Friday, July 1, 2022

Playing at Math: Multiplication and Fractions


(Math You Can Play)
by Denise Gaskins

I have to interrupt my little written narrations of reading over the past year or so to tell you about this great book of math games. I've written about a few of Denise Gaskins's books before: Let's Play Math and the combo book Counting and Number Bonds and Addition and Subtraction. This is another games book, but for older students.

My kids almost all struggled more with math as soon as we encountered multiplication and fractions. For the most part, they understood the concepts, but remembering all the multiplication facts was difficult. For fractions, it was recognizing the ones that were the same when they were simplified or had different denominators.

For my younger kids, I scheduled a games day when we'd just play the next game in this book. Some games were more fun than others, but with a loop (going back to the beginning when we finished the book), we got lots of practice with different facts and they knew their favorite games would come around again. I appreciated how the games depended almost entirely on things we had at home (like regular decks of playing cards) or free materials Denise Gaskins offers on her site if you purchase the book. There are also variations for most of the games to make them easier or more difficult.

The information she provides before the games and when introducing each one is really helpful for parents who are trying to understand how their children are thinking and guide the children to consider how all the multiplication problems and fractions are inter-related. The games give lots of practice with the facts themselves, which helps kids remember them, but they are designed to also encourage kids to explore how numbers are related to each other.

Some kids really thrive with games, and many children simply need a solid dose of math facts practice every day. This book was one tool in our homeschool to ensure we were getting some practice in.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Bookshop and Amazon are affiliate links.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

More than Beowulf: The Anglo-Saxon World


(part of The Modern Scholar series) 
by Michael D. C. Drout 

This collection of audio lectures is scheduled in the Mater Amabilis high school plans for honors history students in Level 5 Year 1, freshman year. It complements the study of early British history, which is a combination of Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples (the one-volume abridgement) and primary sources. It's simply marvelous. 

Professor Drout begins by describing who the Anglo-Saxon people are. He tells how they arrived in England and what they did when they got there. His fourteen lectures cover history, culture, language, literature, and how Anglo-Saxon influences continued into the modern world. 

His lectures overflow with his enthusiasm and love for the people and the language, and especially for Beowulf. (Mater Amabilis also schedules Beowulf in Level 5 Year 1, as part of the English course, so we were able to appreciate his enjoyment even more.) The lectures are informative, but also entertaining. Professor Drout loves his subject, but he doesn't take himself too seriously.

I have said for many years my favorite lecture course from the Great Courses is The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, but I think this one would be a tie if I were to have to choose a favorite lecture course without qualifying the Great Courses. I spoke so highly of the course, Kansas Dad listened to it as well. He also listened to another lecture series from the same professor called Tolkien and the West, which is now on my to-listen list

A PDF is included with the purchase of the audio course. It includes, for each lecture, suggested readings for the lecture, notes on the lecture, questions for discussion, suggested readings, and other books of interest. I didn't look at the PDF until after First Daughter and I had both finished listening to the lectures, but it would be a good resource. I think we were able to follow the lectures without doing the readings, and First Daughter was able to narrate them well. If I have another honors student, I will print it out because there are some useful diagrams as well.

This course is listed for honors students only because it is scheduled in addition to the readings in world history, English history, church history, and from primary sources. It is not more difficult, and an interested student would enjoy it even if you didn't want to require it for honors credit. (There are a few references to some mature topics, but nothing graphic.)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Oxford at the time of Newman: John Henry Newman: Snapdragon in the Wall

by Joyce Sugg

First Son was reading Apologia Pro Vita Sua by St. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his senior year religion reading, and he was struggling a bit. It's challenging reading, but I noticed he was mostly hampered by a lack of context. I happened to be considering how to handle the readings when Kansas Dad and I had an evening out, which included a visit to a local bookstore. While perusing the shelves, I found this little biography of St. John Henry Newman and impulsively bought it.

This is not a scholarly biography, but the author had previously published two books about him, including an anthology of his letters. It reads almost like a story but is full of quotes from his published works and letters. It's far less challenging than reading the Apologia, but it is probably best suited for adults, high school students, or interested middle school students.

The title comes from a flower which grew outside Newman's rooms when he was a student at Oxford. The poem he wrote, Snapdragon, is printed at the end of the book.

In one of my favorite scenes, she describes how Newman created a little oratory in his rooms at Oxford after he became a fellow.

He hung up a picture of all the saints praying in Heaven. He would go into the oratory, straight from all the work and turmoil of his life, and his heart would lift at the sight of that perpetual adoration. 'Why! There you all are - still at it!' he would say, smiling, and then settle to his own prayer. (p. 69)

I cannot say whether this is the best biography of St. John Henry Newman. I enjoyed it very much, and it served its purpose. First Son took a break from the Apologia and read this book, three or four chapters a week. When he returned to the Apologia, he had a much better understanding of the events of Newman's life and the general religious context of England at that time. I intend to schedule it first for my three other children.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Friday, June 24, 2022

September 2021 Book Reports


I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino - I added this book to our Level 3 year 2 history reading in time for Second Daughter (and later, Second Son) to read. It was an enjoyable book to read, especially in such a busy month for us. (purchased used copy)


The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - A bed-ridden detective explores the long-buried mystery of the alleged murder by King Richard III of his young nephews. The book argues for a less-common view of King Richard III. I wasn't convinced, but many are. This is a fun read to complement English history for those students who always want to read more. (received from a member of PaperBackSwap)

The Randy by Dorothy Sanders - I thought this would be a nice addition to our home library because we have relatively few books set in Australia or New Zealand. I picked it up when ordering something else from Living Book Press. There's mystery, excitement, and history as well as a little geography. It would make a good supplemental reading book for Level 4, when Mater Amabilis students are studying twentieth century history. Though not without sorrow and touching on war, there's much less violence and horror than many of the books set in Europe during that time. (purchased new from the publisher; this link is not an affiliate link)

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery - A few years ago, I began to re-read the Anne books, wondering how they'd stand up to my memories. As a girl, this was my least favorite of the series. It might still be my least favorite, but I enjoyed it much more now that I am a mother myself. (copy I was gifted as a girl)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to PaperBackSwap, Amazon, and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Preparing for College Writing: The Office of Assertion

by Scott F. Crider

This book is recommended in our Mater Amabilis high school English course (Level 6 Year 2, twelfth grade). First Son's English courses were a combination of the new plans and the old beta plans, so I spent a lot of time debating his options for senior year. I didn't want him to miss all of the great books and resources, but because he was going to take a college writing course, he didn't have time for everything that was left.

I decided to take a chance on this book and scheduled it for First Son. I really don't know how much it helped him; he's a fine writer, though a bit too succinct for my own taste. I think it's an excellent book, though, and I'm already looking forward to First Daughter reading it in a few years.

There book consists of six chapters, an example student essay, and a couple of other helpful appendices. The Mater Amabilis lesson plans cover it in nine assignments (once a week). I assigned it to First Son in the first term, along with some Shakespeare and novels I wanted him to read. (I gave him a semester's credit of English for this book and the plays and novels, then a year's credit for the college writing course he took in the spring.) The example student essay is about Telemachus and the Odyssey, which Mater Amabilis students will especially appreciate if they read it in Level 5.

Dr. Crider covers everything about crafting an essay - forming an argument, organizing the essay's structure, stylistic choices, revising, and critiquing. Most of these topics should be somewhat familiar to a Level 6 student (eleventh or twelfth grade), but The Office of Assertion pulls it all together clearly and succinctly. He includes examples throughout from masterpieces of rhetoric like the Declaration of Independence and Samuel Johnson's "Preface to Shakespeare."

All liberal arts, in both the sciences and the humanities, are animated by the fundamental human desire to know, the fulfillment of which is a good, even if it provides no economic or political benefit whatsoever. An education for economic productivity and political utility alone is an education for slaves, but an education for finding, collecting, and communicating reality is an education for free people, people free to know what is so. (pp. 122-123, emphasis of the author)

This book is an excellent part of our high school plans. It fits well in the senior year, when students are likely more proactive in improving their writing and when it will remain fresh in their minds as they begin college coursework.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links. I purchased my copy new from Amazon.

Monday, June 20, 2022

August 2021 Book Reports

Last August was apparently such a hectic month I only finished TWO (!) books. I suppose what little time I had for reading went straight into preparing for the upcoming school year and helping First Son prepare for all those college applications.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson - link to my post (Kansas Dad's purchased copy)

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke - Like many others, I waited and waited and waited for another Susanna Clarke book after Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (which I read just after First Son was born through most of a night when I most certainly should have been sleeping). The writing and tone of Piranesi was beautiful and comforting, but I was so agitated by the mystery of Piranesi's past, I couldn't enjoy it. I think that was perhaps the point, which I recognized but failed to accomplish; Piranesi had a kind of acceptance I could not. (a copy Kansas Dad received as a gift)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Addition to Modern Government for High School: Just Mercy


by Bryan Stevenson

Kansas Dad has assigned this book in his college courses. He recommended it when I wanted to cover some modern issues in First Son's government course. It's a powerful condemnation of our justice system, pointing out many ways in which some groups of people consistently do not receive equal treatment under the law.

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. (pp. 17-18)

Mr. Stevenson often defends people who claim to be innocent, who face an uphill battle to prove their innocence, in a country where we should all be innocent until proven guilty. But he also defends those who are guilty, but have not been treated justly. Sometimes, our laws are good and must be enforced equally. Sometimes, our sentencing laws deserve to be repealed or modified.

So many of us have become afraid and angry. We've become so fearful and vengeful that we've thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak--not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken. I thought of the victims of violent crime and the survivors of murdered loved ones, and how we've pressured them to recycle their pain and anguish and give it back to the offenders we prosecute. I thought of the many ways we've legalized vengeful and cruel punishments, how we've allowed our victimization to justify the victimization of others. We've submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible. (p. 290)

Some of the most powerful stories in the book are those in which the author feels intimidated or fearful. He is a lawyer, but he's also a black man, and often, more often than most of us would care to admit, he is presumed threatening. In one instance, a judge and prosecutor encounter him in a court room and assume he is the defendant. Their behavior toward him is deprecating and generally disrespectful. 

Of course innocent mistakes occur, but the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden borne by people of color that can't be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice. (pp. 300-301) 

Though Mr. Stevenson points out many instances where our laws and our justice system are flawed, he asks much more important questions than whether we treat people fairly. He asks if we treat people mercifully. I think this concept is so important for Christians.

I told the congregation [at Walter's funeral] that Walter's case had taught me that the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?

Finally and most importantly, I told those gathered in the church that Walter had taught me that mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven't earned it, who haven't even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion. (pp. 313-314)

If we see Christ in all people, even those who are criminals, who have in some cases committed terrible crimes, how should we behave towards them? What should be our response as individuals, and what should we be asking of our lawmakers and judges? This book will be a great addition to our modern government course.

 I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Bookshop and Amazon are affiliate links. Kansas Dad purchased our copy.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

July 2021 Book Reports

The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider's Guide to Changing the World by Séverine Autesserre - link to my post (library copy)

While the Kettle's On poetry by Melissa Fite Johnson - I read this book to complete my local library's 2021 reading challenge. I needed a Kansas Notable book. It's a small book of poetry centered on modern life. There were a few poems I enjoyed, most especially "Ode to Washing Dishes" and "Something about a Walk." (library copy)

Alone by Megan E. Freeman - In this middle grade free verse novel, a twelve year old girl wakes up to find herself alone in her small town. She learns to fend for herself, leaning heavily on a neighbor's sweet and protective dog. It's marvelous, and apparently worth reading more than once since my own twelve year old swiped it from my stack to re-read it. The ending wraps everything up a bit too quickly, but my older daughter pointed out the reasons behind her predicament are not the point. It's all about her own development and growth. (library copy)

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha - This book was mentioned in an alumni magazine I read recently, and I grabbed it from the library. I'm always keeping a look-out for books set around the world for our high school geography studies, especially ones written by people who are within the culture. (The author has lived in both the US and South Korea as well as Hong Kong. The book weaves together the stories and lives of a group of young women living in the same apartment building in South Korea. It's not a particularly flattering depiction of life there, but the women grow into new dreams as they support each other, strengthening their relationships and recognition of their worth. In any book written from different characters' points of view, it can be a little confusing to remember who is telling the story at any given time, but this one is pretty clear. The plot is subtle. At first I was disappointed in the ending, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it. There's a little too much talk of intimacy, not generally not in a flattering way, for me to want to share it with my high school students, but I enjoyed it. (library copy)

That Quail, Robert by Margaret A. Stanger - This little book introduces a quail who moved into a house, becoming one of the family. It would work for a family read-aloud, but it's not as much fun as (copy from PaperBackSwap.com)

New Worlds to Conquer by Richard Halliburton - Halliburton is always a delight to read, though also always obviously playing to the 1920s audience in his depictions of indigenous peoples and cultures, as well as happy to include anything that hinted of scandal and the ridiculous. This book includes a story of a friend who accidentally surfed nude into an unsuspecting group of nuns and their female students on a picnic outing. In this book, he writes about his exploits in Central and South America, many of which are included in his Book of Marvels. I began reading thinking I might include this book on our high school list of geography books for the Americas, but I decided against it. As much as I might have enjoyed reading it, there were far too many instances of 1920s racism for me to want to hand it off to one of my students as an official school book. If one of my high schoolers sees it on my shelf and wants to read it, I'll allow it, but there's no need to assign it for narration. (purchased used at a library sale)

Wood, Water, and Wild Things: Learning Craft and Cultivation in a Japanese Mountain Town by Hannah Kirshner - link to my post (library copy)

Ourselves Book 1 by Charlotte Mason - I only read the first part of the book, because I was thinking of assigning it to my older daughter this year. It's a great easy introduction to habit and character formation. I'll write more about it when I read the second book...which may be next year. (purchased copy)

Creator and Creation by Mary O. Daly - link to my post (purchased copy)

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon, Bookshop, and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links.

Monday, June 13, 2022

A Catholic Perspective of the Creation Debate: Creator and Creation

Creator and Creation by Mary Daly

by Mary O. Daly

I decided to modify the biology plan of First Son for First Daughter. Creator and Creation had been recommended many times, so I decided I'd finally just buy it for our biology course. Mary Daly was a scientist from a family of scientists who was passionate about allowing students to see the Lord at work in the natural world. Her books provide a solid foundation for Catholic students of science who, when they enter the university or academic world, will encounter resistance to the idea that you can be a faithful Catholic and an intelligent scientist.

In Creator and Creation, Daly begins with a clear explanation of terms like "creationism." She explores what the Church does and does not say about Creation and evolution. Early in the book, she quotes the Catechism:

Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason...methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. (Catechism #159, labeled as #296, perhaps from an earlier edition)

Later she says:

The creationist says that he knows what he knows because he reads the Bible. The Catholic says we know what we know because men are children of the Creator with minds in His image, and we can, therefore, learn about our Father by studying both the Bible and creation, always working in unison with the stabilizing covenant community, the Church. We are certain that revelation and natural understanding do not conflict. (p. 90)

The book essentially rejects the fundamentalist idea of Creationism (a young earth), but it is more flexible in its treatment of evolution.

But there are many flaws with the concept of evolution as a system to explain the universe and the world, including the development of life on Earth. These are not flaws in the concept of evolution, which is powerful and fascinating; they are evidence against the sufficiency of evolution as a total cosmology. (p. 94) 

Daly provides a philosophical framework for considering the Catholic faith and the scientific ideas embedded in and surrounding Creation and evolution. It can help students carefully consider new ideas as they are reading science textbooks or articles or while listening to a lecture.

The universe is far more vast than medieval cosmology had numbers to express. The Earth is a tiny planet circling an insignificant star at the edge of a commonplace galaxy which spins within the wide universe as a mote of dust might drift along the edge of a soap bubble in a child's bath. If our value be measured in physical terms, it is too slight to notice.

Of course, faith tell us to measure it in spiritual terms. (pp. 101-102)

We learn that our planet is surprisingly perfect to foster life, particularly our life. 

All the things which seemed to leave us on the insignificant margins of the cosmos, actually belonged to the perfect fitting of our universe home.   (p. 102)

The book does suffer some stylistic and editorial flaws, which is common among those that are self-published. There are some scientific theories discussed which may, in time, be thoroughly disproven, but Daly's points are not dependent on any particular theories. She consistently insists we must follow where our rational minds and the created world lead us, secure in our faith of a good God who loves us. 

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. I believe new copies of Creator and Creation are only available through the Hedge School website, but there are used copies available in the usual places.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Cultivation and Craft in Japan: Water, Wood and Wild Things

Water, Wood, and Wild Things by Hannah Kirshner

by Hannah Kirshner

I found this book on the new books shelf of our library. I grab a lot of books from those shelves, but most I quickly set aside. As I read this book, I soon realized it would be a wonderful book for our high school geography course. Our geography courses are found at Mater Amabilis and are all in two parts. In one part, the student reads a narrative text (excerpts from one of Charlotte Mason's books), completes some mapwork, and reads current articles on the area. In the other part, the student reads two or three books that immerse them in the region. These can be fiction or nonfiction, travelogues or memoirs. We have tried to curate a robust list for each course to give families many options to fit their time, budget, and a student's interests. Many of the books are wonderful books, but they just happen to be the handful our moderators and members have come across and recommended. There is really a single best book.

This book is one of those books. It doesn't just serve the purpose; it's possibly one of the best possible books a Charlotte Mason inclined student could read about life in Japan. I almost can't recommend it highly enough.

Hannah Kirshner moves to Japan in order to humbly learn from some of the most accomplished artists and artisans in Yamanaka. She begins by learning the secrets of sake, but intentionally immerses herself in the community because she recognizes the wisdom and craftsmanship of the people around her. The book tells in chapter after chapter how she is befriended by someone of great knowledge who then invites her into that knowledge, one apprenticeship after another.

She is invited to observe saka-ami hunting, a traditional form of hunting geese with thrown nets open only to men. For a winter season, she regularly goes to the club house and shadows the hunters, an outsider, but a generally welcomed one.

For the darkest months of the year, when I usually feel melancholy and reluctant to go outside, I spent evenings watching the sunset at the edge of the duck pond and days in anticipation of what the next hunt would bring. I noticed the landscape change day to day as the camellias bloomed and dropped their flowers and the long sasa leaves dried to look like goose feathers scattered on the trail. I learned to track the direction and strength of the wind. As light faded from the sky, I meditated on the sound of beating wings. (p. 211)

She accompanies an artist, Mika, to gather ganpi from which a traditional paper is created. After five years of study, Mika is still learning how to properly identify the plants she desires.

While she transforms the fiber into paper with the alchemy of water, ganpi is growing in the mountains for next year's harvest. Its silky oval leaves open in late spring, and in early summer its pale yellow flowers bloom; when autumn frost arrives, the leaves drop and the shrubs go dormant until spring. I have everything I need, Mika says, to make my art: sunlight, water, and ganpi. (p. 227; italics by the author)

In five lovely paragraphs (on pp. 256-257), Ms. Kirshner describes her childhood farm:

Some years, button mushrooms emerged in the part of the pasture grazed by our sheep. In the way-back, where the grass grew tall enough for a small child or resting deer to hide, there were blackberries in late summer that stained my lips, hands, and clothes. Garter snakes coiled on the thorny branches to soak up the sun.

Find the book and read them all. It's the kind of childhood homeschool moms all dream to give their children, though few of us are probably as successful as we dream. (Though she does say, "Much of our five-acre farm was uncultivated meadow," and I can happily affirm that much of our seven acres is also uncultivated...something.) It is her quest to become intimately acquainted with the wild world of Japan that has led Ms. Kirshner on so many of her adventures. 

The mountains that day were a thousand colors of green, from the nearly white shimmer of new leaves to the deep blue green of sugi and Noto hiba cypress, all luminous under an overcast sky. They stay that way--infinitely varied--only for a few days, and then the deciduous trees gradually darken into a more uniform green until the cold snap of autumn nights sets them alight in famously fiery hues. (pp. 262-263)

The author presents herself to the people of Japan as someone eager to learn because she respects who they are and recognizes the value their communities and skills bring to Japan and to the world. She is profoundly respectful of Japanese people and culture, which I am eager for my children to emulate.

The text is interspersed with drawings, maps, and recipes. It's a delight to read. 

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon.com and Bookshop.org are affiliate links. I checked this book out from the library.