Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review: The Divergent Trilogy

 Divergent by Veronica Roth

I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of Divergent shortly before it was recommended to me by two different people, so of course I had to check it out. I was really excited by the first book of the trilogy and even the second one, Insurgent.

Tris lives in a bleak Chicago sometime in the future, a city divided, partly abandoned and partly destroyed. Every person belongs to one of five Factions (though there are also the disenfranchised Factionless as well). While raised by parents within a Faction, each person has the chance to change to a different Faction after his or her sixteenth birthday. In order to inform that choice, each young person endures a simulated test to determine the Faction to which their natural tendency would lead. During her test, Beatrice learns she displays characteristics of three different Factions; she is Divergent. This idea of Divergence is a main theme in the storyline. What does it mean? How and why is she special? Are there others?

In the beginning, I was excited as I read about Beatrice, Tris as she called herself in her chosen Faction, the Dauntless. She pushed herself in her training and initiation to discover a depth of physical strength and exhilaration, but she also seemed to begin discovering the inadequacies of the Faction system and how some people may have a dangerous interest in maintaining it. I felt like her character showed a potential for moral development Katniss lacks in The Hunger Games. Her romantic interest, Tobias, seemed to be a similar character, a little farther along in moral development, that guided her a bit toward greater wisdom.

I was also excited by themes of guilt, confession, forgiveness, reparation, and reconciliation, particularly in the second book of the trilogy. I don't think the author delved as deeply as she might have, but there is ample material for a wonderful discussion with young adults, especially in a Catholic context.

There are lots of little details that could lead to good discussions about the sacraments and their perversion in the novel. For example, one of the Factions shares adulterated bread (perhaps unbeknownst to most of the community) that engenders calmness and peacefulness. It's a small part of the story and ultimately not very important, but I found it fascinating.

Unfortunately, everything seemed to fall apart in the third book, Allegiant. I was already a little prepared to be disappointed by the mixed reviews I saw online. (I didn't read them before I read the book; just glanced at the star ratings.) I was still surprised at how disastrous I found the third book.

In the interest of someone who might actually still want to read the third book after reading this review, I will try to avoid spoilers while explaining some of the problems I had with the book.

Their world seemingly constantly roiled by revolution, in the third book, Tris, Tobias and a few others venture out of the city of Chicago to learn the truth about the world around them. Here's where it all falls apart. Besides the fact that the truth they learn is completely implausible (right up until then, it was a more believable world than that in the Hunger Games trilogy), that truth also seems to imply that everything they've ever done, including in the first two books, was meaningless.

It could be saved here by the characters realizing the falsity of that claim. The meaning of our lives is not determined by some unknown "truth" the world tells us. Our lives are meaningful because we are people, because we have relationships with other people, love and care for each other. Unfortunately, they all seem to mindlessly accept their situation and become aimless in a way unbelievable for these characters. This part of the book is also incredibly slow with lots of talk and very little action, unlike either of the previous books. Like a lot of other readers, I had trouble telling who was doing what because of an alternating point of view (also new to this book) between Tris and Tobias, that was not distinguishable. (You know it's a problem when an eighteen year old young man and a sixteen year old young woman sound exactly alike.)

A recurring theme in the trilogy is that of sacrifice. Given the setting amidst a civilization in violent turmoil, it's not surprising that the sacrifices involved are usually physical and involve risking bodily harm and even death, but it's hard to see anywhere examples of the kind of sacrifice in which we battle against our selfish desires in order to serve others (and specifically follow God's will).

It's easy to see what is the right thing to do when faced with deadly circumstances. (Should I jump in front of a bullet to save my child? Of course!) It's not always easy to do what is right in that kind of situation, but everyone knows what to do. It's much more difficult to recognize the value and necessity of sacrifice of self in daily life, the kind of sacrifice that shows someone day after day that you love and care for them, that you are willing to collectively decide what is best for a family or a community and work together toward that goal. Tris's mother especially seemed to embody that idea early in the books, but in the end Tris doesn't dwell on those gifts of and from her mother.

At the end of the book, I had the impression that death is not only the ultimate sacrifice; it's really the only one that matters. That could be a dangerous idea to leave in a young adult's mind.

One final note, there is a very brief conversation in the third book about a romantic relationship between two people of the same gender that claims very clearly that the obviously immoral people currently in power disapprove of such relationships merely because they cannot procreate. It is obviously a half-truth based on the arguments of the Church and others. While elements like this are one of the ways dystopian literature allows us to discuss these issues and teach our young people to recognize subtle ways in which our morality can be undermined, in this instance it's not up for discussion. It's not a debate in the book, merely a slight mention that therefore makes it seem plain that the "bad guys" are wrong.

One of my goals is to prepare my children to read a paragraph like this, recognize it for what it is, and address it within their own minds by the time they are young adults, so they can read and enjoy literature like this, discuss it with their friends, and be a voice for faith and reason. Reading along with them, especially in the beginning, is how I intend to prepare them for that role. That being said, there's plenty of cruelty, violence, and death in the three books, so they're definitely for the more mature teenagers.

I'm very interested to see what happens in the movie version of the third book. If it remains as it is in the book, I'm not sure there will be many fans left to watch it. In my overall opinion, flawed as it is, people will still be reading the Hunger Games trilogy years from now. This one may fade away and be forgotten. If you can stand it, read the first two books and use your own imagination to invent an ending for Tris, Tobias, and the people of this future Chicago.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Quote: The Idea of a University

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman in the third discourse of The Idea of a University:
His are the substance, and the operation, and the results of that system of physical nature into which we are born. His too are the powers and achievements of the intellectual essences, on which He has bestowed an independent action and the gift of origination. The laws of the universe, the principles of truth, the relation of one thing to another, their qualities and virtues, the order and harmony of the whole, all that exists, is from Him; and, if evil is not from Him, as assuredly it is not, this is because evil has no substance of its own, but is only the defect, excess, perversion, or corruption of that which has substance. All we see, hear, and touch, the remote sidereal firmament, as well as our own sea and land, and the elements which compose them, and the ordinances they obey, are His. The primary atoms of matter, their properties, their mutual action, their disposition and collocation, electricity, magnetism, gravitation, light, and whatever other subtle principles or operations the wit of man is detecting or shall detect, are the work of His hands.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

by Trenton Lee Stewart

This is a prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy. I've written of them in my book reports recently as I previewed them for First Son. I enjoyed them quite a bit though I was a little disappointed in the third one.

I almost didn't read this newest book, but I had read a few reviews that claimed it was the best of the four so I decided to go ahead. I'm so glad I did!

In this book, Mr. Stewart goes back in time to the young Nicholas Benedict, the remarkable man who seems to attract people as remarkable as he is in intelligence, pattern recognition, and generosity. Nicholas is an orphan who has learned to distrust people, especially adults, and to defend himself against the derision and teasing of his peers for his small size, unusual vocabulary, and large nose, not to mention that pesky narcolepsy.

I don't want to spoil anything for you, but through the chance meeting of a kind gentleman on a train, Nicholas learns not only that there are good people in the world, but something much more profound about himself.

I almost want to read this story aloud to the whole family, but I think there are some dialogues that would work best if read. If not, this book is certainly on First Son's list for independent reading for this coming summer (after fourth grade). For many reasons, this book may appeal to a larger age range than the trilogy and could be read independently of them, but there are instances of severe bullying, adults who are not able to stop the bullying, and, of course, orphans whose parents have died, some more recently than others. There's nothing too graphic in the bullying scenes, though there are fights, but the fear of attack by the bullies is present throughout the novel.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Western History Picture Books in 2012-2013 (Years 1301-1600)

I recently posted a review of RC History's Connecting with History Volume Three and the first of three lists of the picture books we read to go along with it (years 1070-1300). Here's the next installment, for roughly years 1301 to 1600. (The units overlap a little in Connecting with History volume 3 in order to take into account the complexities of the Reformation and the exploration of the New World in addition to following the events in Europe.)

I've noted the books that were recommended by Connecting with History.

A Medieval Feast by Aliki gives all the details you could wish on the lives of the wealthy in medieval times and the preparations involved in a great feast. The illustrations are colorful and include small bits of information in text on the life and times. This book is available from RC History.

Brother William's Year: A Monk at Westminster Abbey by Jan Pancheri tells of a year in the life of Brother William, a fictional Benedictine monk in the year 1383 at Westminster Abbey. The text is not overwhelming but there is a surprising amount of information about life in the 1300s and especially life at a Benedictine Abbey. It even includes some recipes. It's really wonderful!

Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney is an adaptation of one of Chaucer's tales by one of my favorite illustrators, so of course we love it. It is a tale particularly enjoyable if you have actually watched a rooster. This book is available from RC History.

Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky is a favorite here on the Range. The illustrations are fantastic and the fairy tale is one of the most enjoyable. This book is available from RC History.

A Boy Named Giotto by Paolo Guarnieri, pictures by Bimba Landmann, is a based on the life of the artist, Giotto. It's marvelously illustrated in a style like that of Giotto and gives a bit of background for his life.

Arthur and the Sword by Robert Sabuda is a wonderful retelling of the story of King Arthur and the sword in the stone. It's full of vibrant stained-glass style illustrations that perfectly complement the text.

Joan of Arc by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett, is one of my favorite picture book biographies of St. Joan of Arc. The text is a little dense for young children, so you might want to spread it over a few days, but I really like how the story is told. I also enjoy the illustrations in this version.

Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt is a delightful tale based on Leonardo da Vinci's amazing talents. It's full of stories of his life and snippets from his notebooks. There is an informative page at the end with more information on da Vinci and some of the apprentice boys in his workshop. This book is available at RC History.

Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey by James Rumford is the fascinating and beautifully illustrated story of a giraffe captured in Africa in the early 1400s and traded along until he arrives in China. The full pages overflow with images and words that bring the people and times to life. This book is text-heavy for a picture book, but we were all fascinated. I think I planned to read it over a few days but no one wanted to stop. Though I'm not sure I've mentioned it before, it's one of my favorite books.

Romeo and Juliet retold by Bruce Coville, pictures by Dennis Nolan, is an enjoyable version of Shakespeare's play. I warned my children it was a tragedy and therefore would not have a happy ending but that it's a beautiful play. The illustrations are fantastic in this version. It is a little heavy on text, so you might want to spread it over a few days for younger listeners. If you're studying Romeo and Juliet, this is a great version to share.

The links above to Amazon are affiliate links. The links to RC History in this post are not affiliate links (though I am an affiliate).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk

by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This is one of the first "parenting books" I ever read. When First Son was two months old, we visited his aunt and uncle whose two children were friendly, respectful, and wonderfully helpful. She gave me her well-worn copy of this book and said it was the book that most shaped their parenting philosophy. I read it immediately. My son was too young for any of the skills, but I put them to use at work and received surprising results. It was unbelievable. I even had managers pulling me aside to tell me they were impressed with how I had stated or addressed a problem.

A few years ago, I picked up a revised copy of the book (the original one I received having fallen to pieces) and finally got around to reviewing it. This book is full of great advice for talking with anyone, teaching your children problem-solving, and generally helping them figure out who they are and how they can interact with others to develop fulfilling relationships.
We have to stop thinking of the child as a "problem" that needs correction. We have to give up the idea that because we're adults we always have the right answer.
Later in the same chapter, the authors say:
We are teaching our children that they needn't be our victims or our enemies. We are giving them the tools that will enable them to be active participants in solving the problems that confront them--now, while they're at home, and in the difficult, complex world that awaits them.
There's a helpful chapter on praise. Of course, "praise" is a loaded term, but the suggestions in this chapter are, I think, quite useful. The authors recommend giving children descriptive words to identify themselves. For example, I might say something like, "I see you've gathered all of the things we need to take with us this afternoon. That's being helpful." I've described what I've seen and then summarized it with a word my child can apply to himself or herself, not because I've said that's what they are, but because it is what they have already done.
A child finds out that he can take a confusing mess of a room and turn it into a neat orderly room; that he can make a gift that's useful and gives pleasure; taht he can hold the attention of an audience, that he can write a poem that's moving; that he is capable of being punctual, of exercising will power, of showing initiative, resourcefulness. All of that goes into his emotional bank and it can't be taken away. You can take away "good boy" by calling him "bad boy" the next day. But you can't ever take away from him the time he cheered his mother with a get-well card, or the time he stuck with his work and persevered even though he was very tired.
These moments, when his best was affirmed, become life-long touchstones to which a child can return in times of doubt or discouragement. In the past he did something he was proud of. He has it within him to do it again. 
My copy has a 2004 copyright. The text itself is still the original 1980 text, but there are a few sections added to the end, mainly addressing a few common questions and sharing success stories from parents and teachers around the world. There isn't even a website in my copy, though you can find the authors online here. I have not read any of their other books, but I highly recommend this one. I have already found my recent review helpful in maintaining my calm and problem-solving with my children.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Favorite Picture Books: Journey

Journey by Aaron Becker

This book is one of the Caldecott Honor books for 2014, but I was really hoping it would win the medal. (I haven't actually read Locomotive yet, so I can't comment on the winner.)

Aaron Becker has created a fantastic wordless book in which a young girl who is turned away by her family members, all absorbed in phones, computers, and games, discovers a secret world through a door drawn with a red crayon. Reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon but more luminous, the book includes the rescue of one who is helpless and the beginning of a friendship.

Sharing this book with my children was a delight. If you haven't already, find a copy and delve into this mysterious and beautiful world!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Homeschool Review: Jorge from Argentina

by Marlyn Monge, FSP, and Jaymie Stuart Wolfe
illustrations by Diana Kizlauskas

Second Son received this book as a Christmas gift from his godparents. I decided to read it aloud to the children as one of our family read-alouds and we all enjoyed it tremendously. Bl. Pope John Paul II is a popular figure in our house, but they loved learning more about the current Pope. It also fit in very nicely with First Son's study of South America.

The book begins with the marriage of Pope Francis's parents, a beautiful beginning. It tells of how he was raised, spending his days with his Italian grandparents, learning to care for his siblings, helping tremendously in the home when his mother was ill for an extended time. The chapter telling of his realization of God's calling to be a priest was particularly powerful, showing how a small conversation, an offering of a bit of time can make a different in someone's life (young Jorge) or for the whole world.

The main theme in the book is Pope Francis's love of all people and his great joy in encouraging others, especially young people, to love and serve God.

The illustrations are in color and there is at least one full-page illustration for each chapter. Each chapter is only a few pages long, so they were just the right length for my five year old and seven year old girls. Even my ten year old son and I enjoyed the book! (Second Son listened when he happened to be around, but couldn't be cajoled over from playing to listen to the story. We'll have to read it again when he's a little older.)

This book can be also purchased in paperback from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts.

Friday, February 14, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 3

Has anyone else felt like my blog was getting book-heavy recently? You'd think I didn't do anything except read...which actually is probably pretty close to the truth if you only look at the few moments of free time I have. Free being a relative term.

Anyway, just to prove I do more than read, I thought I'd take advantage of Jen's super easy template to post something besides a book review.

Just before I got pregnant with Second Daughter back in 2007 I started an ambitious cross-stitch project: a Christmas stocking for First Son. I finally finished it in mid-January, in 2014.

 That black spot at the top is where I hid First Son's name, in case you were worried about the artistry.

 There are a lot of beads and French knots.

I intend to ask a friend to make it into a stocking for me. Everything was included in the kit and it looks pretty straight-forward, but I'm not willing to risk seven years of work when I have basically no sewing experience. In hopefulness, I'm waiting until closer to Thanksgiving because...

I immediately started one for First Daughter, the Holy Night Stocking, which she helped me select. In general, I anticipate it being less elaborate, though if you look at the finished product, you can see I have a lot of background stitching ahead of me. I assumed the cloth would be blue, but apparently just the stitching...

Second Daughter lost her first tooth on January 28th. She didn't just lose it; she pulled it out herself.

Yes, she pulled it out. While sitting on the couch.

It's hard to see the hole in the picture because the adult tooth was growing in behind it. It's on the bottom, the middle tooth on her right.

Exactly one week later, on February 4th, she lost her second tooth. This one was the middle tooth on her bottom left. According to Second Daughter, First Daughter helped this one come out. First Daughter claims she had just tapped Second Daughter on the shoulder. It's a little surprising how a tap on the shoulder can make a tooth pop out...

Again, it might be hard to tell because her adult tooth was already growing in behind.

What does seem clear is that our third child is going to need braces. Since Second Son has already lost his top two teeth, I give our chances of all four needing braces at about 90%. Our orthodontist is so pleased. They are always very nice and complementary to our family when I troop in with all the kids. Smart people.

Kansas Dad had two snow days last week and all our outside activities were cancelled. I was perfectly content to spend all those days at home and the kids didn't even think to ask for snow days from school. I was the one who was having trouble motivating. But we persevered and got most of our work done. I kept reminding myself I'd rather finish school early than have a few days off randomly.

My camera battery was totally dead, so I have no pictures of my own from the big snowstorm of the year. Then I remembered Second Daughter's camera. Kansas Dad ventured out to call in the girls who stayed out the longest and took a few pictures for me.

Then it got bitter cold and I didn't let anyone go out for two days. In theory I agree with the people who say there is no bad weather, just bad clothes, but we haven't invested in the kind of outerwear the kids would have needed to play outside on those days; we just don't have them often enough to justify it.

Second Daughter is currently obsessed with bird field guides, especially those that feature bald eagles on the cover. Kansas Dad picked up about twenty pounds of them at the library for her last week.

I recently signed First Son up for Khan Academy. It's a bit of a compromise on his daily math practice. I felt like I should try it out myself a little bit, too. Then Kansas Dad logged on and we started a little competition to see who could master skills faster. It's hard to say I've spent too much time reviewing my math skills, but I think it's possible I have. I've let it slide the past couple of days, so I'm pretty sure Kansas Dad is well ahead of me now.

First Daughter was inspired to make Valentines for all the kids in her Catechesis class, so we skipped some lessons earlier this week to make cut-out cookies for her to share as well. She did almost all of the work herself but I couldn't resist the urge to roll them out for her. We also tried out some mini-cookie stamps I received for Christmas and hadn't hidden away because we hadn't tried them out yet. They worked really well! They were easy to use, worked perfectly, and easy to clean. Plus, they make tiny cookies that you can pretend don't have any calories.

I've written before about our sponsored child with CFCA. Last month, they changed their name to Unbound and unveiled a new logo. I love to read their blog. Even if you can't afford to sponsor a child, I encourage you to check it out. Every post is full of hope, courage, and joy.

Happy Valentine's Day!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Review: Way of Holy Joy

selected, translated, and introduced by Patricia Coulter

I had every intention of reading The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy with Young Children this school year, but I lent my copy to a friend who is going through the Level 1 Catechesis training right now.  I received this slim book for Christmas and decided to read it first. It's a book of essays by Sofia Cavalletti, one of the co-creators of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In it, she discusses many of the themes important to Catechesis, its philosophy and its history. Also included is a letter to her niece of the readings that most shaped her philosophy and a CV Sofia wrote for another publication.

In "The Child as Parable," she contemplates the Biblical passage where Jesus says we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God.
Between Christ and children there exists a profound affinity, which does not depend upon the possession or practice of this or that moral virtue, but rather on the existential situation of the child: the child is the privileged bearer of that reality which Christ has come to reveal and to realize in its complete fullness in his person.
One of the things I love about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the idea that children and God already have a special relationship, this affinity for each other. All we do is provide a quiet atmosphere for that relationship to develop, one that will, by the grace of God, nurture the child of God his or her entire life.

In, "The Child and Peace," she considers why children are so drawn to the Atrium.
The joy that children experience in the relationship with God puts them at peace, a deep peace, which lingers within and which they do not wish to leave. It is a peace that makes one think that a deep chord has been touched within them and that they want to continue to listen to its lingering vibrations. It is a recollected joy and it spreads. It leads one to think that the child has found in the relationship with God the satisfaction of a vital, existential need.
Sofia's thoughts on these ideas are developed based on her studies and her reading, but more than anything on her experience in the Atrium with hundreds or thousands of children over fifty years. Most fascinating of all are the stories of the children of atheists who spend time in the Atrium and seem to find words and understanding of a relationship that already existed. (Also fascinating are the atheist parents who allow their children to visit an Atrium regularly.) Later in the same essay, she says:
Adults need to fulfill their adult tasks without presenting themselves as the measure of everything and bring this to realization in the conviction that they are not the model of what the child must become.
The child is not a being that must be forged in the image of the adult; an image is imprinted in the child, but it is the image of God.
I'm still contemplating how the Montessori method in general compliments or contrasts with Charlotte Mason's methods. We don't use many Montessori methods in our homeschool, but the Atrium seems to be a wonderful place for young children, and these thoughts on the teacher's place in the Atrium seem right and natural to me. The adult is not there to teach the child, to shape the child to become something we have in mind. We are there as guides, to share the delight of the Lord, to show them the love of Christ, to wonder together about the mysteries of the faith. More than anything, I hope to provide an atmosphere in which the children can hear the voice of God, something that often seems impossible in the tumult and hurry of the outside world.

My favorite essay is "An Adventure: The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd," in which I think is the most concise description of the philosophy and life in the Atrium. Sofia emphasizes that the children led every decision about materials and presentations.
The golden thread that interconnects the entire of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that propelling force, as we said, which has carried forward almost a half-century of catechesis, is the joy of the child.
If she and Gianna Gobbi presented Scripture passages or materials the children ignored, they eliminated them. The program itself began with one small boy enthralled with the love of God as shared by Sofia as he was preparing for his First Communion.
The joy of which we are speaking is a particular joy, a joy very different than the kind the child manifests in other positive experiences. We are speaking of an intense and recollected joy, which seems to touch the deepest chord in the child's spirit; the child appears to want to continue listening to its lingering vibrations. We are speaking of a joy in which the child manifests a total involvement, with the whole of his or her person, in an experience much like the joy of a one who has found one's own life-giving element. The child manifests a complete sense of satisfaction; the child is held in an enchanted silence, as though safeguarding an inner fermentation that is occurring within.
The reference to an "inner fermentation" is a reminder that the results of time spent in the Atrium are not always visible to the catechist. Often, children will contemplate a Scripture verse or parable for weeks or months. Their thoughts will resurface later in connection with another presentation or perhaps at a time or place removed from the Atrium. One of the other catechists in my Atrium speaks ofter of "planting the seeds" though we may never see the plants when they've grown.

This essay contained a section on the Atrium itself, the orientation of the Atirum and its purpose.
The atrium is a place where a community of children lives a religious experience together with some adults (the catechists) that prepares them to participate in the larger family community, ecclesial and social. In the atrium, the children are initiated into the realities of the Christian life, but also, and above all, they begin to live this life in meditation and prayer.
The atrium is different from a classroom in a school. In the atrium, there is no teacher's desk or chair, because there is only one Teacher, to whose voice the adult and children together are listening.
The catechist is not a professor of religion. The atrium is not a place of religious instruction, but of religious life. It resembles a classroom in that it is a place of work and study; in the atrium, however, work and study become colloquy with God, and therefore it is already a place of worship in some sense. In the atrium, children can live according to their own rhythm, something not possible in church, when the whole community is gathered.
There are so many important thoughts in these three paragraphs. First, we do not provide the Atrium as an alternative to worship in the liturgy with the entire Church. Instead, it provides the children with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the liturgy, to learn the most essential meanings within it, so that they can participate more fully in the Mass.

Building on that knowledge, we pray and wonder with them so they can learn how to pray. In some ways, the children pray with startling ease, but they are not always given the opportunity to do so with an adult who recognizes their ability and the value of what they wish to say to Jesus. (Often, it's as simple and profound as, "Jesus, I love you.") In addition, the Atrium provides an environment of peace and quiet in which prayer is not only possible, but encouraged.

Most important, the catechists are not Teachers. Our goal is not to instruct the children, but to guide them so they can hear the voice of God in Scripture, in the Mass, and in times of prayer and meditation. As I mentioned before, one of the most profound ways to do this is to wonder with the children as we read Scripture together. Sofia reminds us repeatedly that Scripture is so deep and full that we can never understand it. Therefore, when we wonder with the children we are honestly opening ourselves to learning more about God and our relationship with him.

According to this website, the translator, Patricia Coulter, studied with Sofia Cavaletti and was instrumental in bringing Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to North America.  It's clear from the brief notes introducing each chapter that the translator knew the author well.

This is an excellent little book for anyone interested in what Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is and the philosophy that shapes an Atrium.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Western History Picture Books in 2012-2013 (Years 1070-1300)

I recently posted a review of RC History's Connecting with History Volume Three, which we studied during the 2012-2013 school year, when First Son was in third grade and First Daughter was in kindergarten. Because I have a picture book obsession, I spent way too much time reading through hundreds of picture books (which is probably an exaggeration) from our library and selected about one a week to read to the little ones that matched up with the time period we were studying.

I've noted the books that were recommended by Connecting with History. The majority are ones I found in other ways.

The Marvellous Blue Mouse by Christopher Manson is the tale of a foolish mayor during the time of Charlemagne. His ignorance and greed are put on display for all to see by a marvellous mouse. My children loved this book, laughing out loud at the foolish mayor and practically cheering the good friend of Charlemagne who saves the city.

The Errant Knight by Ann Tompert is recommended in Connecting with History Volume Three, but does not seem to be available from RC History anymore. It is one of my favorite picture books.

The Secret World of Hildegard by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter, is a biography of St. Hildegard. The text is lyrical and the illustrations reflect the visions of the saint. It's a lovely book to share. St. Hildegard did not always fit the mold of a woman of her time, but she was a woman of God who created, shared, and preached. We have a set of CDs of Hildegard's music we played as well.

A Saint and His Lion: The Story of Tekla of Ethiopia by Elaine Murray Stone, illustrated by Cecile Sharratt, is the wonderful tale of St. Tekla of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He demonstrates great compassion, perseverance, and love in following God's call and his ministry.

The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, retells one of the Arthurian legends, the tale of Sir Gareth. If you like Saint George and the Dragon, you'll enjoy this book as well.

The Empty Pot by Demi tells the story of a lone trustworthy child in China who refuses to cheat in an attempt to woo the favor of the Emperor. It is one of my favorite picture books, also available at RC History.

The links above to Amazon are affiliate links. The links to RC History in this post are not affiliate links (though I am an affiliate).

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Favorite Picture Books: Perfectly Percy

story and pictures by Paul Schmid

It's been a long time since I posted one of my favorite picture books. This lack is mainly due to my laziness in posting rather than a decrease in the picture books we're reading and enjoying. Perfectly Percy is one of my new favorites.

Percy is a porcupine who loves balloons, "but HAPPY little porcupines with balloons are soon SAD little porcupines." Even little ones can anticipate why that's so.

So Percy sets out to think of a solution to his problem, which he does marvelously!

The illustrations are clean and crisp on pastel backgrounds. Percy's perseverance is wonderful. His ingenuity is to be celebrated. We all love this book!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Homeschool Review: RC History's Connecting with History Volume 3

Back in 2012-2013, we used Connecting with History Volume 3 for our World History. We had used RC History's program for the previous two years (Volume One in 2010-2011 and Volume Two in 2011-2012) and just kept moving right along through history.

Connecting with History is a four year cyclical history program that groups students into Beginner, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric levels based on age and ability while keeping all students in a family studying the same time period from a Catholic perspective. The CONNECT method is integral to the program. You can read an excellent summary of the program here on the RC History website. The digital version I have of Volume Three includes an explanation of the CONNECT method (which is not included in my spiral-bound version of Volume Two).

Volume Three covers the mid-11th century through the end of the 17th century including the Renaissance and the Reformation with a focus on European history. The end of the volume includes the early exploration of America and some of the first missionaries to the Americas.

For the first time, I purchased the digital version of the book instead of a hard copy. I received a PDF of the book that was easy to download, easy to search, and I have received free digital updates over the past few years. (Purchasing any volume directly from RC History is the best way to go because you'll receive updates when books go out of print or when new resources are available.) While I like having paper copies and often printed some of the pages from each unit to keep in a binder, I opted for the digital version not only because it was a little less expensive but because I could read through it to figure out which books I wanted to borrow from the library, which I would skip altogether, and which I wanted to purchase. That way, I only had to pay shipping once from RC History. (Honest disclosure: I did not purchase every book from RC History; I shopped around a bit and split my history purchases mainly between RC History, another Catholic bookstore, and a secular online bookseller. I purchased some of the books used.)

The volume is over two hundred pages long and is full of aids to teaching, introductions to the time periods being studied, and supplements like E. Nesbit's adaptation of Macbeth. The first unit is one of review for the 10th and 11th centuries. Each unit includes background reading recommendations, discussion prompts, timeline people and events (a list), map activities, activities for beginner and grammar level students, writing projects for logic and rhetoric level studies, memory work suggestions, and reading assignments (books and page numbers for each level). At the end are a few reproducible charts and tables to aid in planning.

This history program is designed to be used every day, so it can be a time commitment. I limited our readings a bit and focused on just two real days of Western history with a family read aloud taking place outside of that time. (I already wrote about our family read-alouds here.) We used mainly the beginner resources for Volume Three with a few grammar level resources I thought looked particularly good. (The next time we cover Volume Three, First Son will be at the Logic level.) Some of our favorite books from the year included Heroes of God's Church, Usborne Time Traveler, Adam of the Road, A Grain of Rice, and The Door in the Wall. (Most of these are available from RC History.)

I don't think I need to share much more here than I did with the previous two volumes. This is an excellent thorough presentation of history for all ages in a family. We loved using it. I took this year, 2013-2014, off because Volume Four was still in development and I have an obsessive need to have all of my plans in place for all of our subjects before the year begins. The plan is to release Volume Four in units, first the American history units and then the European units. The first three units of American History are available now (which also include the daily lesson plans - wonderful!) as well as the reading list for the entire volume.

Next year, 2014-2015, we'll be covering Volume One in our Western History concurrently with the three units of American History. (I plan to cover all of the ten units over the course of three years, cycling through American History as we do Western History but a little more often.) I am really excited to be returning to Connecting with History next year and doubly so to have the lesson plans available! I'll try to review the lesson plans after I've used them.

I am an affiliate with RC History. If you decide to make a purchase on the site, I'd appreciate it if you'd use this link to do so as I would receive a small commission. I highly recommend this program, however, even if you choose not to use the affiliate link.

Monday, February 3, 2014

January 2014 Book Reports

Dust (Silo Saga) by Hugh Howey is the final installment of the Silo saga. It's a shame the author seems to disregard faith as much as he does, but the series is highly enjoyable for those of us who thrill to read stories of humanity beginning again. I waited to purchase it until just before our Christmas holiday so I could read it uninterrupted by lessons. (purchased the Kindle edition)

Parenting without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh, PhD (library copy)

A Place in Time by Wendell Berry (library copy)

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter by Azar Nafisi is a memoir by the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. Though often sad, I was fascinated by the land of Persia (not Iran). Her knowledge of Persian literature is what grounds her understanding of her country and her own family. (library copy)

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett is a quick read to encourage you to focus your energy on learning something or perfecting yourself rather than dwindling your life away in front of the television or a computer screen, though it was written long before such technology. Brandy read this book and mentioned it on her post, The Year in Books. I found the tone humorous and was encouraged though I feel like I already devote a great amount of time to improving myself with all the books I read for the education of our children and to better my own understanding of education. (free Kindle edition)

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke is a science fiction story wondering what would happen if humanity were to be visited by a far superior race that controlled our destiny. Though ESP plays a pivotal role in the book, Clarke's introduction explains that he now longer believes ESP is possible. I enjoyed reading the book but disagree with Clarke that religion and faith are inventions of mankind and therefore will one day become superfluous. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder (library copy)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart is the second book in the series, in which the four children slip off on their own to attempt to rescue the man who brought them together. As before, it's full of excitement, friendship, hope, courage, and perseverance. Highly recommended for middle grade readers. I could probably hand the whole series over to First Son now without reading the last two books, but of course I want to know what happens! (library copy)

Because I Said So by Dawn Meehan is a humorous fun read for moms from a popular mom blogger. (inter-library loan)

Books in Progress (and date started)