I'm working on reading a book a week for this year and last month, I only read three, so I came up a bit short. Thankfully, summer is around the corner and summer is for catching up on book goals.
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The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
I started The Great Divorce because I didn't have anything on hand to read one evening and it was a part of a CS Lewis collection that I owned. Since I hadn't heard much about The Great Divorce, I didn't really know what to expect. Boy was I floored, because it was a fascinating book about heaven and hell and the choices that we make that lead us to one final destination or the other. If you've ever heard the reference to CS Lewis stating that souls that go to hell, choose to go there...this is the book it was probably from.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
I first read The Hobbit over 20 years ago because a friend recommended it and I had been meaning to pick it up again for quite a while because the plot of the movies seemed a bit disjointed in certain parts. Oh, eagles just happened to come along and save our heroes from the trolls. Since, I didn't remember events happening quite so randomly in the book, so I went back to read it and everything in the movies made much more sense. Not to mention that the Hobbit is a delightful read and I have a greater appreciation for the symbolism, wisdom, and humor more now than I remember having 20 years ago. I will be reading the Lord of the Rings series next. Even though I didn't appreciate LOTR as well as many people do on my first read through, I think it's the kind of book that gets better with a reread .
I think I may encourage my oldest son to read The Hobbit this summer in exchange for letting him watch the movie version on his own some lazy week this summer..
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
I have only been recently introduced to Wendell Berry's work. So far I've read some of his essays and poetry. I've also read Nathan Coulter, Remembering, and Hannah Coulter. This month I read Jayber Crow, and so far Jayber Crow has been my favorite of Berry's novels. Wendell Berry writes poignantly about the transition from traditional lifestyles to modern lifestyles. His heroes and heroines learn the hard way that progress really isn't all that it's cracked up to be and they have to fight back against modernity to find that balance of life where they can be truly human.
I appreciated the medieval references in Jayber Crow: his life's journey was compared to Dante's Divine Comedy and he had a love for a married woman that was pure and chaste, much like the courtly love of knights for the queens, princesses, and ladies they served.
What books have you read recently? Do you have any book recommendations for me for next month?
For a year, I worked as a substitute teacher but I didn't realize that my humble job would one day be the subject of a New York Times Best Seller. Nicholson Baker worked for a month as a substitute teacher and shared his experiences in his book Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids.
Substitute tells, in detail, Baker's 28 days as a substitute teacher. The minute details of each day, from what the first student in the door said to him to the sound of the passing bell to what he ate for lunch are recorded within l 719 pages. When a day as a substitute has that "Groundhog Day" feel, the kind of sandwich you had for lunch is a pretty significant detail.
There are plenty of statistics about public education out there, and plenty of books out there to throw those statistics at you. However, no statistic tells you what it is like to live through a day in a classroom 20, 30, 50 years after you graduated. If you want to know what it looks, feels, and sounds like to be in a typical public education classroom today, you can't find a better book than statistic-free Substitute.
For most of the book, Baker narrates what happened to him throughout the day: the teacher's note to him, the posters on the wall, his little conversations with the students, the assignments he is required to hand out, who had time out at recess, announcements, what the kids are learning and what is going over their heads. Some of the chapters are tedious, but then again, so is the school day. His writing style matches the experience of being a substitute.
A few weeks into his new job, he has enough data to start forming opinions about the school system though he typically just shows what is happening in the classrooms that he is in to let the readers judge for themselves, occasionally he states his opinion.
The early-release day should have ended right there. In fact, all school days should be early-release days, I thought, eating a peanut butter cracker. Nobody learns a thing after lunch--the cafeteria is an endurance roaring contest. Keep teachers' salaries the same--no, increase them--but cut their hours in half. That should bring in some new blood. And fire the worst of the ed tech and enrichment specialists--the ones who are paid bullies. --Substitute p. 255
I think Baker would likeFinland's schools and their four hour days..
Baker admits often that loves the kids he teaches and recognizes that they are smart and interesting. He's filled with compassion toward the elementary student who states that he's bad at everything and is rightfully concerned about the side-effects of medications that are too liberally prescribed to students.
He acknowledges the challenges of being a teacher gives a nod to those who are doing well. When teachers and staff throw their creativity and intelligence into doing the best they can within a system that is far from perfect, the students benefit. A well run classroom with happy, learning kids is evident even on days the teacher is gone. However, Baker does not gloss over the actions and words of those who should not have so much influence over kids lives.
When it comes to the actual work done in school, Baker shows that the things that work are good literature that is read aloud, time set aside for silent reading, interesting projects, and open ended writing assignments. A lot of what counts as school work doesn't actually work, too. Overly structured writing assignments result in very awkward writing, taking recess time as a consequence doesn't inspire better behavior, and when it comes to worksheets, most students just make sure the blanks are filled in with little attention to quality. He questions teaching strategies like teaching students super technical words at a young age and not helping new writers with spelling.
If Mr. Baker ever gave up his writing gig, he'd probably do pretty well as a public school teacher. After all, even though his ideas for school reform are original and likely to work better than what we currently have, it isn't likely that the Department of Education will to pick him up as an adviser for public education reform:
How easy and pleasant it was to be in a large classroom with one student, or two, or three--even four or five. Above five was when the noise problems began. One grownup can't teach twenty digital-era children without spending a third of the time, or more, scolding and enforcing obedience. What if we cut the defense budget in half, brought the school day down from six hours to two hours, hired a lot of new, well-paid teachers who would otherwise be making cappuccinos, and maxed out the class size at five students? What if the classes happened in parental living rooms, or even in retrofitted school buses that moved like ice cream trucks or bookmobiles from street to street, painted navy blue? Two hours a day for every kids, four of five kids in a class. Ah, but we couldn't do that of course: school isn't actually about efficient teaching, it's about free all-day babysitting while parents work. It has to be inefficient to fill six and a half hours. --Substitute p. 493-4
Substitute is available from Amazon in hardback, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. The copy of Substitute that I reviewed came from the library and I was in no way compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.
I thought I'd share a few of the winter themed picture books that we have read the past few weeks and especially enjoyed. This is not a comprehensive list of every good winter picture book out there, just the ones my 3 year old, 5 year old, and myself have enjoyed reading together.
We just checked out this version of the classic folktale The Mitten and everyone in our family loved it! The expressions on the animals' faces were so expressive and often very funny. A book hasn't caused so many belly laughs in our house in quite a while!
Don't You Feel Well Sam is a sweet book to read with kids who have a little cold. Sam is sick but his wise momma kindly and patiently takes care of him. There is a gentle surprise for Sam and his mom as they finally settle down at the end the story.
Katy and the Big Snow is a classic story of a hard working snowplow that doesn't stop working until she clears all of the roads in Geoppolis. My kids love watching the town cars follow her paths in the snow.
When we read The Missing Mitten Mystery, my kids enjoyed how Annie retraced her footsteps at the end of a winter day looking for her lost mitten and I enjoyed her imaginative nature.
Go to Sleep Groundhog is a fun winter book. Groundhog keeps waking up for each of the late fall and winter holidays. I like that I can read it all winter and it's not out of place. That way, when I can't find it on Groundhog Day, I don't feel so bad.
What are your favorite winter picture books to read with your kids?
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One of my goals in homeschooling is to help my kids make meaningful connections with all of the knowledge that they are receiving. When it comes to Biblical knowledge, there is just so much to synthesize that even adults need help connecting the dots between what we learn about God in Genesis and Revelations and every book in between.
I came across The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New, and it seemed like a fun introduction to the overarching themes of the bible for my age range of kids, so I added it to my cart with a few other books I was purchasing for our homeschool.
How The Ology is Set Up
The Ology has a total of 71 chapters divided into 11 sections that teach about God and his relationship to us. The eleven major sections are:
Each chapter is four pages long. Two pages contain a short, yet example-rich explanation of a truth from the Bible with several verses included in the margins. The other two pages have simple illustrations that are symbolic of some part of the text. The illustrations also have verses that further support the text and can be looked up by the parent or older students.
At the back of the book, there is a glossary for the theological terms that are used in the book. Each term is explained with a kid friendly definition. There is also a section titled "Think Theology, Talk Theology" which has discussion questions for each of the chapters.
How We are Using The Ology as a Family
At the beginning of the book is a parent guide on how to use The Ology with different age groups: Early Elementary (ages 6-9), Upper Elementary (ages 10-12) and Teens and Adults. Since the recommendation for both Early and Upper Elementary is to read the book straight through to get an overview, that is what we are doing.
As we read each chapter, I remind my kids about what the prior chapter was about. Then I ask my youngest (3 years old) about the illustration for the current chapter. Next. I read the first page of text and ask my daughter (5 years old) why she thinks they picked the first picture for that chapter. Then I read the verse that is alongside of the main text and ask my oldest son (12 years old) if he can tell me how the verse relates to what the chapter was about. We then turn the page and repeat with the second half of the chapter.
There is more that we could do with The Ology. We could memorize the verses each week, spend more time with the questions in the back, or we could look up all of the verses from the pictures, but in this season of life, what we are doing is working just right for our family.
Our readings from The Ology are a part of our morning family devotions, which also include prayers and readings from the Bible.
It is easy to teach who's who in the Bible and to memorize a few verses, but as our culture moves more and more into secularism, it is important that our children know the truths of the Bible and how they are connected. I believe that The Ology is a good tool towards that end.
Before reading The Ology to my kids, I read them The Jesus Storybook Bible since it is a good introduction to how everything in the Bible points to Jesus. After reading The Ology, I will probably get my oldest son Big Truths for Young Hearts to read on his own while rereading The Jesus Storybook Bible to my youngest two before moving on to The Ology again.
Disclaimer: I purchased The Ology with my own money to use within my own family. All opinions in this article are my own. Links in this article are affiliate links.
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