Monday, May 2, 2016

In April, I read

1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.
It is our year in the twentieth century of history. I have read this book to all my children. This is why: one day, when I closed the book at teatime, my 12-year-old son wistfully said, “I wish we could do that.” I waited. “You know, rescue people, save lives.” Though the book’s main character is a girl, a brave young man is working in the background to help Denmark accomplish the smuggling of seven thousand Jews out from under the Nazis noses into Sweden. Children need seeds of heroism sown liberally. This book is enjoyable for grades 3-9, though I also enjoy it every time.

2. The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff.
I completed reading this trilogy of those little known centuries of Roman occupation and the struggle to possess Britain’s rich land. This book describes the Britain-born, Roman soldier who makes the choice to stay in his land of birth when the Romans withdraw forever from Britain, is captured and enslaved by the Saxons, and spends the rest of his life fighting to make Britain free. “We are the lantern-bearers, my friend,” says his acquaintance near the close of the tale, and I thought, how true for us today, civilization darkening and children of the light with roles to play to keep the light on for succeeding generations.

3. The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre.
I read this book because of an interesting blog I read about the reasons boys do not read, do not engage in school, and the lack of stories available that engage boys. It was affirming of my own observations over the last 30 years with my own boys, their friends, and the children in the classrooms of friends and in our library. It was a thorough and careful examination of the causes and possible solutions. The data and experience of boys today show that we are not educating boys along the lines of their own nature—and Charlotte Mason would have much to say to concur.

4. Waverly, or ‘Tis Sixty Years Since by Sir Walter Scott.
My book club began two years ago and the members were hesitant to read anything over 200 pages, and timid to read any strange prose. Their tackling this first novel of Scott’ proves we have come a long way. Most of them toiled to the end, finding themselves researching history and Scottish dialects in the process, and were simply proud of themselves for “getting through,” but the young men enjoyed it, and some of the women were surprised at what they learned about themselves, and, best of all, our group discussion found its way to discovering why we read widely, their conclusions were interesting: the advantage of increasing our knowledge in directions we would not have ventured on our own, the new range of subjects for meaningful conversation, the revelation of understanding people by acquaintance with diverse characters, and investing time in a fruitful activity. I was gratified.

5. Persuasion by Jane Austen.
I revisit her novels for pleasure and deeper insight for life. Two years ago at the CMI conference, Jerram Barrs told us of his life-long rereading of Austen—all her books every year—and inspired me to keep rereading them. My family is accustomed to my constant reading, and I don’t think they take any notice, but one day my husband mentioned listening to Persuasion while traveling. One morning last week, I was amazed to hear him talking with our 12-year- old in a fatherly instructive voice, about a character issue that concerned him, and telling my son about Mr. Elliot and his weaknesses as an illustration of what kind of man not to emulate. So apparently, Ms. Austen is not just for women.

6. In Suspect Terrain by John McPhee.
McPhee makes nonfiction reading approachable for my science weak mind, and now that I have a son-in- law studying geology, I thought I should gain some knowledge in that area. This book was a fascinating and eye-opening introduction for me. “Rocks are the record of events that took place at the time they formed. They are books. They have a different vocabulary, a different alphabet, but you learn how to read them,” said the geologist Mcphee was traveling through Appalachia with. This comment increases my connection with the field of geology since I do naturally like history, and absolutely love books.

7. Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall 1783-1787 by Winston Graham.
This was my fun read this month, spurred on by having watched the BBC series. I read some of the novels in this series 35 years ago (not this one, however), and was curious to know what I thought of it more than half my life later. It’s so easy to think we have “moved on” or refined our taste after years of reading, but honestly, it was a really good book.

8. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.
My sons finished reading this play with me early last month. My youngest said, after the first couple of scenes, “Oh no, not this again! People pretending to be something else and getting everything all messed up.” Do you think he’s on to Shakespeare’s game?

9. America Moves Forward by Gerald Johnson.
When we began this trilogy three years ago, my son could not read it. This year, I read along while he read it to me. That is encouraging, but so were the discussions we had about America, her politics and foreign policy, and her future—especially since this book ends with her history just as I was coming into it in 1956. My son remarked, “Now maybe I’ll know more about what Dad and Grandpa are always arguing about.”

10. The Penderwicks on Gardham Street by Jeanne Birdsall.
With a long day in the kitchen ahead of me, I pulled up this book to keep me company there, and was glad I was alone for the day because I frequently burst out laughing. They are lighthearted and hilarious at times, but perceptive of the thinking and behavior of young girls learning to cope with the perplexities of everyday life. A criticism I have heard of this series is that lying is condoned. I therefore found this conversation noteworthy, “Daddy, is deceit always dishonorable—even a tiny bit that doesn’t hurt anyone?” to which her father responds, “No, deceit is not always dishonorable. For example, lying to save an innocent life can be honorable. Is there an innocent life at stake here?” to which the daughter answers negatively. So, he adds, “Then, I’d have to say broadly that even a tiny bit of deceit is dishonorable when it’s used for selfish or cowardly reasons.”

11. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall.
Considering that I have read a few recent blogs dismissing this series as godless and immoral, and also that I usually strenuously recommend excellent and old literature as superior, perhaps my readers are perplexed. Without retracting any of my convictions in regard to the benefits of older children’s fiction, I must say that these books are wholesome and free of vulgarity, which does make them stand out in an ocean of disgusting young adult fiction. They would be of interest primarily to girls. They are not less godless than the Beverly Cleary books of sixty years ago. They are also not without moral instruction for today’s young people. For example, the oldest daughter reminds a seething younger sibling, “Daddy says the best revenge is to be better than your enemy.” If you have young girls who aren’t fond of reading, these might be a good option for their leisure time. I also must add that one of the things I appreciate about the author of this series is her liberal sprinkling, casual mentioning in passing, (or is it dropping of hints?) of titles and authors of some of the great children’s books of all time. Do you suppose she is hoping that our modern readers will find some keys to even better fiction because of them?

For the joy of reading,



  1. Hi Liz! Happy May to you! :) Thank you for sharing your April reads...we really enjoy the Penderwicks here...we have found memories of listening to them on our roadtrips to Texas. :) I love, love, love that story about your husband and Jane Austen. Soooo neat! I'm attempting a hair-brained scheme of wallpaper our remodeled bathroom with pages from her books. LOL. I know...the horror of ruining a book for decorating purposes. :P I'll let you know how it turns out. :) PS - I just finished The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate...LOVED it. Thank you. Curious, have you read the others in the series? Amy

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  3. fond memories not found :) Wallpapering not wallpaper :P

    1. Amy,

      I have not read the others in that series, but should put them on my loooong.

      I think your wallpaper sounds beautiful. Emily made all her wedding decorations out of pages from Jane Austen...wreaths on the ends of pews and on church doors, papering jars for candle holders...For months we picked up old paperback copies of her favorite love stories. I think it is a great idea--and such good bathroom reading material.


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  5. Great blog! I have a similar blog designed to help other homeschoolers find living books to read by topic (science, history, character building and more!)

    1. Linda,

      There cannot be enough of us promoting reading of good literature. Thank you.


  6. Liz, as always, I love reading about what you read :) You inspire me. Every week.

    So glad you liked the second two Penderwicks books. And I totally think Jeanne Birdsall is trying to get her readers to read upstream!

    1. Kimberlee,

      It's good to know I'm not the only one with that impression; I had the thought in reading the first, but, by the third, was convinced it was deliberate.


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