Monday, May 2, 2016

Defender of the Faith: Saint Athanasius


Saint Athanasius by F. A. Forbes

This book is recommended as Easter reading for Level 3 Year 1 students by Mater Amabilis. Because St. Athanasius is the patron saint of our homeschool, Kansas Dad's confirmation saint, and a patron of our whole family, I had read the book before but did so again before First Son would read it to refresh my memory.

St. Athanasius's life is nearly unbelievable as he stood firm against the persecution and misleading statements of the Arians, a divisive force in the early Christian world who maintained falsely that Jesus was not God, but a creature, one created by God. He suffered five exiles in the desert, hiding in the midst of monks and hermits. He wrote extensively, sending letters and treatises throughout the young Christian world.

The Arian controversy threatened to tear the early Christian church apart, but in the end, the Church survived, in no small part thanks to the courage and faithfulness of St. Athanasius.

Forbes's biography of St. Athanasius is meant to be an inspiring story rather than an objective biography we might expect today (not that they're ever really objective). Even so, it's an excellent book on the Arian controversy for the Level 3 student. First Son also appreciates "graduating" to saint books beyond the Vision series.

People of any era require reminders that how we explain and defend our faith is essential, that governments and peers can lead us astray if we do not ground ourselves in the most essential tenets of the faith. Yet St. Athanasius never held a grudge, which is also important to remember. Those who accepted the Nicene Creed were welcomed back without impunity and with open arms.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

World Travels with Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels

Mater Amabilis Level 3 recommends Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels, spread over the two years of the level, the Occident in Year 1 (sixth grade) and the Orient in Year 2 (seventh grade). I debated about finding an alternate title as it seemed expensive, but everywhere I looked online the homeschool voices resounded with praises for this book and lamentations that nothing else was comparable. I found Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels at the bargain price of about $28 including shipping using BookFinder.com. It may be cheaper to buy the two copies separately, but I like having it all in one book. (When I checked earlier this spring, it looked like the complete book was more reasonably priced than each volume separately.) I did talk seriously with First Son about our copy, explaining it was an older book that would require gentle handing.

Today I'd like to add my voice to the others singing the praises of The Complete Book of Marvels. This is by far my favorite Level 3 book!

Richard Halliburton writes as if he is traveling with a group of young people beginning in California, traveling east across the United States and then through Europe, ending in Istanbul. Written in the 1930s, the descriptions and stories are, of course, missing a few decades of history, but it's simple to supplement with some searches online if necessary. Each chapter swirls from geography to history to inspiring descriptions to travel adventures. There are ample photographs in the book, some from the author's own travels. His stunts like swimming the Panama Canal and thrusting a stick into the a smoking crack of Vesuvius thrill the reader and are perfect for reading rather than doing.

The descriptions astound and delight. Reading about places I'd been, I yearned to return. Reading about new and exotic places, I suddenly felt a wanderlust, a desire to venture out into the wide world. Halliburton invites the reader to venture to the edge of volcanoes, the pinnacle of mountains, and the dungeons of castles. In the chapter on the Iguazu Falls, he writes:
Then, abruptly, we reach the edge of a terrific mile-wide abyss, and stand before what seems, at the moment, to be all the beauty in the world changed into mist and moonlight, floating out from among the stars, and falling and fading into a bottomless fissure in the earth.
There are also exquisite descriptions of the wondrous, like the Blue Grotto:
Magic has been worked on everything. About us hang the draperies of an azure fairyland. The rock of the cavern walls has been changed to a curtain of soft sapphires ashine with silver spangles. And the water we float on is no longer water. It's a bottomless sky shot full of unearthly blue light. Blue--blue--blue--silvery, shimmering, fairy blue dances on the ceiling, electrifies the quivering lake and touches the very air with supernatural radiance, overwhelming us with its blue beauty.
First Son read one chapter each week, narrating it orally. I also assigned him mapwork in his Geography Coloring Book as it was appropriate. I bought this book a few years ago and we use it over and over again, coloring in new pages as we work through geography and other lessons.

Chapter 1 - color California on p 11
Chapter 3 - color Washington on p 11
Chapter 4 - color Arizona on p 11
Chapter 5 - color Nevada on p 11
Chapter 6 - color New York on p 7
Chapter 8 - color Washington, D.C. on p 7
Chapter 9 - color Florida on p 8
Chapter 10 - color Mexico on p 12
Chapter 12 - color Haiti on p 13
Chapter 13 - color Panama on p 12
Chapter 14 - color Peru on p 17
Chapter 15 - color Argentina on p 17
Chapter 16 - color Brazil on p 16
Chapter 17 - color Spain on p 21
Chapter 18 - color France on p 21
Chapter 21 - color Switzerland on p 22
Chapter 23 - color Italy on p 23
Chapter 27 - color Greece on p 23
Chapter 29 - color European Russia and Asian Russia on p 26
Chapter 30 - color Turkey on p 30

First Son's copy of the Geography Coloring Book is an older one, but First Daughter has the third edition and I checked that the page numbers are still accurate.

I am eagerly anticipating the second half of this book as we venture into the Orient!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Source of Joy: The Little Flowers of Saint Francis


This book is recommended for Lenten reading for Level 3 Year 1 students by Mater Amabilis. An ebook is available for free, but I opted to purchase this Paraclete Heritage Edition (used copies are quite reasonably priced) because paper books just seem to work better in our homeschool. This particular edition is introduced, annotated, arranged chronologically, and rendered into contemporary English by John M. Sweeney.

Originally published in Latin, The Little Flowers was almost immediately translated into Italian in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It wasn't available at all in English until 1864. Before it was published, the stories were passed on orally by the Franciscan brothers. (A few additional stories were added by one of the Italian translators, but those weren't in our edition.)
The Little Flowers tells the story of St. Francis and his earliest companions--the men and women of the early Franciscan movement. They are teaching tales, intended to motivate the reader toward holiness. There is never a question as to the sanctity of the subject of these tales; they are not the subject of objective history.
The early stories focus on St. Francis and his first companions, but the second part is mostly about "modern" friars (stories 42-53), those of the time when the Fioretti was compiled or written. The more modern stories are presented in an attempt to defend themselves within the order at a time when it was divided into (mainly) two cohorts. They include multiple references, for example, to purgatory even though it was not a formal doctrine until long after St. Francis's death.

This book is essential for understanding St. Francis.
There is no document or collection of documents that has had as much impact on our collective and cultural understanding of Francis of Assisi and the personality of the early Franciscan movement as The Little Flowers.
The editor debated about changing the title as he felt it both didn't reflect the original Latin and because he thought people were not drawn in by the title. First Son, a twelve year old boy, protested on the very first day because of the title. He wanted no part of flowers! I shared a little of the introduction (which I had assigned) and encouraged him to have an open mind.
What makes these stories relevant today is the power with which they grab hold of the reader, sometimes by the fantastic claims they make for the life of St. Francis and his first followers, to change one's life before God. Hyperbole--if that's what it's called--has always been a rhetorical device and a symptom of deep believe; and it can be a tool of transformation.
Once First Son started reading the book, he loved it. The brief chapters glow with the early fervor of St. Francis and his followers. Stories of preaching in underwear, enduring hardships, and battling the devil inspire thrilled my sixth grade son.

One of my favorite stories is The source of joy, or, St. Francis and Brother Leo walking in the freezing rain. St. Francis, walking behind Brother Leo, calls out to him repeatedly, telling him everything the source of joy is not such as being "an example of holiness and integrity to the world," working miracles including "the dead to rise again after four days," knowledge of man and Scripture, and winning the conversion of others. Brother Leo finally begs St. Francis to tell him the source of joy.
"When we arrive at St. Mary's," Francis began, "and we're soaked by the rain and chilled to the bone, completely drenched with mud and so very hungry, and we ring at the gate and the brother on duty comes to the gate and says, 'Who are you?' We will say, 'We are your brothers.' But if he argues with us and says, 'You aren't telling me the truth. I don't trust you. You might steal from us. Go away!' then he won't open the gate and we'll have to stand outside in the freezing snow and cold until night falls.["]
He continues, saying they'll endure more insults.
"If we bear all of this with patience and receive his insults with joy and charity in our hearts--write this down too, brother: that is the source of joy!["]
He says, "We bear it all because we love him."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Favorite Picture Books: How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots

retold and illustrated by Barbara Knutson

In this book, a Swahili story explains why a guinea fowl has spots. In the beginning, she's a beautiful black without a single spot. She and Cow are great friends, spending time together each day but always watching out for Lion. One day, spotting Lion stalking Cow, the guinea rushes in to save her friend without a thought for her own safety. The next day, she attacks Lion a second time, again saving her friend. In thanksgiving, Cow sprinkles milk over her feathers, giving them lovely spots and allowing her to hide perfectly in shadows and grass.

A small note on the copyright page shows how to pronounce the guinea's name. The illustrations leap off the page and include scratch marks that evoke African art.

We have guinea fowl because they eat ticks and grasshoppers, so we were destined to love this book. Even better, it exemplifies friendship and courage.

Highly recommended.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Physics with Fred


It is now called Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics but the content has remained the same. I believe I purchased my copy from CBD. You can find a placement test there.

I wrote last year about how we started using Life of Fred and how First Son managed with Fractions and Decimals and Percents. He finished Decimals and Percents at the beginning of this year without problems, working steadily.

The Physics book contains forty chapters. At the end of each chapter are a few questions under Your Turn to Play. The answers appear on the following page (unlike the previous and ensuing books in which the answers appear immediately after the questions. While a student could avoid looking at the answers, I find it difficult myself to avoid accidentally seeing them.) Every six chapters or so, there's a "Bridge" of ten questions including recent and review material. The Bridge answers are in the back of the book. It's recommended students can answer at least nine questions correctly before moving on to the next chapter. With that in mind, there are five Bridges provided each time so the student has multiple chances to pass. In the beginning of the book, the author writes that some students complete multiple Bridges merely for additional practice and we did that a few times as well. If First Son seemed just a little shaky on something even if he had passed, I encouraged him to do a second Bridge and he usually did.

This is the last book for which the student is not supposed to use a calculator, and there's plenty of multiplication and division to practice those skills.

Because I didn't remember much of my high school physics, I read the chapters and answered the questions as well. I included it with my other preparation over the weekend for the upcoming week. He rarely needed help, but I was glad I was ready the few times he did. 

First Son loved placing mathematical problems and concepts within the framework of physics. Rather than replacing the physics he was doing for science, I found this book a nice complement, bringing in additional information and providing greater practice with the concepts introduced in his other books. (The physics books he read this year focused much more on the development of thought in physics and the theorems than practice problems with actual numbers.) Some of the topics covered include: friction, the meter, Mu, measuring force, Hooke's law, energy, work, transfer and storage of energy, the metric system, measuring mass, pressure, density, buoyancy, vacuums, volts, amperes, ohms, Ohm's Law, parallel circuits, and the history of physics.
 
Along the way, there's plenty of math, including review from Fractions and Decimals and Percents.

The Life of Fred books excel at revealing a greater world of mathematics and all of creation:
Fred asked a question that stopped Kitty: "What makes you think that human beings with their three-pound brains should be able to understand everything? There are mysteries in physics. There are mysteries in mathematics. There are mysteries in religion. Only lunatics and God say that they know all the secrets of the universe."
The last few chapters of this book are a condensed history of physics without any math problems to work.
The more we discover, the less we pretend to understand.
First Son spent fifteen weeks, four days a week, working through this book, including repeating a few of the Bridges. He continued with xtramath until he mastered division again and is also completing the sixth grade module on Khan Academy. He's nearly finished with that and then we'll set it aside until next year as well. (I didn't do as well keeping up with him on Khan Academy as I did with the physics!)

He has already eagerly started Pre-Algebra 1 With Biology, though he'll need to set it aside at the end of the year and finish it next school year. We continue to be pleased and encouraged by Fred here on the Range.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Picture Book Basket on the Range

For the past few years, I've implemented what I call our Picture Book Basket. Each week, I load the basket with a handful of selected picture books. Each day, Second Daughter and Second Son (who are 7 and 5 this year), choose one book for me to read aloud to her or him. (Generally, other children crowd around as well.)

From the beginning, I was surprised at how books I expected to be immediate draws were left until the end of the week or not selected at all. I feel like I learn a bit more about the people Second Daughter and Second Son are by the books they choose, especially the ones they choose early in the week when there's a fresh batch of books.

A second advantage was a freedom to let picture books slide. In past years, I'd feel anxious about picture books I had scheduled that we did not have time to read together, but anxiety about reading picture books is not a productive homeschool anxiety, especially given the amount of other reading going on. With the Picture Book Basket, I'm able to read a picture book a day without worrying about reading every picture book.

I was also excited to have this method for ensuring the picture books I love on our shelves end up in front of my kids on occasion. Something about putting them in a smaller group facing outward just encourages more reading.

Finally, with three young readers in the house, I find myself reading fewer picture books. The kids read them independently, and even more often, the older ones read to the youngest. My picture book snuggle time is on a definite downward trajectory. The Picture Book Basket ensures I get a little time with each of the little ones every day. On the best days, he or she insists on sitting on my lap - it's the right of the one who chooses the book, of course.

Want a Picture Book Basket of your own? First, grab a sturdy box. I have an old one that's sturdy even if not the most aesthetically pleasing. (I tried to hide the worst of the peeling and discoloration in the photo.) Then, choose some picture books.

Picture Book Sources
  • The Classics - These are the quintessential picture books you might find on the kinds of lists that tout the 100 picture books every child should read like this one, or this one, or this one. I'm not specifically suggesting these three; they were the first that came up in a Google search. These kinds of lists are ubiquitous. If you glance through a few, you're bound to come up with thirty you love and want to share with your kids, so make a list and put one per week in the basket. My choices tend to end up on the blog as favorite picture books.
  • Library Finds - I'm constantly checking out new books at the library. When I find one I think the kids would like or that I'd like to share, it goes on this list. Because I'm a heavy-library-user, I ended up choosing two each week for this category. Sometimes we like them more after reading them and sometimes they never surface again. If you keep an eye on blogs like The Bleeding Pelican or Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, you'll have a steady stream of possibilities.
  • Liturgical Year Books - Resources like Catholic Mosaic and modern Catholic publishing houses provide many wonderful picture books. When a feast day or a saint's day happens during a week, I put my favorite books in the Picture Book Basket. I happen to know the third grader often reads these and then puts them back in the basket.
  • Reading Around the World in Picture Books - I've done this for years, selecting picture books set in a particular country or continent and reading them through the year. It's such a wonderful way to introduce children to other cultures and life all around the world. I often post our books on the blog and you can find them with the Reading Around the World tag.
  • Bird Picture Books - Second Daughter loves birds. (I feel like I say that over and over on the blog, but it's true.) This year we started a bird study that will continue next year as The Burgess Bird Book for Children is long enough for an extended study. When I find a bird-featured picture book, I add it to the list and put one each week or so in the Picture Book Basket. These tend to be creative and fun rather than informative. I wouldn't expect another family to include specifically bird books, but you could consider featuring an animal or topic that particularly fascinates your children.
  • History Picture Books - We use RC History's Connecting with History and there are often recommended picture books or ones I find at the library. If I find one that fits, I'll put it in the Picture Book Basket rather than scheduling a time to read it. American history in particular provides a plethora of choices.
  • Math Picture Books - Inspired by Let's Play Math, I started adding math picture books to the basket as I find ones I think the little ones will enjoy. Second Son (age 5) seems to be particularly drawn to these.
  • Science Picture Books - Over the years, I've found many picture books that align with the science my third and fourth grade students are studying. They're already in my lesson plans so I added them to the Picture Book Basket, too. 
  • Random Other Books - In third grade, for example, my kids do a Kansas study, so this year we added a handful of Kansas books to our Picture Book Basket as they seemed appropriate. The picture books are listed at the end of this post. Sometimes, if I know a field trip is coming up and request a slew of related library books, I'll choose a few to put in the basket over the course of a few weeks. Basically, this category means: "It's my basket and I'll put what I want in it."
In theory, we could have a lot of books in our book basket, but in practice we don't have books from each category every week. At most, we'd read ten books a week (two books each day, one for each child), but we rarely go five days in a row when we get through every single lesson without a crisis or an appointment or a beautiful day that demands the five year old be outside rather than "doing lessons." On average, I'd say we read 6-8 books a week from the Picture Book Basket. Sometimes that's all of them but most weeks there are one or two left in the basket at the end of the week. Those get shelved with the other library books until they're due, so sometimes the kids end up reading them anyway.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Growing Up in Ancient Rome: A Triumph for Flavius

A Triumph for Flavius by Caroline Dale Snedeker

First Daughter (age 9, third grade) read this book independently in our study of volume 1 of RC History's Connecting with History. Flavius is the son of Mummius, the conqueror of Corinth in 146 BC. He bestows the most impressive captured Corinthian on his son as his personal slave. It's an excellent close look at the life of a young boy in ancient Rome, but more importantly, it's well-written and a book of loyalty, courage, and compassion.

In one sentence early in the book, Flavius suddenly seemed like a real person:
The flame from the pine torch lit up the muddy street and the smoke trailed backward. All his life Flavius was to associate the smell of burning pine with those trips to school.
Ariphron quickly becomes a hero to Flavius, describing his travels to locations throughout the ancient world on his father's trading vessels. The pyramids, for example:
"They are covered with polished stone... and when the sun shines upon them, they dazzle the eyes. They seem like mountains for the gods to dwell on. But they are not beautiful. They are only stupendous."
Ariphon's despair is difficult for Flavius to understand, sheltered as he is at his age from the reality of war and the previous life of a captured slave. 
"What is the matter? little Flavius," he said brokenly. "Only the death of my father and mother, only the death of my brother and best friend, and the disappearance of all--all the rest. Only my city burning, burning forever in my mind."
Still, over time, Flavius and Ariphon learn to respect each other. In foolishly but courageously protecting him from Mummius, Flavius proves to his father Ariphon's worth as well. In the end, he and his wife are reunited and granted their freedom.

RC History lists this book as grades 3-5. First Daughter is in third grade and read it easily. Some third graders may need it to be read aloud to them, but it would be an excellent book for a family read-aloud. Though there are some violent events mentioned (like the destruction of Corinth), the violence and sorrow are tempered for young readers and listeners.

I have an older edition of this book, I think. I can't remember when or how I bought it as it was many years ago though we didn't read it until this year. The illustrator for my edition is Cedric Rogers and though the cover illustration is terrible (being a distorted and poorly colored version of one from inside the book), the interior illustrations were excellent and plentiful. I am pleased to see the cover has changed, though there is a new illustrator so I cannot say when the interior illustrations are like.

Links to RC History are affiliate links. We use this program in our homeschool and I highly recommend it. If you prefer, you may reach RC History here on a non-affiliate link.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Bird and Sweetness: Lulu and the Duck in the Park


I saw this series last year and knew I had to read it with Second Daughter. She's developed an intense love of all things bird, but is drawn to all wildlife. A little girl with a menagerie? A girl who likes to leap off the swing when it's at it's highest height? Oh yes, this girl is for Second Daughter!

Each Tuesday, the class walks through the park for their swimming lesson.
Getting Class Three past the climbing wall without anyone darting in, and the lake without anyone getting wet, was the hardest part of Mrs. Holiday's week.
We all know how that goes, right?
On the way back one Tuesday, they witness a near-tragedy at the local park when a few dogs run amok, disturbing all the birds' nests. Lulu spies one lone egg on the sidewalk as they walk back to class and smuggles it into school. Of course, it hatches! Lucky for Lulu, she has a good friend and a wise teacher to help her.

Second Daughter and I both enjoyed this book. One of the best parts are the illustrations which are realistic and somehow surprisingly joyful. You can feel the energy in them. Even better, Lulu and her cousin (and best friend) are black, a point not mentioned in the story at all. Her class is multicultural (which is standard today and welcome), but minority main characters are harder to find, especially if you're just looking for a sweet story and not one specifically about being a minority. (Those stories are important, too, of course.)

I'm not sure Second Daughter is confident enough in her reading to read them herself. (In theory, she's been reading more advanced books, but I think she's just skipping the more difficult words.) We alternated reading pages after her official-reading-lessons but when the story was really exciting, she wanted me to just read it to her. I wouldn't; we'd set it aside if she got too tired to read.

I haven't read the rest of the books yet, but they're on my list. If you've read them, let me know what you think!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

March 2016 Book Reports

More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls by Caryll Houselander - link to post. (purchased copy)

Everything Must Change: When the World's Biggest Problems and Jesus' Good News Collide by Brian D. McLaren - link to post. (Kansas Dad's copy)

Mrs. Pepperpot's Outing by Alf Proysen - I thought I found a Pepperpot book on Mater Amabilis's prep level page (preschool and kindergarten), but it's not there so now I'm not sure. Wherever it was, I requested this one from PaperBackSwap because our library didn't have any of the Pepperpot stories. In this quirky books, Mrs. Pepperpot shrinks to the size of a mouse and hilarity ensues. I intend to read this aloud next year, mostly for the benefit of my youngest who will be six and just starting kindergarten. I imagine they'll all enjoy it. (received through PaperBackSwap.com)

Hickory by Palmer Brown - I found this on a list of summer or spring read-alouds and thought the cover looked lovely. In fact, the entire book is physically lovely. The binding and slightly thicker pages are of excellent quality. The illustrations are delightful. The story, though, is a little ambivalent. Hickory is a mouse who leaves the farmhouse to make his home in the meadow where he befriends a grasshopper. In the fall, when the grasshopper expects to die, they decide to journey south where it's always warm. And that's how the book ends, with them wandering southward. I plan to leave it out with the library books so the kids can read it if they like, but I'm not going to read it aloud. (library copy)

Mystery of the Roman Ransom by Henry Winterfield (purchased copy) - This book is recommended by our history curriculum for Roman times (find it here). It's a mystery that mixes a few historical people and actual events with an imagined group of young boys that find themselves in the thick of things. The author shows every-day life in ancient Rome without "teaching" and the story is enjoyable. I read this one aloud, but the older two read the first book in the series, Detectives in Togas, on their own. That one is recommended as a read aloud for the unit before but I didn't have time to read it aloud. (received through PaperBackSwap.com)

The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit - Six children find their family in financial difficulty after their mother dies and attempt various methods to procure riches - rescuing rich men in distress, wielding a diving rod, digging for treasure in the garden, selling poetry...they all have idea. Their naivety and generous natures win many friends, inspiring them to see the world anew. I stumbled once while reading it when I encountered one particularly unacceptable word. (I wonder how Librivox readers deal with such things; I suppose they read it. I skipped it, the whole sentence in fact.) It's not my favorite E. Nesbit novel, but it was worth reading aloud and my children enjoyed it. (library copy)

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - link to my post. (library copy)


Books in Progress (and date started)


The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts (so they'll really be from me).

Links to RC History and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links.


Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Second Daughter's Wood Duck

Second Daughter (age 7) spent an afternoon drawing a wood duck after the most recent issue of Nature Friend arrived. She's certainly the one who enjoys our subscription the most, but I always hope the others will flip through it as well. I learned some interesting tidbits myself about the house wren in April's issue.

You can try some of the drawing lessons yourself here, and if you enjoy it, consider a subscription. (I receive nothing if you decide to subscribe.)