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,


Monday, June 12, 2017

Books Read in May

Truthfully, I was reading in 12 books last month, and that’s pretty average for me, but these are the only ones that I finished in May. I try to read in two or three of them every day, but every day read different books. For a couple of years, I have been trying to read books the way I expect my children to read their schoolbooks, slowly, on a variety of subjects on different days. It takes many months sometimes to read through a long book, but I am finding my appreciation and retention of what an author has to say has increased with this method. Here are the books I closed the cover on this month:

1. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. I got to know the Bronte sisters as a young reader in elementary school. One of my favorite poems in my commonplace book was written by Anne. Its poignant grief after the loss of a lover twists my heart every time I read it. But, I at this late date in life have just had the pleasure of reading one of her novels. It is apparent that some of her sisters’ social concerns were hers as well. I don’t think she is as masterful a storyteller as Emily and Charlotte, but still has her own quiet story to tell. Agnes is a girl who, in hopes of helping her family with an ailing father, ventures into the world to try her hand at being a governess and earning her living. She has experiences that are doubtless representative of young working women in that era. Agnes is an upright young woman, though naïve of the world outside her small family circle. She is an interesting mix of bashfulness and boldness, simplicity and strength.

2. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. I’m still trekking slowly through this series a second time after a ten year hiatus. I find myself noticing details I missed the first time in my suspenseful rush through the first reading of this series, pondering with admiration the details of the plot unfolded through the entire series that show the talent of a masterful storyteller. Still, I end up rushing at the end and holding my breath at Harry’s predicaments and perils even though I know what’s going to happen. It’s no surprise children gravitate to these spell binders (no pun intended).

3. The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Gouge. I have read this one before, too, about 13 years ago. It is the first in a family saga during the World War II era. The first time, I read the second, then third novel in the trilogy, and this first novel last. My book club picked this one for May’s meeting and, since Goudge is one of the best authors I’ve read in my life, I settled in to enjoy it again. It was richer the second time. I again reveled in the beauty and power of her writing, but this time fully recognized the symbolism and beauty of the tale, the wrestlings of faith of the characters, and a beautiful picture of the story of redemption in the Book of books.

4. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis. My sister urged me to read this book after meeting the author at a conference. He is from our hometown. He also is a fabulous writer for children. This is the tale of a boy in an abusive foster home who strikes out to find his own way in the world. The problem is, it is the Depression, and he is very naïve. He is also very intuitive and persistent. This book had me laughing and crying by turns.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Cost of a Book

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” - Desiderius Erasmus

If you’re a homeschooler, you know that this is the season of spending money on books to prepare for the coming school year. Or, if like me you buy them whether it is the season or not, it is the season when book sales and curriculum sales and conferences make books—new and out-of-print-- readily available. For book lovers, this is the equivalent of Christmas specials at Christmas time.

I used to joke with my children, usually upon arriving at home with a trunk full of books, that if we ran out of grocery money, we could always eat the books. The quote of Erasmus above reveals that this is no new idea under the sun.

The other day, I stumbled upon this comment of Jean Jacques Fabre:

“…and I wanted to know more than I had learned from the schoolboys, which was just how to rob the cells of their honey with a straw. As it happened, my bookseller had a gorgeous work on insects for sale…and boasted a multitude of attractive illustrations. , but the price of it!—the price of it! No matter, was not my splendid income supposed to cover everything?—food for the mind as well as food for the body? Anything extra that I gave to the one I could save upon the other, a method of balancing painfully familiar to those who look to science for their livelihood. The purchase was effected. That day, my professional amoluments were severely strained. I devoted a month’s salary to the acquisition of the book. I had to resort to miracles of economy for some time to come before making up the enormous deficit. The book was devoured. There is no other word for it. In it, I learned the name of my black bee. I read for the first time various details of the habits of insects…”

And I wince to think of the impoverishment this generation would suffer if he had not “devoured” that book. A book is not worth what it costs today, but what it will acquire in value to persons, persons of infinite value whose minds crave its priceless ideas in order to grow.

Charlotte Mason agreed on all points:

“One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life.” (Parents and Children, p. 279)

How can you put a price tag on knowledge, on friendship, on life? Books contain all these and lead to more knowledge, friendships, and living. Truly, it is not the price tag that determines whether or not we should purchase a book, but the worth of the person who will be reading it. When set in the scales, people and money are very unevenly weighed.

For the joy of reading,