Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Christmas Reads

Our Streak, begun Thanksgiving Day, has awarded us many hours of lovely read-aloud time.  We always celebrate the Christmas season by reading aloud from our collection of Christmas titles.  This year we have enjoyed many treasures together. 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Would you bellieve I had never read this book?!?  I had seen movies, heard retellings, but I decided this was the year we were going to read Dickens own words.  We all loved it.

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge - I listed this book last year as a future favorite and it is now a present favorite.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy - This book is a beloved yearly tradition in our home.  One of our favorite gems of all time.  What makes it so special this year is knowing that more families have been able to enjoy it!  It has recently been reprinted!  I call this a "don't even think about missing it" book.

The Christmas Stove by Alta Halvorson Seymour - This was also on my future list last year.  This is a tender book full of hope, giving and sacrifice.  Seymour wrote many Christmas titles and we've enjoyed them all.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Amelia Houghton -  We are currently reading this one.  I hesitated on reading it since our children have never been taught that Santa was real but so many families in my library have loved it.  My boys balked at first but it is such a well-told story, we are all enjoying it tremendously.

I don't think we've read so many books for the Christmas season! Granted these are all relatively short so if you haven't begun yet, there is still time to pick up any one of these and create a memory.

May the God of our Salvation bless you and keep you during this season and throughout the year to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Streak


We have begun a new challenge in our home.  Recently I began The Reading Promise:  My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma.  I discovered this book from a podcast called Read-Aloud Revival, hosted by Sarah Mackenzie.  This is an inspiring podcast which encourages us to "build our family culture around books".  She has interviewed many wonderful guests, one being Alice Ozma.

Alice is the daughter of a children's librarian.  When Alice was a young girl, she and her father decided to see how many days he could read aloud to her without missing.  They set a goal of 100 days.  The rules were simple.  He would read aloud to Alice for at least 10 minutes by midnight.  Occasionally conflicts would arise and they would find themselves up late reading but they met their goal.  Over their celebration meal of pancakes, they decided to set another goal.  One thousand nights. They called their reading challenge The Streak.  The Reading Promise is filled with fun and often poignant anecdotes of the life they shared around the books they read.

The Streak finally came to an end...3,218 days later...when Alice left for college.  In those 3,218 days, Alice and her father cemented a bond that could not be broken.

Our family has decided to have a Streak of our own.  Now we obviously already have a family culture built around books being that we live with nearly 18,000 of them and we rarely miss a day reading aloud.  But sometimes we do allow conflicts to interfere or we decide to head off to bed after a busy or stressful day without reading.

To give us a reachable goal, especially around the holidays, we decided to try to make it through the end of the year.  We began on Thanksgiving and we will see if we can read aloud every single day until December 31.  (Of course, I have every intention of starting again on January 1 with the goal of the full year.)

I have found that, even though we already read aloud most every day, we have become more intentional about our reading.  It has become even more of a priority to enjoy books together as a family.  It would be a beautiful thing if my boys have a bond with us that cannot be broken because of the books we've read.

As this year draws to a close, consider building your family culture around the books you read in the coming year.  Maybe even consider starting a Streak in your family.  At the very least, share a book together today.  

This post was shared on Literary Musings Monday and The Book Nook.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Wrong Books

"Something was crawling.  Worse still, something was coming out.  Edmund or Lucy or you would have recognized it at once, but Eustace had read none of the right books.  The thing that came out of the cave was something he had never even imagined - a long lead-colored snout, dull red eyes,  no feathers or fur, a long lithe body that trailed on the ground, legs whose elbows went up higher than its back like a spider's, cruel claws, bat's wings that made a rasping noise on the stones, yards of tail.  And the lines of smoke were coming from its two nostrils.  He never said the word Dragon to himself.  Nor would it have made things better if he had. 

Most of us us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books.  They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons."

The Voyge of the Dawn Treader
C.S. Lewis
Books serve many purposes.  I read to learn a new skill, learn a new fact, uplift me, challenge me.  I travel to distant lands, make new friends.  What, then, would be the wrong books?  The books I choose to read to my children should prepare them for life.  The way they cope depends largely on the books they've read.  Often we look to realistic stories--non-fiction, biographies, historical fiction, etc., to give them the tools necessary to find their way in the real world, and while these are wonderful, one type of book we tend to neglect and even shy away from is fairy tales.  How can we possibly learn to deal with what life challenges us with through fairy tales and fables? 
Quoting C.S. Lewis again, "Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defense, as reading for children.  It is accused of giving a false impression of the world they live in.  But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression.  I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them.  I never expected the real world to be like fairy tales.  I think that i did expect school to be like the school stories.  The fantasies did not deceive me:  the school stories did.  All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infintely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations."   (From an essay entitled "On Three Ways of Writing for Children")

 This past summer I was blessed to hear Nancy Kelly on the topic of imagination. The importance of cultivating an imaginative nature in our children cannot be underestimated. In fact, I will be so bold as to say that, without imagination, it is impossible to have faith. "For faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) Many of the things we ask children to believe from Scripture are pretty fantastic-- parting of a sea in which millions of people walked across on dry ground, a talking donkey, a Man rising from the dead. Could it be that the rise of athiestic belief might be linked to the wrong books? When we only give our children books such as those Eustace had...exports, imports, governments and drains...but not books on dragons and their ilk, we end up with materialistic pragmatists who cannot recognize the miraculous. They will never understand that there is a difference between real and true. The best stories may not be real...but may reveal truth.

Give your children the gift of imagination through books. As C.S. Lewis said, "Although fantasy might not help a boy to build a boat, it would help him immensely if he should ever find himself on a sinking ship." (The Taste for the Other)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bookmark Saying

Outside of a dog
a book is man's best friend.

Inside of a dog
it's too dark to read.

Groucho Marx 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Extraordinary News!!

I am SO excited to share some news with you!  Believe me when I say that this has been the hardest secret I've ever had to keep.  :)

If you have been in my library or known me for any length of time, you know that two of my most treasured books are by the wonderful author/illustrator Kate Seredy (pronounced Share-edy.)

The Chestry Oak has been enjoyed by many of you, some returning with tears and saying, like I, that it was one of the most beautiful books you have ever read.  This book impacted me very profoundly.  When I found my first copy, I was in desperate need of a new winter coat.  I bought the book instead.  I now own three copies, one for each of my boys.

A Tree for Peter has been called by my friend, Emily Kiser, The...Perfect...Book.  Enough said.  I also own three copies of this magnificent treasure.

FINALLY, thanks to the tireless work of the Cottrill's, owners of Living Books Library, these books are being brought back into print!!!  Purple House Press is reprinting these gems in paperback.  A Tree for Peter will be released in early November in paperback for $10.95 just in time for Christmas giving as it is the perfect Advent reading.  The Chestry Oak is due out in January in paperback for $12.95.  (IOU's for Christmas gifts?)

One note about paperbacks.  I know many are disappointed that these books are being reprinted in paperback.  However, it is VERY expensive to print in hardcover AND modern methods of printing are extremely inferior to the old days.  Hardcover books are now, for the most part, glued rather than stitched which causes them to easily crack.  Hardcover books are very susceptible to this since the cover is not flexible like the soft covers are.  There are many times that I will choose a soft cover over a new hardcover.  At least these books will be able to be enjoyed by many more children.

A Tree for Peter is now available for preorder on the Living Books Library website at a discount!

Don't miss this chance at sharing this treasure with your family.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Flood Waters

We are a busy people.  As I type...not at laundry is piled, dishes unwashed, and a mile-long list of things to accomplish.  Pressures of life seem to crush us.

Charlotte Mason, in her wisdom, advised all of us to purposely schedule time to be.  Her students did their studies in the mornings, leaving afternoons for leisure, meditating, ruminating, handicrafts, projects and growing. 

Many times we homeschool moms feel pressure to keep up with academic demands that push our children beyond their means of accomplishment.  I've been guilty of trying to work in just one more subject...then just one more.  Before I know it, the day is gone and I have a list of things we have accomplished, but no real learning, no life-changing ideas.

Even the books we read can become a stumbling block to the ideas we are to savor.  We are thrilled when our children love to read.  However, could it be that always having a nose in a book could stand in the way of gleaning ideas from those books?  Where is the time to just think on these things? 

I think when we consider what a Charlotte Mason education is, we assume we are to always be engaged in some subject in a living way.  However, Charlotte intentionally cautioned against over-extending ourselves and planning every moment.  Leisure time and time spend outdoors is critical to our physical, emotional and spritual well being.

We are to seek after knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge comes from the books we read, the things we see and do.  Wisdom comes from meditating and pondering on what the books are things are teaching us.   Often mindless tasks such as washing dishes are my thinking times.  I use those snippets of the clock to let God's Spirit bring those ideas together in my heart and mind to make them part of me. 

Flooding our schedules with activities and studies, even good ones, is not beneficial.  I'm speaking to myself when I say, "Slow down.  Erase the events on the calendar.  Put down the book.  Be."

Friday, September 12, 2014

From my commonplace book

"I should have thought," said Gilbert, "that life in a bookshop would be delightfully tranquil."

"Far from it.  Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives.  Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world - the brains of men."

The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tales Animals Tell

What would the world be like without our animal friends?  We spend hours a day with our farm animals.  Milking cows, gathering eggs from our chickens, herding our sheep, laughing at our ducks, petting the cat and dogs are teaching our boys responsibility and compassion.  My middle son is known in our farming community as the animal whisperer.  He can get any of our animals to do just about anything we need them to.

I think this fasciniation is universal.  Down through time, probably more books have been written about animals or through the viewpoint of animals than any other theme.  They entertain us, charm us, teach us.  Whether the animals are portrayed as themselves or personified with human characteristics, they are favorites among children and adults alike.  Here are some of our favorites.

Thornton Burgess wrote so many absolutely wonderful stories of animals.   We have read many and they are still treasures even though my boys are getting older.  I have begun a collection of the old hardcovers for each of them but they are available in inexpensive paperbacks.

Books by Robert McClung, such as Ruby Throat:  The Story of a Hummingbird, are my favorites for teaching younger children about the animal world.  Simple but well-written text and lovely illustrations engage the young reader and help to build lasting relationships with each animal.   These are out of print but worth seeking out.

Animals have played an important role in history and we have many titles from various time periods. 

Only a Dog:  A Story of the Great War is a touching true story of love and sacrifice.  Bertha Smith wrote this book in 1917 based on an account a British soldier described to her. Private Rice and Army are buried side by side near Armentières in Flanders.  This has been republished by Simply Charlotte Mason.

Dhan Gopal Mukerji won the Newberry Award with Gay Neck:  The Story of a Pigeon.   This is a true living book, relating the author's boyhood in India, raising his beloved pigeon, and the important role helping the Allied war effort in World War II. 

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling - Begin this classic story with your children and they will beg you to keep reading.  At the end you will know facts about India, the mongoose, cobras and much more.  Suspenseful to the end.

You can't have a list of books about animals and leave out Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting!  The doctor's ability to talk to the animals has been thrilling children for generations.

And another just for fun...the Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks.  Freddy is the ultimate Renaissance pig.  He has many adventures such as traveling to the moon, playing football, camping, being a detective, etc.  Don't miss these for simple animal fun.

So many wonderful books have been written about animals that no list could cover them all.  Seek one out and make a new animal friend.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Land of Storybooks

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter's camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.

So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.

~Robert Louis Stevenson~

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

God Gave Us a Book

I think my 11 year old son believes everyone surely must have 17,000 books in their home.  He has no memories of life without books in every nook and cranny of his surroundings.  As much as he enjoys them, I think he takes them for granted.  Our conversation yesterday insinuated that anyway. 

As I was reshelving hundreds of books from library day and a huge book shopping trip, my son asked, "Momma, why do we need so many books?  Don't you think you have enough?  Why is this so important?" 

I stood up, looked him in the eye and replied, "Because God gave us a Book." 

Our culture, as I have lamented here many times, has come to disregard the written word, trading it for images on a screen, not only for their shallow knowledge, but their relationships as well.  Reading of any kind is fast becoming obsolete, inefficient, boring, irrelevant...the list goes on.

But God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to communicate to us through a Book.  The Bible is all we need for life and godliness.  The Word of God is living.  We are not to worship Him through images.  Yet when we refuse to engage in the most important activity that brings us closer to Him, reading His Word, prefering instead images on a screen,  we are really saying we do not want to know Him. 

There is not a single volume in my library that begins to compare with God's own Words.  None of them offer words of eternal life.  However, God is working in and through man and He derives glory from what we do.  Great words penned by great minds can speak to us, encourage us, challenge us and equip us.  We can learn about God's work throughout history by reading biographies, historical fiction, original source documents.  We marvel at His hand in the universe by studying living science books.  Fiction is a profound way to experience life situations played out in the made-up lives of others.  And most importantly, we practice the skill of meditating and ruminating as we linger over the pages of beloved treasures.  We are deceiving ourselves when we believe we can rewire our brains by immersing ourselves for hours a day in front of a screen, then magically be able to think deeply on the Word of God.  Science is discovering the implications of this habit.  We must consider the consequences of our actions.

Reading is hard work.  Getting to know others is hard work.  Yet we are commanded to come to Him through His Word and KNOW Him.  Will we obey?

Friday, July 4, 2014

I am a person...

In the inner nature, in the soul and self of it, each child is different from any other child, and the education that treats children as a class and not individual human beings is the education whose failure is bringing our civilization about our ears even as we speak.

Each child is an explorer in a new country - an explorer with it's own special needs and curiosities.  We put up iron railings to keep the explorers to our own sordidly asphalted paths.  The little free wild creatures would seek their meat from God:  we round them into needs, pen them in folds, and feed them with artificial foods - drab flat oil cakes all alike, not considering that for some brown nuts and red berries, and for some the new clean green grass, may be the bread of life.

Wings and the Child
E. Nesbit

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Do the Hard Thing

What do you think of when you consider a Charlotte Mason education?  Snuggling on the sofa with a cup of tea (or chocolate milk) and a lovely book?  Romping through meadows of buttercups and daisies?  Beautiful music playing in the background while contented children quietly do their handicrafts in the afternoon?  A gentle learning time for young children before their growth demands the rigors of a "real" education?

While there is some truth to this, I believe Charlotte Mason's wise philosophy has been tarnished by a false view of what her methods entail. 

As you know I have all boys.  In the 24 years I have been a mom, my mantra has been, "Do the Hard Thing."  (Or "thang" since I'm a southern gal.)  I am raising boys to be men who will be required to work hard with integrity, support a family, confront a dying culture, live an abundant life.  There is no room for laziness of mind or body.  Because of this, I believe a Charlotte Mason education will uniquely equip them for the life they have before them.

I think one of the barriers of communication when this discussion comes up is a difference in definition of terms.  While we've all heard that a CM education is "gentle", and I agree, I am here to assert that it is also exceedingly rigorous.  But how can the two co-exist? 

Gentle does not equal easy.

Rigorous does not equal drudgery.

The first principle of a Charlotte Mason education is, "Children are born persons."   From Ambleside Online's paraphrase we have this explanation.  "Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons.  They already are persons."   Charlotte recognized that children are made in the image of God and each child has a uniqe purpose in the world.  When we educate our children with this in mind, rather than viewing them as a bucket to be filled, we are meeting them where they are and working alongside the Holy Spirit to teach them what He wants them to know.  This naturally is a gentle education for the child because we are working with what God is making him to be.

However the methods are rigorous!  Charlotte insisted that children do the work of their education. The teacher is not the fountainhead of all knowledge.  The primary way children were asked to secure their knowledge was through narration.   If you don't know already, narration is hard!  Narration is the main tool Charlotte used to ensure the child knows.  In fact, she called it the act of knowing.  Children were required to narrate (tell back) after one  attentive reading.  One.  No repeats.  And they were able to do it with surprising ease.  Narrations could take many forms ranging from simple telling back, drawing, acting out, or even written in poetry form. 

Children in Charlotte Mason schools learned many languages including Latin.  They studies music, art, poetry, Plutarch, Shakespeare, nature study and many  many other subjects in addition to the 3 R's.  Charlotte believed in spreading the feast of ideas to children and they could take freely from the banquet.  But she did not spoonfeed them pre-digested bits of information.  They took what they were ready for, what the Holy Spirit stirred in their hearts at the time. 

Much of learning in Charlotte's schools was through books...filled with living ideas to feed the heart and mind of the child.  Children formed relations with the people, places and events they read about.  Learning was a joyful time of living ideas from great minds...not the drudgery found in reams of worksheets.  As children did the difficult work of wrestling with and pondering these ideas, they found their imaginations sparked and great satisfaction in coming to grips with the issues of the universe.  Their education was living.

Gentle?  Yes.  Rigorous?  Yes.  But with the result of a strong mind and body equipped to do the task they were created to do.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Teacher's Legacy

Last week I was reshelving books when a certain title caught my eye.  My memories were immediately flooded with my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Grabeel, reading to us after lunch each day.  Honestly I remember nothing about this particular book, but what I do remember is sitting enthralled each and every school day as this teacher took time after lunch to read to us.  Just read.  We were never quizzed.  There was not a list of facts we were required to regurgitate on a comprehension test.  She just read.

My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Elkins, loved to reward her students with books.  If a student accomplished a certain goal or won an award or simply made great progress, she gifted that student with a book.  My Trixie Belden collection started with this one.   I still have the very copy from 1972 that she gave me.

I was pondering the legacy they left me...and wondering how many children are being blessed with this legacy now.  Times have certainly changed since I was a public-schooled girl in the 60's and 70's.  Common Core, standardized tests and the race to the top, not to mention revisionism, Darwinism and worse have stripped most classrooms of any living ideas.  What would happen if teachers were free to spend just 10  minutes after lunch reading to their students.  Just reading.  Wonderful fiction, inspiring biographies, thrilling adventures.  How would this change the face of our culture? 

I wish my teachers could see what became of their investment of reading.  Mrs. Grabeel moved away a few years after I left her classroom.  Mrs. Elkins passed away a few years ago after a brave battle with cancer.  Their love of books and of the ideas contained within, however, are still alive and well in me and in those who enter my library doors.  And the legacy is being passed on to future generations. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting to Know You

We recently said goodbye to an old friend.  We have spent the last year or so getting to know him well.  Our family has had many instructive conversations, laughs and cries because of our relationship with him.  Our lives will be forever changed and made fuller because of the influence he had on us.  It won't be goodbye forever, however.  We can visit him anytime just by opening a book.

His name is Ralph Moody and we learned about his life..good, bad, happy sad...through the pages of the Little Britches series.  Ralph's work ethic and willingness to learn whatever was necessary to make his way was inspiring to my boys.  Some lessons are harder learned and we sympathized with him as he took his life's knocks.  That's the wonderful thing about building relationships.  We share the ins and outs of their lives and ours become fuller in the process.

The beauty of living books is that we can build relationships with those who have gone before, lingering over the pages to learn from their wisdom (or lack thereof.)  They don't even have to be real people.  I've learned some of the truest life lessons through the lives of fictional characters. 

The time.  Time to ponder.  Time to savor.  Time to ruminate.  If we feel rushed to get through a book list or a curriculum guide, we won't develop those relationships beyond a cursory glance.  It's like real life.  Some people we do not know at all.  Others we know only in passing.  Lasting relationships are developed by spending time with those folks who are dearest to us.  We get inside their hearts and minds and they into ours.

Our fast-paced world makes it more difficult to know anyone well.  Slow down.  Open a book.  And build a relationship. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

I Have Found a Door

Charlotte Mason said...

"I think that it is a joyful thing to be said about anybody, that he loves knowledge; there are so many interesting and delightful things to be known that the person who loves knowledge cannot very well be dull; in doors and out of doors there are a thousand interesting things to know and to know better.  There is a saying of King Alfred's that I like to apply to our school - 'I have found a door,' he says.  That is just what I hope your school is to you - a door opening into a great palace of art and knowledge...  But you will remember that the school is only a 'door' to let you in to the good House of Knowledge, but I hope you will go in and out and live there all your lives - in one pleasant chamber or another, for the rich people are they who have the entry to this goodly house, and who never let King Alfred's 'door' rust on its hinges, no, not all through their lives, even when they are very old people."

What a lovely picture of our schools.  Our homes should be filled with great ideas that feed the imagination, the soul, the mind of a child.  Our days should revolve around pursuing that knowledge and wisdom that the book of Proverbs says is more priceless than gold.  Bringing our children up in the habit of loving and longing after those things which are good and honorable should be a priority.  These should be present in the books we read, the music we hear, the art we see and the conversations we engage in.  Our minds should be challenged as we grapple with the issues of the times and our children should be taught the Truths of God's Word.

We are their example.  Are the hinges of our house of knowledge rusty?  Develop your own habit of going in and out of the great palace of art and knowledge all through your lives, even when you are very old people.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Roads to the Past

In studying the books that fall into this section, we feel as if we should reword our signpost.  Instead of "Roads to the Past," perhaps it should be "Roads to the Future."  The authors of these books wish their readers to survey the road over which man has traveled with a new kind of discernment which will enable them to see the road ahead more clearly, and will make them better able to overcome and avoid the complications which lie in it.

From the introduction to the World Histories section of Five Years of Children's Books, page 291.

Monday, April 28, 2014

To be a child...

When Coleridge was eight years old, he walked one winter evening with his father from a farmer's house home, and his father told him the names of some of the stars, how far they were from the earth, and so on.  Coleridge has written:

"I had heard him with a profound delight and admiration; but without the least mixture of wonder or incredulity.  For from my early reading of fairy tales and genii, etc., etc., my mind had been habituated to the Vast, and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief.  I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight:  even at that age.  Should children be permitted to read romances, and relations of giants and magicians and genii?  I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative.  I know no other way of giving the mind a love of the Great and the Whole.  Those who have been led to the same truths step by step, through the constant testimony of their senses, seem to me to want a sense which I possess.  They contemplate nothing but parts, and all parts are necessarily little.  And the universe to them is but a mass of little things..."

"Know you what it is to be a child?  It is to be something very different from the man of today.  It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own soul; it is to live in a nutshell and count yourself the king of infinite space."

p. 156-157

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reservoirs of Life

I recently took a quick tour through a modern bookstore.  I usually avoid them, knowing that most of what is currently published is devoid of beauty, both of sight and of mind.  But I had a few minutes to kill so, as the bear who went over the mountain, I went in to see what I could see.  I left dejected, uninspired and definitely unimpressed.  What little life that was there was crushed among the death-obsessed tomes.

I went home to dig out one of my favorite book treasures, Five Years of Children's Books:  A Supplement to Realms of Gold.  Oh, what a gem this book is!  Published in 1936, this secular list of books contains wonderful selections for children in all genres that had been released since 1930.  Just browsing its pages lifts the spirits for it contains snippets and illustrations of many of the books it lists.  Over the next weeks, I hope to offer select quotes from this book to show what authors of past generations sought to instill in children...reservoirs of life.

From page 11 we read:

To estimate the importance of these beautiful books and to realize fully what they may mean to children and to the rest of us, we must ourselves believe that the artist creates life.  He sees with more than the physical eye.  He sees with the vision of the soul.  The artist creates for the child a noble reality by which the child - and we ourselves - may grow.  We have had too much emphsis upon realism and all its insignificant and often ugly detail.  Let us be thankful for this wonderful gift of genius, cherish it, and let us expose our little children to these beautiful books as to "a simple atmosphere of all fair things, where beauty, which is the spirit of art, will come on eye and ear like a fresh breath of wind that brings health from a clear upland, and insensibly and gradually draw the child's soul into harmony with all knowledge and all wisdom, so that he will love what is beautiful and good, and hate that which is evil and ugly (for they always go together) long before he knows the reason why."

Page 3 reveals the purpose of collecting a list of these treasures into this volume:

As for the values which we claim are strong and clear in children's books, the first of these is a sense of God.  "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."  A seeking after truth and beauty; a sense of wonder and reverence; the balance and proportion which humor gives:  these are values in terms of the spirit which shape the design and form for living.

In Eleanor Farjeon's words, such a child would have ever "new eyes, new ears and a new vision of life."

The books which fill these pages have the power to add life and reality.  Our hope for the book is that it may serve to introduce books, to reveal them as reservoirs of life.

May our children grow to offer reservoirs of life to a dying culture.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When you reread a classic,
you do not see more in the book
than you did before;
you see more in you
than was there before.
 ~Clifton Fadiman~

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Human Equation ~ Geography

One of the greatest joys of our lives is to have hosted foreign exchange students from all over the world.  Two boys in particular have become like sons to us.  In fact, when folks ask how many children I have, I say I have five boys including two French sons.  You see, for us France is more than just a spot on a map, more than just landscapes and landmarks.  It is two very special people. 

Recently Francois returned to the US for a three week visit.  We laughed as we relived the great times we had during his year with us.  We cried when he left.  But we carry a bit of France in our hearts knowing he is there thinking of his American family.  The time with him and our other exchange students is very special to my boys.  When newsworthy events happen in these countries, they immediately connect to those who have shared our home.  As we study geography, we have real faces and real relationships.  A human equation. 


We don't have to host foreign exchange students, however, to experience this human equation.  Living books about the people and cultures of those countries can help us build personal relationships with others around the world.   The golden age of children's literature is replete with gems to introduce us to the world.  Below are just a few of my favorites.

If you would like to begin your world tour at home, Lois Lenski wrote an extensive collection of regional stories such as Judy's Journey.  Some of these treasures have been reprinted!

One of my favorites series and that of my patrons is the Twins books by Lucy Fitch Perkins.  Lucy wrote many titles of a set of twins in many cultures.  The Dutch Twins, The Chinese Twins and The French Twins are just a few of the books in this endearing series.  Some of these have been reprinted as well.

In the 1930's Madeline Brandeis traveled the world with her daughter and her camera.  She photographed the people and places, weaving stories around them.   Filled with photographs and cultural facts woven in story, these books are a fascinating look at the world.  Some titles in this series are Little Philippe of Belgium, Little Anne of Canada, and Little Tom of England.  When my French sons were here, I read Little Jeanne of France.  The boys were continually pointing out the landmarks that they pass by everyday.  It didn't hurt that they could help me pronounce the French words.  :)

Charlotte Mason used living books to introduce her students to many cultures.  When I Was a Boy in Japan by Sakae Shioya was one of her choices.

Simply Charlotte Mason has published a geography curriculum that combines living books, map work and cultures by introducing us to families in various countries around the world.   Their Visits to... Series is a good choice if you would like more guidance.


It is a small world after all.  When we reach across political and social boundaries, we may learn that people are not so different.  Reach out and develop a relationship.  You may change a life...even your own.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Beach Books

Vacation time for a homeschool family often involves taking a break from regular studies and learning about the location they will be traveling to.  As we prepare for what we hope will be a quiet, restful and WARM week at the beach, I thought I'd share some of the books we have been enjoying to open our eyes to what we might find.

Spring Comes to the Ocean by Jean Craighead George is a fascinating look at the changes in the sea this time of year.  As this longed-for season approaches, it is interesting to learn about those things on earth we cannot see.

Beachcombing by Jim Arnosky - We so enjoy Arnosky's nature books.  The boys love searching to see what treasures they can find.  This book helps identify them.

Fish Do the Strangest Things by Lenora Hornblow - Part of the Step-Up series, this book gives young readers a fun look at the creatures under the sea.

Manfish:  A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne - This is a lovely picture book of the great "oceanographer and champion of the sea."

Water People by Wilfrid Bronson - Another excellent look at underwater life.

Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling is a classic to read before a beach trip.  The life of a hermit crab is gorgeously illustrated by this beloved author.

Seashore by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne - This book is in the wonderful One Small Square series.  Learn about the variety of life at the edge of the sea.  Many other habitats are featured in this series such as deserts, Arctic tundra, backyard, woods, rain forest, etc.  Don't miss these to enlighten your nature studies.

Friday, February 28, 2014

My List of Book Lists

If you read my last article, you were cautioned about allowing book lists to paralyze you into feeling chained to particular literary recommendations.  Now that I've released you from book list slavery, let me share with you some of my favorite resources for finding the best living books.  ;)

Many years ago when I first began collecting books in earnest, I relied on Valerie's Living Books.  Valerie has been buying, selling and writing about living books for nearly 20 years and her website is a wealth of information.  (You can also buy wonderful titles from her.)

Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt is another resource that has been directing parents in choosing the best books for their children for many years. 

Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson is a great choice.  Based on the writings of Charlotte Mason. 

Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson is a relatively new publication of book lists.  You might recognize Sarah as the daughter of Clay and Sally Clarkson, authors of Educating the WholeHearted Child.  Sarah was brought up on the best the world of children's literature has to offer and shares her favorites in this book.

If you are looking to liven up your history study with living books, you might consider All Through the Ages by Christine Miller.  This book lists books by historical time period as well as geographically and by age.

Of course, the TruthQuest History guides offer an exhaustive list of books of each topic covered.  Michelle Miller is not only the author of these profound guides, she owns a homeschool lending library herself so is well-versed in the golden age of children's literature.

My most used resource is Jan Bloom's Who Should We Then Read Vols. 1 and 2.   Jan's books are unique in that she lists books by author including a brief biography of each and a list of every book he/she wrote.  This is an indispensable resource if you are seeking to build a collection of your favorites.  My copies are marked and highlighted treasures.

Last but not least is my precious copy of Realms of Gold and it's companion volume Five Years of Children's Books.  These books are from the 1930's and list the most wonderful titles published for children during those years.  Many of these we recognize from our childhoods.  In the introduction of Five Years of Children's Books we read the standard for books published during this time...

"As for the values which we claim are strong and clear in children's books, the first of these is a sense of God. 'God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.'  A seeking after truth and beauty; a sense of wonder and reverence; the balance and proportion which humor gives:  these are values in terms of the spirit which shape the design and form for living.  The books which fill these pages have the power to add life and reality."

As we seek to find the best books to place in the eager hands of our children, may God lead us to life and reality, to truth and beauty.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Lists: Bane or Blessing

As a homeschool librarian I am often asked by prospective patrons if I have the books listed on various homeschool curricula book lists.  I remember as a new homeschooler 18 years ago trying to find a curriculum that utilized real, living books.  After we finished our time with Five in a Row, we definitely did not want to settle for dry facts common in the textbooks listed in most homeschool catalogs and marketed at homeschool conventions.  I found only one such curriculum at the time.  We plunged in, enjoying the books we could locate on that list, substituting books we could not find or...gasp...leaving them out altogether.  It really never occured to me that my child's education would somehow be ruined if I did not have the exact book recommended on a particular list.

I so appreciate the variety and sheer volume of book lists available today.  I collect these lists, mull over them, mark what I own, eagerly scour used book stores, library sales and internet websites to add to my collection.  But I don't own everything.  I never will own everything.  But I try to make every purchase count in my effort to put the best that the golden age of children's literature has to offer into the hands of eager young readers.  I have literally thousands and thousands of books, mostly out of print and written during a time when authors sought to edify their audience of young minds, on my shelves and add more almost weekly.

I can understand a new homeschool mom's panic when faced with the great responsibility of the education of her children and the outside pressure of doing everything "right."  She studies the homeschool catalogs, talks to veteran moms, goes to conferences, previews curriculum, and on it goes.  Mom brings the new, expensive curriculum to my library in anticipation of returning home with a tote full of the books she will need to fill her children's minds with all that is necessary for a well-rounded education...and I have only three of them. 

Let me explain.  By default, most producers of curriculum, even those that utilize living books, must use books that are in print.  Most public libraries have discarded the best books and are left with twaddle at best and poison at worst.  Unfortunately, although the homeschool library movement is growing, there are very few of us in the country.  So the vast majority of the moms will only be able to locate books that are in print.  Are these books the best that are written on the topic?  Maybe.  Probably not.  They are the best that the curriculum writer had available at the time of writing.  But I find so many moms distraught that they will somehow be shortchanging their children's education if the exact book is not found.  Also is the fact that there are often specific lesson plans that revolve around said book and mom has no idea how to deviate from those plans to make a substitution. 

Freedom is a wonderful thing.  I very much appreciate the admonition Michelle Miller gives to families who use her TruthQuest guides.  Use what you have!  If you are blessed to live near a homeschool lending library that specilizes in living books, become a patron and select the best of the best to lavish upon the minds of your children.  Read book lists, learn from them.  But don't be a slave to them.  Be willing to step outside the box of the curriculum to choose something better if it is available to you.  You will be amazed and blessed by the treasures you may find.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Sale Pages Updated

I have updated my Book Sale Page.  This is a massive list of wonderful living books. 

To help you add more books to your collection, if you buy 5-9 books, take 10% off.  If you purchase 10 books or more, take 25% off! 

There are some great titles here.  Email me at with your questions or purchases.  Thank you for your support.

Monday, February 3, 2014

So, What Are You Reading?

An innocent question from my husband to the boys.  A simple question you might think.  Let's see...

The Bible.  We are reading through the Bible and are now in II Kings with the reign of Hezekiah.

The Dry Divide by Ralph Moody.  We have been working our way through the Little Britches series for our nightly reading.  Not to be missed!

For geography we are loving The Book of Marvels by Richard Halliburton, who traveled around the world recording his adventures.  Charlotte Mason's Elementary Geography is fascinating. 

History always holds some wonderful treasures.  Right now we are enjoying mystery and intrigue in Web of Traitors by Geoffrey Trease set in Ancient Greece.

Our current poet is James Whitcomb Riley.  In addition to a book of his poems, we are learning about his life in this Childhood of Famous American gem. 

Picture study is one of our favorite subjects.  I've been wanting to study Millet for a long time so we decided now's the time.  Millet Tilled the Soil by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher is so wonderful I'm not sure which I love most, the book or the art!

For science right now we are reading The Burgess Bird Book for Children.  We are huge Thornton Burgess fans.  We also have some books on snow that we've pulled out, found at this post.

We always have a "Sunday book" going that we reserve for the Lord's Day.  Right now we are immersed in the classic Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe.

In addition each boy is reading a book on his own.  My 10-year-old is almost finished with The Fellowship of the Ring.  My 9-year-old is finishing up Robin Hood Stories by Dolch. 

My husband and I have our own lists going.  I'm currently reading O Pioneers! by Willa Cather as a quick fiction story.  That, along with my Charlotte Mason assignments, and trying to keep books reshelved is keeping me busy.

So what are you reading?  Pull out a good book on a cold, wintry day.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Human Equation ~ Sciences

Many homeschooling parents eagerly embrace living books when teaching their young children.  Snuggling on the couch, making memories around books is lovely.  Other parents use living books only for history.  Biographies and historical fiction truly make history come alive,  making us feel as if we are really there.  Some families, however, fail to recognize the value of living books for science and math, relying instead on textbooks and workbooks, especially in the later years.  While some of this may be preferred depending on the long-term goals of the student, living books add a unique dimension to the study of these subjects.  I particularly enjoy adding biographies of scientists and mathematicians.  Living with these great men and women helps us form a deeper understanding of  their challenges and questions.  Scientific discovery doesn't happen in a vacuum.  It relies on curiosity, experimentation and the study of those gone before.  Below are some of my favorite biographies and series to help add a human equation to your studies.

Mendeleyev and His Periodic Table by Robin McKown is a fascinating look at the life and work of the man who brought Chemistry into the modern world.  This true living book combines history and science in a way that foster curiosity to know more about this interesting subject.

Archimedes and the Door of Science.  In this book, Jeanne Bendick brings to life the ancient Greek mathematician and scientist, Archimedes.  She also authored Galen and the Gateway to Medicine

Archimedes was such an interesting man and his discoveries so significant that you may want to introduce your younger students to him.  May I suggest Archimedes Takes a Bath by Joan Lexau.

The Ancient Greeks were instrumental in laying the foundation for much of our scientific knowledge.  Eratosthenes accurately measured the circumference of the earth.   You can read his story in this wonderful picture book, The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky.

Often difficult math concepts become clearer with a living book.  What's Your Angle, Pythagoras by Julie Ellis is an example of getting inside the head of the one who discovered the concept.

Scientific discoveries help us marvel at God's creation.  They can also solve problems...and lives.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba is a fascinating look at the author's dream of utilizing windmills to bring his small village electricity and water.  There is also a picture book of the same title. 

Uncle Tungsten:  Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks is another autobiography of a life surrounded by science.  What I loved about this book is how Oliver's parents nurtured their son's interest in metals and chemical reactions.  An example of what can happen when parents engage their children in real-life learning.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of what is available for students young and old on their journey of scientific knowledge.  There are biographies for every branch of math and science.  I hope you will unearth some of these gems and ignite your own child's passion for the sciences.