Thursday, October 5, 2017

Books Closed in September

Can we ever say a book has reached the end? Do we ever really close the covers and surrender the time spent in the pages of a book to permanent forgetfulness? Perhaps, but even if one idea survives, something in any book we have spent time with, thought on, or enjoyed is woven into our heart, mind, and actions. I may or may not return to the books I closed in September, but know that though I left them on the shelf, something in each still goes with me.

The Healing Brain: Breakthrough Discoveries About How the Brain Keeps us Healthy by Robert Ornstein and David Sobel. One book leads to another. I found this one in searching on other books written by David Sobel. Though this book is 30 years old, I found the research and anecdotes about how vital the brain is to maintaining our health, contributes to its deterioration, or leads us back to health after stress, trauma, injury, or illness to be fascinating. Everyone has heard of psychosomatic illnesses, but I don’t think we can possibly comprehend the direct relationship of the body-mind connection. Scientists are trying to, however, and continue to discover undeniable truths about our mental and physical connection, trying to quantify the elusive personality and practices that reveal that nutrition, exercise and medicine are not all there is to this story. Part of solving the mystery of persons is learning more about our amazing brains.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Curtis. My reading lists this year reveal a couple of other titles by this children’s author, who is new to me and a wonderful discovery. This one is another tale of family love and loyalty and a good choice for elementary students wanting an authentic historical fiction taste of uncivil rights in the early ‘60’s. It is told with humor and pathos and is a gently eye-opening view for children who have not grown up with awareness of the treatment of blacks in our history books.

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness. I began this book almost two years ago and finally, after many interruptions, got to the end. Lilias Trotter, privileged daughter of Britain’s upper classes, is discovered by John Ruskin who recognizes her extraordinary artistic talents and aids her in their development. Though potentially destined to be an accomplished and famous painter, she leaves all easy living and possible fame to go as a missionary to northern Africa to minister among the Muslims. Her courage, tenacity, and unshakable faith in the face of withering circumstances is an inspiring story, especially when considering the limitations of travel, communication and attitude to women in the late nineteenth century. The author accurately and faithfully covers her life, but this biography, like most written in the modern times, leaves a bit more of a limp and lifeless recounting than I’m sure the spunky and faith-filled Lilias must have led. Despite my disappointment in the style, her true story is worth reading.

A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski. I initially picked up this book because of an upcoming first trip to New York City, but couldn’t put it down because the biographer was skillful and Olmsted one of the most intriguing characters I’ve read of in recent years. I knew nothing of him before and simply read the book because he was credited with the idea for and existence of Central Park. He did a whole lot more than that, and more than develop a new ocupation called “landscape architecture.” This is a biography worth reading for high schoolers studying this century as his role in not just its beautification of cities, but in writing of the South before, during, and after the Civil War, his travels, experiences, lifestyle, and multitude of occupations bring such a sense of life in those years., He is living proof that academic and career success alone doesn’t make the man.

A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Godden. This is the sequel to her first autobiography of her life up through the second world war. Rumer begins to put her life together back in England and pursue her writing career in earnest. The sheer number of well-known figures—authors, actors, movie makers, and political figures—is incredible. She actually owned homes formerly inhabited by such well-known historic figures as Sir Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, George I, and Jane Austen. As usual, her homes are among the characters in her life and her novels and the telling of the highlights and low points of her life are described in the simple, poignant, simplicity that she tells all her stories for children and adults.

Parenting: Fourteen Gospel Principles that Will Radically Change Your Family by Paul Tripp. I have been a parent for 36 years and still need help. This respected counselor is easy to read and understand. There are no complex theories or overly simplistic formulas in this book. It is simply the unfolding of all Christ told us to know and do. Basically, love God and your neighbor (child). To sum up his parenting technique is to say, “Parent, get the speck out of your own eye.”

For the joy of reading,


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

End of Summer Reading

Thanks to a lovely and long vacation, I was able to finish many books, begin others, and end the summer feeling refreshed. The books carry me through the busy times and are a relaxation in the leisure times. Though the common expression is, “I’m too busy to read,” and reading surely takes a commitment of time, I do not know how to survive the intense schedule without the moments of calling a halt to life’s demands, putting the brakes on so to speak, and retreating if only for ten or fifteen minutes at a time to enter another world. As Birchner points out:

“…The harder it is to do the work [of reading], the less inclined we are to do it. We cannot be put off by the prospect of fatigue or any other withering sense of obligation. What is true of art is true of serious reading as well. Fewer and fewer people it seems have the leisure or inclination to take it. And true reading is hard. Unless we are practiced, we do not just crack the covers and slip into an alternate world. We do not get swept up as readily as by the big screen excitements of film. But if we do read, perseveringly, we make available to ourselves in a most portable form, an ulterior existence. We hold in our hands a way to cut against the momentum of the times. We can resist the skimming tendencies and delve. We can store, if only for a time, the vanishing assumption of coherence. The beauty of the vertical existence is that it does not have to argue for itself. It is self-contained, a fulfillment.” (The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkertner)

So here are the books I took time out to toil and trip through and reached the end of in the month of August. Each has helped me keep my balance in a busy season of life:

Tom Whipple by Walter D. Edmonds. This is a true story, a short illustrated children’s biography by the author of the unforgettable Matchlock Gun, about an enterprising “Yankee” (is there any other kind?). Tom reminds us of “…how little it takes to do a thing if you’ve a mind to do it.” This nineteenth century American is “A livelier man than most with a knack for getting into the thick of everything that happened to be going on in this country…” This is a boys dream hero, independent and persevering, adventurous and ready for whatever life brings—and it brings him a whole lot.

Amadaeus Mozart by Ibi Slepscky. I added this to my collection of children’s composer biographies. This short illustrated biography is great for young elementary school students who are listening to Mozart and learning to love him.

Albert Einstein by Ibi Slepscky. A perfect introduction to increase your child’s interest in science. I have not read this author before these two children’s biographies, but knowing the man behind the developments in science is a sure hook for them.

Sashes Red and Blue by Natalie Savage Carlson. This beloved author has collected some of the folk lore of the early French settlers in North America and retold the tales in as entertaining a manner for today’s children as they must have been for those French children of centuries ago.

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg. This is an excellent young student’s overview of the life of one of history’s most famous women: wife of Henry II and mother of Richard the Lionheart and “bad” King John. Told from the perspective of heaven, where she has arrived before her husband, Eleanor of Aquataine spends this time reflecting on her eventful and instrumental life through conversations and reminiscences with old friends in her earthly life. It is not an in depth account, but gives vivid pictures of the will behind the woman behind the men who altered history.

Martin Luther by May McNeer. I was glad to finally have the chance to read a book I have recommended for years! McNeer describes the life of that church-shaking giant, Martin Luther, by dwelling on the highlights and providing just enough personal detail to keep the young reader interested in the man, as well as the most important things he did. Perfect for grades 3-9 studying the Reformation.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling. As previously mentioned, I am rereading the whole series after a ten year interim since my first reading. Charlotte Mason said a good book was worth reading and rereading and rereading. The tale, of course, is riveting, and the development of Harry’s character as he now reaches his mid teens is tremendous. The evil powers are growing in strength, and Harry is literally fighting for his life. No wonder our children cannot put these down.

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare. It took months for me to read through this collection. I tried to read one per day, ponder and rereading it. I have often heard how mocking, mean, or malicious some of his sonnets were, but, though I caught the double meaning and insinuations in many, what I take most with me is a sense of beauty, power with words, and a hunger to come back again and again and plumb the depths of wisdom and understanding they contain.

Bible and Sword: a History of England and Palestine by Barbara Tuchman. Characteristic of my favorite history author, Tuchman gives an orderly and fascinating account of the relationship of the nations of England and Israel. She highlights the deep connection of the British with the Bible and the characters who through the ages have steered the Jews back to a homeland of their own. Though of course I have some knowledge of Bible history and the Hebrew people, as well as a general knowledge of the Crusades, the growth of Zionism and the Holocaust, this book linked my pieces of knowledge in such a way as to fill in many gaps in my understanding of the ideas that rose and became actions that changed history.

Seven Brief Lessons in Physics Carlo Rovelli. Since nearly failing physics in high school, I have persisted to read books by physicists who attempt to make the vast realms of this science comprehensible to a novice. I particularly enjoyed listening to the author read it himself. More importantly, his simple explanations made a lot of previously mystifying ideas begin to click for me. Making physics relevant for everyday life is not naturally intuitive to most of us, but I do think it’s possible and this short introduction of the main ideas of physics gives me a true desire to read on in this field.

Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge. I’m rereading this beautiful trilogy this year, savoring every jewel-like sentence in Goudge’s exquisite prose. For those who have survived broken family connections and recall your childhood delight in The Wind in the Willows this is a most satisfying tale of a family and the other families they draw to themselves at the Herb of Grace Inn.

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age by Sven Birkertner. This is a collection of essays by a masterful writer. It’s probably unnecessary to add that that is doubtless due to his deep enrapture with books through life that produced a passion to write himself. Each essay addresses some aspect of books, reading, and modern culture, most with enlightening illustrations from his own life story. For a taste, note my comments in the introduction.

For the joy of reading,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summer Reading

Summer is a wonderful rest from the school year routine. For me, it has become my most intense season as I help moms plan their coming school year, so I beg your understanding for neglecting to post blogs often here. These are the most recent books I have finished.

School Education by Charlotte Mason. I am not participating in the Idyll Challenge, but reading along with my husband as the participants read through Mason’s six volumes. I still remember unpacking the treasures contained in this third volume the first time I read it, and continue to glean practical advice for working out her principles in the pages of rich information and illustration contained here. It’s worth noting that Home Education and this one were essential references for P.N.E.U. teachers on an ongoing basis.

Netta, A Biography of Henrietta Franklin by Monk Gibbon. One way to get to know a friend better is to know one of their other close friends better. This is the experience when reading the biography of this truly unique and amazing woman, close comrade of Charlotte Mason. Told by an intimate friend and colleague of Mrs. Franklin, this biography paints the picture of Henrietta as her long life displayed a woman of incredible energy, intelligence, generosity, and vision. Those of us who follow a Mason education owe deep gratitude to her tireless efforts to change education. My husband and I read this aloud together and both looked forward to our evenings with Netta and each new episode in her life adventures.

So Dear to My Heart by Sterling North. For all who loved Rascal, this is another heartwarming story of a different boy in a different place with a different pet. Instead of a raccoon, it is now a lamb, a very special one. Instead of Wisconsin, it is rural Indiana. Again, this masterful storyteller captures the heart of a boy, his thinking, longings, and hilarious scrapes and predicaments. This book makes a perfect family read aloud for listeners of all ages.

The Book of Naturalists: An Anthology of the Best Natural History ed. by William Beebe. Mason had her mothers reading in the area of natural history always in her Mothers Education Course, and I have tried to expand and extend my knowledge of the limitless natural world’s riches by reading, too. This is a historical compilation of the representative writings of naturalists throughout history, from Aristotle to the present. It is a wonderful resource for discovering naturalists throughout the ages that can be further explored in their more complete works that are informative of their time period, and still relevant as the natural world’s wonders continue to fascinate and reveal the knowledge of God and the universe.

The American Revolution by Sir George Otto Trevelyan. I kept stumbling over this title and author as I read Barbara Tuchman, so of course had to track this down. I only had an audio of the one-volume synthesis of his original three volume work, published near the turn of the twentieth century. Even so, it was a thorough account of the American Revolution as it affected the British empire. Born just 50 years after the defeat of the British in our war, Travelyan’s revelations of the persons and policies from the viewpoint of our opponents was eye opening and a fresh look at the war most of us first learned about in elementary school and the beginning of which is still a national celebration every Fourth of July. The perspective of our issues and battles from a British citizen and member of parliament’s point of view was extremely engrossing and this is probably one of the books I have appreciated most so far this year.

The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy. This author is new to me in the last few years and I wanted to read another one of his novels. This was a great ramble with a gentleman stuck between boyhood and manhood, and his journey from New York City back to his southern roots. There is always so much to think about from one of his novels, I should wait six months before saying much more.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. In one week, I heard this book raved about by four different people in four different settings. It is a story of beauty and hope, about an orphaned boy in twelfth century Korea who yearns to create the beautiful pottery of his region. He pays a high price to gain the privilege of working under a master potter, and continues to do so as he learns the art of pottery and living with people. It is a perfect book for anyone from seven on up, a simple story with beautiful life lessons.

Fiddlestrings by Marguerite De Angeli. If your children take violin lessons, this book will inspire them. It is the story of a young son of a musician who has a great love for and talent with the violin, but whose desire for baseball, sailing, and bringing home stray dogs competes with the needed discipline his family insists on to make the most of his talent. The story is a summer tale of his freedom from routine, and the changes one year in a young life brings. It is full of heartwarming family strength, and the simplicity of an earlier American era, but the desires of his heart are just like those of young boys today.

Yonie Wondernose by Marguerite De Angeli. Yonie is a lovable little boy who is given some man-sized responsibilities to help his aging grandmother. De Angeli, as ever, brings a picture book to children that will delight their eyes and ears as they listen to the simple tale of a care-free boy who one day suddenly faces an emergency with a man-sized effort and proves that courage and clear-headedness are not just for adults to show.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Curtis. After my delight with Bud, not Buddy, I had to return to another Curtis tale. The protagonist in this one is the only daughter of a family struggling against the worst of the Depression in Gary, Indiana. Poverty pushes their family to the wall and she helplessly watches everything they have striven for disintegrate. Most of the story is the riveting tale of how her courage and intelligence, loyalty and trust in her family, eventually brings them through, not unscathed, but rewarded for tenacity in the face of the worst life can deal out. It is a story for young adult (11-12 on up) boys and girls, though the title may not seem so,. To say it was inspiring is an understatement. It was not the easiest story to read emotionally, but one of the most rewarding I’ve read in a long time.

For the joy of reading,