended, I had to revise the lesson plans considerably and thought I'd post them here in case anyone else happens to have this book and wants a six week study of the First World War. I haven't seen Witness to History: World War I, but I do have the World War II book of the same series. It is shorter than the part of The World Wars devoted to World War II and I think would therefore allow for more exploration of topics of interest, World War II saints, or the Church in World War II. It's probably also cheaper than the Usborne book.

I haven't actually read any of the books yet, but I have no reason to believe my plans are any better than the Mater Amabilis™ plansso this post is for the few people who might already have the Usborne book lying around.

Also, these plans have never been used. Hopefully I have the courage to report back if they turn out to be a disaster!

Mater Amabilis™ says history at this level should take about 45 minutes each day three times a week. In addition, a supplemental reading book should be chose from the recommended books. (I picked War Horse which I was able to find on

Our Resources

  • Usborne The World Wars (I purchased this new through a friend.)
  • Kingfisher HistoryEncyclopedia, as recommended in the Mater Amabilis™ plans (I bought this used from a mom in my local homeschool group.)
  • MapTrek Outline Maps of World History (I've had this for years as it's recommended in Connecting with History; I probably bought it at RC History.)
  • I printed to PDF most of the articles linked in the plans and placed them in a binder before the term began. Movies or audio files I linked in a Google doc I shared with my son.

Week 1

Lesson 1
Kingfisher History Encyclopedia p 376-377 and 386-387 - Narrate. (The Balkan Wars 1921-1913, The World at a Glance 1914-1949)
The World Wars p 9-11 – Narrate. (The Great War)
MapTrek Modern World Map 20: The Balkan Wars
Review the map of World War I in your history notebook (MapTrek Modern World Map 21 completed during the first term’s American History)

Lesson 2
Kingfisher History Encyclopedia p 388-389. (The Start of World War I 1914)
The World Wars p 12-17. (Balance of power, Assassination and crisis, Europe in arms)
Notebook: Write a brief note on the causes of the First World War.

Lesson 3
The World Wars p 16-19 – Narrate. (Plans unravel)
Notebook: Write a brief summary of the Schlieffen Plan or the First Battle of Marne.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries from this week.

Week 2

Lesson 1
The World Wars p 21-27 – Narrate. (Over by Christmas?, Carving a new frontier, Fire, wire and mud, Going up the line)
Notebook: Sketch a copy of the map on p 23 of the battles and front lines in the first year of the war. Write a brief summary of life in the trenches.

Lesson 2
The World Wars p 28-29, 32-37 – Narrate. (A storm of steel, North Sea raiders, Your country needs you, A day of peace)
Read more about the Christmas Truce in two articles in your history binder: BBC special news report and a Smithsonian article.
Notebook: Write a summary of the Christmas Truce.

Lesson 3
The World Wars p 39-49 – Narrate. (Going global, Cruiser warfare, African action, Turkey enters the war, Jihad and genocide, The Eastern front)
Notebook: Sketch the map of the Eastern front on p 48.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries from this week.

Week 3

Lesson 1
The World Wars p 51-55 – Narrate. (Deadlock, A deadly mist, Settling in)

Lesson 2
The World Wars p 56-61 – Narrate. (A dangerous voyage, Out of thin air, The home front)
Read more on the Lusitania in articles in your binder: A survivor story from SlateLost Liners Lusitania on PBSRMS Lusitania: The Fateful Voyage on
Notebook: Write a newspaper account of the sinking of the Lusitania from England or Germany’s point of view.

Lesson 3
The World Wars p 62-65 – Narrate. (Gallipoli, War in the snow)
Notebook: Sketch the map shown on p 63 of the Gallipoli campaign and write a brief summary of its failures and successes.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries from this week.

Week 4

Lesson 1
The World Wars p 67-77 – Narrate. (The mincing machine, Dreadnoughts duel, Doomed youth, Sky fighters, Slaughter and Sacrifice)
Flying Aces by John Wukovits (from our library) – read Introduction and chapter 1 on the Red Baron.
Notebook: Written narration on the Battle of Verdun, Battle of Jutland, Air warfare in the First World War, or the Battle of the Somme.

Lesson 2
The World Wars p 78-87 – Narrate. (Trials and trauma, Women in uniform, Shock tactics, Secrets and spies, Desert wars)
Read about Lawrence of Arabia at IWM, found in your notebook.
Notebook: Write a short biography of Lawrence of Arabia.

Lesson 3
Explore the EWTN Fatima website:
Notebook: Written narration on the apparitions at Fatima.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries from this week.

Week 5

Lesson 1
The World Wars p 89-91 (Riots and Rebels)
Kingfisher History Encyclopedia p 392-393 (Ireland: Civil Unrest 1916-1923)
MapTrek Modern World Map 24: The Division of Ireland.
Notebook: Written narration on Ireland just before, during, and after World War I.

Lesson 2
The World Wars p 92-93 (Peace, bread and land)
Kingfisher History Encyclopedia p 394-395 (Russia 1917-1924)
MapTrek Modern World Map 23: The Russian Revolution.
Notebook: Write a summary of how Russia’s participation in World War I ended.

Lesson 3
The World Wars p 94-95 (Waking the giant)
Read Wilson’s War Message to Congress and what it meant, both in your binder.
Notebook: Question to answer – Do you think the USA should have entered the war earlier? Explain your answer.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries from this week.

Week 6

Lesson 1
The World Wars p 96-105 – Narrate. (Drowning in mud, Backs to the wall, Death throes, Armageddon, The time for peace)
Review MapTrek Modern World Map 22 of the final allied offensive, in your binder from first term.

Lesson 2
The World Wars p 107-113 – Narrate. (Peace and its aftermath, Coming to terms, Redrawing the map, The glory and the pity)
Read some war poetry in your binder: Dulce etDecorum Est by Wilfred Owen and The Soldier by Rupert Brooke.
Review MapTrek Modern World Map 25: Europe, Post WWI, in your binder from first term.

Lesson 3
The World Wars p 114-121 – Narrate. (A changed world, Soldiers’ stories, Visions of war, Lest we forget)
Notebook: Write an essay sharing what you have learned from studying World War I.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries from this week.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Universal Delight: The Hobbit

by J. R. R. Tolkien

We listened to this audiobook version of The Hobbit with Kansas Dad on a recent vacation. It was absolutely perfect. The story captivated everyone. The reader was excellent. It was a new story for three of the children and they loved every minute of it. Our youngest is six, but I think he would have enjoyed it even a few years ago. Highly recommended!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Why I Should Read My Own Blog

by Cheryl Harness

I read this book aloud to the children at the end of this year along with our American History studies. I respect the story of his life and his undeterred search for education. He also has a connection to Kansas and his birthplace in Missouri isn't too far off our usual travels to be out of reach for a little visit. I should have read my own blog, though, and would have remembered I read the book myself a few years ago and didn't care for it.

The Groundbreaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America (Cheryl Harness Histories) by Cheryl Harness was a book I really wanted to like and started out enjoying it. Ms. Harness has interesting illustrations throughout and a fascinating timeline of George Washington Carver's lifetime, showing events around the world, along the bottom pages of the book. I was a little annoyed by her use of initials. Sometimes (not always), George Washington Carver was GWC. Sometimes (not always) Booker T. Washington was BTW. Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes TR. I really should be able to get over that. I was also concerned by the description of a black man accused of raping a white girl and then brutally murdered before Carver's eyes. The murder was horrible and my children don't know what "rape" is yet; I'd rather not explain it until after they've learned more about married life in a good and beautiful way. (The rape was not described, just the murder.) I did appreciate the discussion in the book of the differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. De Bois. Overall, I'm not interested in giving this book to my third grade son to read on his own and at the moment don't have any other recommendations. I'm open to other suggestions. (library copy)
I agree with all I wrote then, though as I was reading aloud I was able to pretty easily adjust the story of the rape and murder. This time through (reading aloud to a 7th grader, 4th grader, 2nd grader, and kindergartener), I was more concerned with the introduction of the physicists working on the atomic bomb. It didn't go into great details, just enough to get my kids asking and talking about it for a few days. I wasn't excited about explaining the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to my 8 year old.

The last paragraph was the worst in the book, though. I actually tried to skip it but made the mistake of telling my children I had. After all their questions, I just read it aloud and we talked about it.
Was the atomic bomb a good use of science and scientists? It is a desperately difficult question, but, as George Washington Carver would tell you, that's what science does best. It guides you to a never ending questioning, answering, and then more questions, such as what should we do -- or not do -- with our knowledge?
I have an undergraduate degree in cell biology and genetics. I have worked in labs at universities and corporations. The pursuit of science does indeed foster never-ending questions. One of the glorious gifts of our Lord is a physical world we can never completely understand, fostering (hopefully) a greater love for it and its creator. But science does not properly ask or answer the question of what we should do with our knowledge or our quest for it. Frankly, our society generally neglects asking those kind of questions until it's too late and action has been taken. When those kinds of questions are asked, they are in the realm of philosophy and ethics.

Hopefully next time I'll remember not to read this book again.