Friday, November 30, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: Courageous Faith adapted from a book by Lillian M. Fisher (Kateri Tekakwitha: The Lily of the Mohawks, which I believe is out of print)

This book is part of the Encounter the Saints series published by Pauline Books, a series of books on the saints written at the second or third grade level.

My only knowledge of St. Kateri Tekakwitha is from the Vision Saint book, Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maiden by Evelyn Brown, and her Glory Story CD, but this book seemed to present her story accurately.

My children love St. Kateri. She is the first Native American to be named a saint and one of a few born in the land that is now the United States. Many people love to share her story because it gives us a chance to discuss the Native American culture within the context of the Catholic faith, and that's fine, but her life provides wonderful examples of leading a Christian life and following the call of God within our hearts.

St. Kateri took upon herself many sacrifices such as extreme fasting and mixing her food with ashes. In a story for children (and perhaps instructive for us all), her spiritual director restrained her desires, asking her to remove the thorns she had placed upon her bed. I like that a story for young children reminds them to ask the advice of elders, even in areas of sacrifice.

A pronunciation appears within the story for each name and other Mohawk words, which is very helpful. I think an independent reader might need more assistance. If I give this book to First Daughter to read aloud to me (as I might), I will write the pronunciations down on a sheet she can slip into the book so she can check them as she reads. With an independent reader, I would review the pronunciations before sending him or her off to read. There is a glossary at the back which surprisingly does not include pronunciations.

Overall, this is a nice addition to the series and I recommend it for young readers. (I also highly recommend the Glory Story CD, though I haven't heard new version released upon her canonization in October.)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: Courageous Faith. The Catholic Company is a great resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family.

Book Review: Death Comes for the Archbishop

"Where there is great love there are always miracles," he said at length. "One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
This book might very well be the best book I read in 2012. It's lovely and lyrical. Willa Cather's great respect and admiration for the Southwest and the people who live there shines through on every page. It's not a novel in a traditional sense -  a protagonist with a problem to solve. It's more like a character study, but just as much a character study of the place as the person.
The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,--and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!
It's a magnificent book of the building of the Catholic Church in the Southwest, the missionary zeal to serve and instruct, and the great respect the Archbishop and his fellow priests had for their people. Over time, the Archbishop comes to love the New World so much that he grows uncomfortable in the Old one.
In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body feel light and one's heart cry "To-day, to-day," like a child's.
I am not adept at reading fiction; I always feel I am missing nearly all of the great Truths nestled within. I enjoy it anyway, especially reading one written as beautifully as this one. Each page was a pleasure to read without any hurry to "see what would happen" because frankly, very little does. Time moves differently in the novel as if, purposefully, the Archbishop is merely remembering his life in bits and pieces, relishing the greatness of the ordinary, the deep contentment of a life well lived, and a willingness to pass on to the next.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: Simplicity Parenting

Kansas Dad asked me to read this book after he received it from inter-library loan.

This book is an argument for simpler lives - less stuff, fewer activities, more regular daily rhythms, and protecting our children from growing up too fast. In general, it promotes spending more time with each other as a family without distractions. I doubt many people would argue against family time, but the truth is we often feel compelled to spend our time in a variety of ways and don't always consider our goals when doing so.

There's not really much new in this book, but I think it's a powerful one in bringing it all together. Some of it is a little too touchy-feely (especially for Kansas Dad). It's can get a little repetitive. The most difficult part of the book was the extremely tiny print; it was seriously hard to read at times.

I did like reading it, though, as it renewed our desire to create in our home a quiet place where children can consider life and engage in deep play. With that freshly in mind, Kansas Dad and I have been spending some time thinning our shelves of toys and (gasp) books. (We had so many that were torn and not of lasting value. I'm also seriously considering breaking the remaining books into groups to be brought out in cycles, but hampered by a lack of storage space.)

I've also been watching Second Son closely recently. I've seen him pull out buckets of toys and simply line them up without actually playing with them. There's an example in the book of a young girl who did the same thing until her parents thinned her toys and in so doing released her from her impulse to sort over and over again. I think Second Son is at a phase in his life where sorting is playing but I think he might be satisfied with less to sort.

I was also pleased to see the rhythms of daily life given such importance. We have many rituals here. Our Sunday pancakes, weekly lunches with grandparents, and evening prayers can seem constricting at times. Many of the thoughts of these authors confirmed my own beliefs that these rituals are deeply important to our children, that they provide a foundation of love and support from which much more is possible. Evening prayers in particular can seem like such a hassle for so little return, degenerating into tears and arguments more often than I would possibly have believed, but I think our commitment to the daily ritual shows the children not just our faith and our firm belief that God will hear and respond to our needs rather than some elusive perfection in the act of family prayer (and our lack of attaining it) but also our trust in their own growth and improvement in the attempts.

For those that are having difficulty articulating a desire to reduce (toys, books, activities), this book could be very useful. Those that find themselves sliding back into previous habits might also find it helpful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Paul Revere's Ride

Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand

One year, I checked out one of every illustrated copy of Longfellow's Paul Revere's Ride the library owned. After reading them all, this was by far my favorite. Mr. Rand seems to capture the grim determination, eerie quiet in the waiting, haste and flurry in the galloping.

The poem is not historically accurate, of course, but it is a masterful work of art in itself. When sharing it with children (and mine love to hear it), the illustrations in this book are a worthy accompaniment. Plus, there's a map on the front and end-covers. First Son has always loved maps.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How to Cook a Turkey (2012 edition)

Every year we celebrate Thanksgiving with our friends from story hour with a big lunch (all the holiday foods - turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie). The story hour teacher always takes pictures of each of the kids and asks them how they cook a turkey. You can read last year's recipes here. This year, Second Daughter and Second Son refused to give a recipe, but the other two had some interesting suggestions.

First Daughter (6 years old):
  1. Get a turkey.
  2. Buy it.
  3. Cook it in the stove for 30 minute at 10 degrees.
  4. Eat it.

First Son (8 years old, just a month shy of 9):
  1. First, get some baby turkeys.
  2. Wait until they grow up.
  3. Grab a turkey, if you can.
  4. Break off all its feathers.
  5. Then you add some spices and some grease to it.
  6. Put it in the oven at 298 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Cook it 38 minutes.
  8. When the time is up, take it out, stuff it with onion (if you like).
  9. Then take off a leg, wing, breast, whatever you prefer.
  10. Then eat it. Enjoy!
Enjoy indeed!

What I Loved About Last Week (53rd Ed.)

Thanksgiving! It was a beautiful day, beginning with the ever-fantastic French toast casserole (which the children did not eat at all; Kansas Dad and I will be enjoying its perfection for three days). Kansas Dad made a wonderful dinner at his parents' house, completed by a delicious chocolate mousse cake made by Grammy. It was a wonderful day.

And we took pictures.

First Son, 8 (almost 9)

First Daughter, 6
Second Daughter, 4
Second Son, 2
the whole family
Silly Girl

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Water Sings Blue

Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So

I mentioned this book briefly when I wrote about poetry. The more I peruse this book, the more I love it. The poems are in a variety of meters and rhythms, but all about the ocean or ocean life: waves, tide pools, jellyfish, shark, and more. My favorites are What the Waves Say and Sand's Story. Some of them are silly, which always appeals to the young ones, but Ms. Coombs doesn't speak down to the children.

The real treasure, though, are the illustrations. They are simply wonderful. Her watercolors are brilliant and vibrant, showing all the colors of the sea shore and ocean.

Books like this remind me how much I'd like to take our children to see an ocean. One day we will. In the meantime, we share books like this together.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Advent Is Coming

I started to request some picture books from the library for our Advent picture-book-or-two-a-day and ran into my request limit before I'd gotten more than half-way through my list.

I'm guessing I'll have enough books since I think the limit is 50...

My new St. Nicholas cookie cutter arrived this weekend, too. I've wanted one for years and finally allowed myself to order it. A group of young girls has been meeting once a month and we're going to dedicate our next meeting to decorating cookies for the feast day.

Advent starts December 2nd!

What I Loved About Last Week Is Out Sick

I've been fighting off various illnesses for three weeks now, nothing terrible but just dragging along. I'm tired and I'm taking the day off from blogging. I hope you had much to love last week!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why We Memorize Poetry

About six months ago (maybe longer), a friend asked me why the children and I memorize poetry and I'm ashamed to admit I did not have a good answer. I've been considering the question ever since. I searched a bit online to find that very few people articulate exactly why children should memorize poetry. One otherwise wonderful book on how to teach a love of poetry neglected memorization entirely. Yet it seems right to me that we not just read poetry, but that we memorize poetry.

I am not expert on poetry memorization or Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, but here are the reasons we memorize poetry here on the Range.

It is impressive. One day, my children will be adults (God willing) and may naturally respond with a bit of poetry at just the right moment to impress someone. Or they might make me look like an awesome teacher as they proudly recite for a grandmother or aunt. This is not a good reason to ask your children to memorize poetry. It will happen anyway.

It is fun. Ask any child who has learned Daddy Fell Into the Pond by Alfred Noyes and you will understand. My children love to recite this poem (especially for their father) and continue to do so even when giggling so hard they can barely speak. If he ever does fall into a pond, I only hope they hesitate long enough to pull him out before reciting it. (I found this poem in Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected For Boys and Girls, a wonderful treasure I have requested many times from the library.)

It helps develop better memorization and observational skills. According to Laura M. Berquist in The Harp and Laurel Wreath:
Little children are good at memorization; they pick up jumping-rope rhymes and doggerel verses without effort. Encourage this inclination and ability by having the children memorize fine poetry, among other things. This will strengthen the imagination and memory, as well as prepare the children for the subsequent stages of intellectual development. Since poetry draws attention to specific aspects of experience, regular exposure to poetry will reinforce children's observational powers.
I don't follow Ms. Berquist's instructions in teaching my children poetry or leading them in the memorization of poems, but I think it makes sense that the continual attempt to memorize what we hear must improve our ability to do so (or at the very least, decrease the progression of our inability to do so). I have seen in my own children their tendency to notice things after we have read a poem about them. A book of autumn poetry strategically read calls their attention to the change of seasons outside their own window. (If I were a true Romantic, we'd read such poetry outside, but the wind here on the Range makes outside lessons impractical on a regular basis.)

It is instructive. I haven't read Charlotte Mason's fourth book (Ourselves), but I found these quotes at Ambleside Online, where you can read the full text of her books:
History and biography are full of instruction in righteousness; but what is properly called literature, that is, poetry, essays, the drama, and novels, is perhaps the most useful for our moral instruction, because the authors bring their insight to bear in a way they would hesitate to employ when writing about actual persons.
So nice a critic as Matthew Arnold tells us that poetry is a criticism of life; so it is, both a criticism and an inspiration; and most of us carry in our minds tags of verse which shape our conduct more than we know.
We build a repertoire of rhythm, rhyme, and vocabulary, much of which is otherwise absent from our everyday conversations. With well-chosen lines of poetry nestled in their hearts and heads, children are more likely to remember what words mean. They are able to recognize similar phrases and rhythms when reading unfamiliar poems or other works of literature. Later, when we are ready to study such things as meter and poetic forms, they will have "a working knowledge of poetry." (Maryellen St. Cyr in When Children Love to Learn) I have no evidence for this; but I believe it is true.

A memorized poem becomes an old friend. Many of the poems we have memorized are common, found in various anthologies. When we come across one we know in a book of poetry, the children are delighted. Their faces light up and they will often happily start singing or saying the poem along with me. First Son will also sometimes recognize a poet's name and immediately lines from a memorized poem will spring to mind. Brandy wrote along similar lines on her blog:
After our first term of poetry memorization, I learned to like poetry. Now, after doing this for a couple years, I would almost say that I love it! The only thing I changed was adding memorization. In addition to this, my children initially seemed neutral, but now they claim they "love" poetry. It is hard to love poetry if you haven't learned to love individual poems and poets, and that is the possibility which memorization holds out to us.
The children come to possess something, in a very real way, when it is memorized. This struck me while perusing Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's The Value of Charlotte Mason's Work for Today in When Children Love to Learn. She says:
Memorizing is another way children can possess knowledge and beauty. They respond to the cadences, the words, the thoughts.
Once it has been memorized, the beauty and truth and greatness of a poem belongs to the child. As they consider it over time, it becomes a part of them and one lens they can use to view the world.

Children learn to recite. Reciting poems gives children the opportunity to speak aloud without having to think of what to say. Practicing a poem allows them to learn how to enunciate and embellish and it allows children to incorporate theatrical play. In her first volume, Home Education, Charlotte Mason says:
All children have it in them to recite; it is an imprisoned gift waiting to be delivered, like Ariel from the pine. In this most thoughtful and methodical volume we are possessed of the fit incantations. Use them duly, and out of the woodenness of even the most commonplace child steps forth the child-artist, a delicate sprite, who shall make you laugh and make you weep.
We empower children. Reciting poetry does not require electricity or outside entertainment. It can be calming or comforting in times of stress. With a heart full of much-loved poetry memorized, children can entertain themselves while waiting at a doctor's office, while on a road trip, or while waiting for a turn at the drinking fountain. They can include it in their imaginative play. (Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry is wonderful for imaginative play.) When I was in middle school, I was thrown from a horse and injured my back. I remember being terribly frightened. Singing poetry helped calm me and passed the time while we waited for x-ray results and emergency rooms and doctors to assess the situation. (I wish I'd known more poetry to help pass the six days I spent in a hospital bed awaiting a brace.)

Finally, poetry within our hearts and minds can give us the power to understand and express our feelings when we otherwise might not. When I was in high school, we read John Keats's On First Looking into Chapman's Homer and I was forever indebted to Keats. His words, written about a book, so perfectly described the way I had felt so often, I could hardly believe no one had given it to me before (which shows how little others understood me or how few people know Keats as they should, or perhaps both). With this in mind, I often try to choose poetry that I think will speak to my child about his or her own experiences. (I also ask my children to choose their own poetry, if they like.)
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
   When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
   He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
   Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
I've read this poem to my children already, though they are still too young to understand it. One day, they will, and they will know their mother better for it.

How We Memorize Poetry

Our poetry Memory Work is very easy. I read the poem aloud and the child listens. Once each day. Every day. After a while, the child starts to speak up and with seemingly little effort (though sometimes a great number of days) will recite the entire piece. We read the new poem of the day, recite one of the two most recently memorized and also recite one from longer ago. Three poems a day. That's it.

As a side note, First Daughter (who is in kindergarten this year), memorized about six poems in the first three weeks of school then promptly decided she was not interested in Memory Work. I let her make that choice. When she asks or when we start first grade, she will begin again.
But, let me again say, every effort of the kind, however unconscious, means wear and tear of brain substance. Let the child lie fallow till he is six, and then, in this matter of memorising, as in others, attempt only a little, and let the poems the child learns be simple and within the range of his own thought and imagination. At the same time, when there is so much noble poetry within a child's compass, the pity of it, that he should be allowed to learn twaddle!  [Home Education by Charlotte Mason]
A Note on Our Poetry Lessons

Our Poetry study is separate from our poetry Memory Work. Once a week, I read from a book of poems. My children love this time. When they see the poetry book in our lesson pile, they cheer. This year, we've been reading from The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry. Some of our other favorite books of poetry can be found here and here. Many picture books are also wonderful books of poetry. I recently found Water Sings Blue which is delightful!

We also read poetry as part of our history studies. For example, this year we read the wonderful Walt Whitman: Words for America in our American history studies. It included excerpts of Whitman's poems within the text and more extended or complete versions at the end. I also read from Hand in Hand: An American History Through Poetry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quote: Caddie Woodlawn

From Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink:
For hours Caddie tossed about on her bed. The upper room was hot and close, but an even hotter inner fire burned in Caddie. She had some of her mother's quick temper, and she was stung by injustice...All the remorse and the resolves to do better, which had welled up in her as soon as she had seen Annabelle's tears, were dried up now at the injustice of her punishment.
Late in the night, her father sits by her bed and speaks quietly to her:
I don't want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners, whom folks sometimes call a lady. No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl. I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind. Do you think you would like to be growing up into that woman now?
After talking with him:
And now the room was cool and pleasant again, and even Caddie's tears were not unpleasant, but part of the cool relief she felt. In a few moments she was fast asleep.
But something strange had happened to Caddie in the night. When she awoke she knew that she need not be afraid of growing up. It was not just sewing and weaving and wearing stays. It was something more thrilling than that. It was a responsibility, but, as Father spoke of it, it was a beautiful and precious one, and Caddie was ready to go and meet it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: In November

In November by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Jill Kastner

If you live where fall is changing into winter, it's the perfect time to read this book. (I think we had fall last Sunday here in Kansas.) The text is quiet and shares just a little bit of what happens "in November," as the birds fly south or prepare for winter, as other animals slow down or sleep. A few pages are devoted to Thanksgiving, without naming the holiday, but children will recognize it.

The illustrations are full of exactly the colors you'll see in the fall. They are lovely paintings, another example of a book that offers children art.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What I Loved about the Last Two Weeks (52 Ed.)

1. The new chicken coop is up and running! Kansas Dad says he has a few last improvements to make, but the hens are happily settled and laying lots and lots of eggs.

Preparing to release the hens in their new home

Roaming (almost) free

The nesting boxes inside the tarp - they like the top ones
2. I finally got to see First Son play in a soccer game. Between birthday parties, my Catechesis training, illnesses, and cancellations, I missed most of his season, but I made this one!

3. Our parish All Saints' party. The committee does a wonderful job. Lots of families came to celebrate together. And lots of people decorated their trunks and handed out candy. What more could you ask?

Mama, St. Juan Diego, St. Gianna Molla, Bl. John Paul II, St. Joan of Arc

4. Second Daughter can write her name! She demonstrated her new skill for us on the cupboard. I should really own stock in the Magic Eraser folks.

5. First Son made chocolate chip cookies for his math lesson. I just helped a little. He did nearly all the reading, measuring, and even half of the scooping. He graciously shared some with his soccer coach.

6. My parents came for a visit! (We had a fabulous time; continue reading. I did not take pictures. Ah!)

7. Halloween. My parents arrived in time for our annual pizza dinner and trick-or-treating with Grammy in her neighborhood. Second Son liked the candy, but he wanted to be carried everywhere. I think his costume was a little too big and hindered his mobility.

a mermaid, a princess, Elmo, and a ninja

8. Our parish All Saints' Mass at which the children sang in the choir. It's not a concert choir; it's a ministry. I'm so glad they have this opportunity.

9. My mom and I spent a whole entire day shopping. We drove into town right after Mass and didn't come home until dinner. It was lovely! Even better, I only bought stuff for myself and my mom treated me quite a bit (early Christmas). I have a warm winter coat (for the first time in years I won't be sharing Kansas Dad's zip-out inner coat) and a lovely Sunday coat. I also found a few other things I needed in smaller sizes. (I'm smiling.)

10. While my parents were in town, we took the children to the county historical museum. It's not big but surprisingly well-done. My dad and I love that sort of thing and the kids endured the two hour visit rather well. We followed the museum with an hour playing at the park and then dinner out with Kansas Dad.

11. First Son, First Daughter, and Second Daughter had their last soccer games of the fall. I love that they play soccer, but I'm always tremendously glad when it's over. Second Daughter did not really want to play (though she had insisted she did before the season). Now to decide...should we bother dragging her out to the field in the spring?

12. Mom and Dad watched the kids for us and Kansas Dad and I feasted at our favorite sushi restaurant. Then we had a few drinks and visited a bookstore for a while before heading home to play a few games with my parents before bed.

13. We went to a fabulous birthday party at which all four children earned Jedi light sabers and costumes. The birthday boy's uncle even dressed as Darth Vader and attempted an attack. (He was taken down.) Second Son was a little nervous; he would chase him, but if Darth got too close he retreated behind Kansas Dad. Later that evening, as we were leaving Kansas Dad's parents' house, they turned on the lights and battled Kansas Dad in the dusk. I hope it's a memory they treasure always because I will (despite the tears when it was really and truly time to get in the van and go home). The kids have been battling on a daily basis. I had to make a rule: no light sabers in the kitchen.

14. We finished our first term of school! We're one week into the second term! Hooray!

15. First Son and First Daughter are both more than half-way through the math book. At this rate, we'll finish early and everyone will be happy.

16. First Son also mastered subtraction on Xtramath this week. He's on to multiplication.

17. Dear friends who are also homeschooling using volume 3 of Connecting with History invited us to a medieval feast - and a feast it was! They served a three course meal! The children designed shields and entertained as minstrels during the dinner. Best of all, they asked us to be godparents to their baby girl due in December. Blessings, blessings, blessings!

18. Election Day is over. Now we'll have a small break from election ads and calls.

Whew, I'm tired just reading over this list!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: A Catholic Family Advent

A Catholic Family Advent: Prayers and Activities
by Susan Hines-Brigger

This little book is wonderfully designed. Much too often I find great content marred by poor design in Christian and Catholic publishing. Kudos to Ms. Hines-Brigger and Franciscan Media.

In this book, you'll find a two-page spread for each possible day of Advent (the length of Advent depending on the day of the week of Christmas). The pages are color-coded by week. Each spread includes an excerpt from the readings for the day, a short reflection, a discussion topic suggestion, a very brief prayer, and a recommended family activity.

The reflections are written more for mothers, I think, than families. I don't think they would really work if I tried to read them aloud to my little ones (8, 6, 4, and 2), but I do see how I could take the reflection and modify it to best fit our family. Most of the reflections are common themes of the Advent season (slowing down, spending time together as a family, recognizing our material and other blessings, and so on).

The discussion topics ("talk together") were often my favorite parts. While not all of these topics are profound, a great many of them could be marvelous conversation starters.

The family activities are mainly those you would find recommended by any number of books, sites, or articles for the holiday season: snuggle together and watch a Christmas movie, go through closets for clothes to donate to those less fortunate, take a drive together to view holiday light displays. Other than an Advent wreath, most of these were not specifically Catholic. Despite the title of the book, I would think any Christian family could find activities and prayers in this book.

It would have been nice to have a publisher- or author-maintained webpage or Pinterest page with links for Christmas ornaments, crafts, and other resources. In the book, actual web addresses are listed, but I think Internet pages are too unreliable over time for these kinds of links to be published in a book. Plus, the author has missed the chance to create something really beautiful and compelling in a well-done page that would keep people coming back. Of course, it would also require some maintenance, which would be a distinct disadvantage.

Overall, this is a nicely done little book, though I would have liked to see more distinctly Catholic activities.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an objective review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on A Catholic Family Advent. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: From the Good Mountain

written and illustrated by James Rumford

This book is a masterpiece. It seamlessly incorporates explanations of book printing in 1450 with amazing illustrations carefully planned and executed to show more than the text alone. The author's biography at the end says Mr. Rumford spent over two years writing and illustrating this book; his dedication and perseverance shine on every page.

I'm excited to share this beautiful book with my children, but more than that, I feel blessed that books like this are still being published for children. In an age of e-books, faster-and-flashier-is-better, and commercialism, Mr. Rumford has created a work of art in a picture book.

I would have found this book eventually as Mr. Rumford's Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing is one of my favorite picture books, but I am very thankful to Ellie at BiblioZealous for bringing it to my attention early enough to include in our history studies this year.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

October 2012 Book Reports

Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet is the memoir of a still-young man on the Autism spectrum. It is eloquent if sometimes stilted and provides an interesting glimpse into the world of others who may not have the verbal skills to describe their thoughts and emotions. I enjoyed reading about how his large family (lots of siblings!) forced him to develop social skills, helped him learn to cope better with noise and change, and taught him how to interact with others by providing lots of examples of social interactions. There are a few times when he expands his experiences, generalizing to others who fall on the same spectrum, with thought-provoking applications to modern society. At the end, there seemed to be some random forays into other areas like organic food and making meals from scratch. This book won and award for young adults, but I would caution about sharing it with children that are young as he shares more than I wanted to know about his relationship with his partner. I liked reading this book overall, but I did enjoy Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin more. I'd recommend that one if you only want to read one. (library copy)

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King was a highly enjoyable book focused on the painting of the Sistine Chapel. It includes descriptions of the politics, geography, artistry, and living conditions of the time. I learned a great deal and am glad I read it before we studied this time period (purchased at a bargain at a library sale)

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope is a very long novel. Once I settled in to Trollope's style, I enjoyed it. There is much to ponder here on marriage, women (and their more limited role at the time of the novel), and British society. (free Kindle edition)

Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from My Awkward and Lovely Life by Quinn Cummings is a series of short essays. I was really looking for her new book, The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling, which I read a bit of at a bookstore and loved, but our library didn't have a copy. I read this instead and enjoyed it. Ms. Cummings lives a very different life than I do, but I found common ground and a lot of reasons to laugh in her book. Some of the topics warrant maturity (living together outside of marriage, AIDS, openness to alternative lifestyles). I've put in a request for the newer book through inter-library loan. (library copy)

Flowertown by S.G. Redling is the fictional account of an Iowan farming community polluted horribly by a chemical spill. The government and the company responsible establish what is essentially a ghetto to minister to the survivors and contain the environmental damage. I have an arguably poor opinion of pesticide companies, but even I found the actions of this one hard to believe. Still it was an entertaining book. As with others this month, I'd recommend it only for mature readers. (Kindle edition, borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr is based on the true tale of an ambitious plan to herd a bunch of turkeys to Denver during a gold rush soon after the Civil War to cash in on the lack of delicious fresh poultry on the frontier. It's pretty funny and touches on a lot of topics of interest for the time-period. I was considering reading it aloud to the kids, but there were a few too many references to ladies wearing skimpy clothes for me to feel comfortable sharing it. (Not that anything bad happens in that vein, but it seemed to imply an older audience for the book than my 8, 6, 4, and 2 year olds.) (library copy)

The Schoolhouse at Prairie View by Marshall A. Barber is the memoir of a Kansan who grew from a farm boy to an internationally-recognized chemist. It's focused on his time at school, reading like an oral history. Our little library had a copy returned recently by a man reading primary sources on Kansas history and our librarian set it aside for me; she knew I'd enjoy it. I did! (library copy)

Towards A Philosophy Of Education (Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series) by Charlotte Mason, the sixth in her series. It took me something like fifteen months to read this book! I've pondered it so slowly I can barely remember the beginning, but I think it's good to always be reading something like this as I continue to figure out our homeschool. I'm not a pure Charlotte Mason teacher, but I like contemplating her ideas and balancing them against whatever we're doing. I've now read the first and sixth books and will eventually get to the ones in between. At this rate, I expect to finish the last one about the time Second Son is graduating from high school. (I read this Kindle edition, but there are a number of them available)

Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton is one of the very few books I've purchased for my Kindle, not counting the ones I "purchase" for $0.00. I bought it when it was the Kindle deal of the day last January thinking it would be interesting. It was, but it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. More than anything, I liked how it forced me to think critically about some of the stories I'd heard about how words and phrases begin. It's well-researched and a valuable source of information on any of the topics it includes. (purchased for the Kindle)

Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade by Linda Perlstein is the story of one elementary school in Maryland through the 2005-2006 school year as the principal and teachers struggle to prepare themselves and their students for the big annual test and what it means to make adequate annual progress for No Child Left Behind. I was so very saddened at the lives these children lead and the way they spend their time at school. I talked with a friend who is currently an elementary school principal and he says the testing situation is much better than it was at the time of this book, but this book is a great way to see how a well-intended governmental attempt to improve education for struggling students can hamper the ability of teachers and schools to do just that in unexpected ways. I also found this particularly interesting as I compared what First Son's third grade experiences were and what his skills might be in different areas with what was expected of the third graders in the book. Though in many ways he far surpassed any of the students in the class, he could never have written a "BCR" until I taught him exactly how to do so. (library copy)

Wool - Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey was another Kindle deal of the day, and probably the Kindle purchase I've most enjoyed since I bought the second and third books of the Hunger Games trilogy. It's actually five books published together, the first being no longer than a short story. They follow individuals living in a silo, buried in the ground from a toxic world. Every so often, for the greatest crimes, people are sent out to "clean" the sensors and test the suits built to withstand the environment. Or are they? You can read the first book for free: Wool. Highly recommended. I promised myself I could buy the next book in the series (actually a prequel) when I finished my most recent review for The Catholic Company. (purchased for the Kindle)

Lost in Peter's Tomb by Dianne Ahern, illustrated by Katherine Larson, is a book I read about as a great Catholic mystery for young readers. Two young children are sent to spend the summer with their aunt, a Franciscan nun outside Rome who turns out to work covertly for the Pope and the Italian police as a consultant. It's a little far-fetched and not exceptionally well-written, but it's acceptable. I'm not sure First Son will read it before it has to go back and I probably wouldn't bother to buy it for him. (inter-library loan)

Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns by Brian O'Neel (a review for The Catholic Company)

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)

The Night the Bells Rang by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is a tale of a young boy, Mason, near the end of World War I, mainly of his struggles with a local bully and his younger brother. After an act of kindness, the bully enlists in the armed forces. Mason hears shocking news and eventually realizes how his own behavior has been damaging his relationships with his family. It's a tale that includes some historical information and a change of heart. I'm a little leery of asking First Son to read it (it is well within his reading ability) because of the examples of bullying (though they are not portrayed as good or beneficial), but I think it has much to offer, so I've put it on the syllabus as independent reading for our study of World War I. (library copy)

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (library copy)

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody was fantastic. It reads like a fascinating memoir, almost as if the author were in the room with you, telling about his life. Ralph moved to Colorado in 1906 with his large family. The book would work well as a family read-aloud for that time, but it is also a wonderful story of a wise man and his relationship with his rambunctious son. There is much courage, perseverance, and forgiveness. I'll let you read the reviews on Amazon, which are much better than what I can write in the few minutes I have. This book is now on our family read-aloud list for this year, but I really recommend it to anyone. (library copy)

Did you notice I finished all of the books on the "Books in Progress" list last month? When I finished Can You Forgive Her?, I knew I was within an hour of the end of Towards a Philosophy of Education, so decided I'd set myself a goal of finishing the rest of them.

Books in Progress (and date started)