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.
Be forewarned, this post contains affiliate links.
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?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about why knowledge matters. Today, I am following up that post with a few thoughts on how we can build our understanding in any subject. You won't believe how incredibly simple it is to build expertise!
This post contains affiliate links
How to Build Knowledge in ANY Subject, Drum Roll Please...
You can build knowledge on any topic by reading more than one book about it.
What that's it! You say. You don't need to write a blog post on that!
Yes, I know, but how often do we set out to actually learn something new in our fast paced society? If we get in a fix, we can always just Google it, right? If you read to the end, you will see how having knowledge on any topic is actually really helpful in navigating our quickly changing society. But for now, think about how reading a few books can grow your knowledge base:
If you read three Jane Austen novels, you will be able to have a smart conversation with any Jane Austen aficionado.
If you read a book on both sides of a scientific debate debate, you will be able to see the weakness and strengths of both sides of the argument. Then when an expert makes an expert comment, you will actually be able to judge the validity of what he says instead of going with the theory that you've heard the most or uncomfortably accepting whatever the experts tells you.
Read three books on any history topic and you'll probably be the only expert on that topic in the room at the next social gathering you go to.
Case Study: How My Knowledge About WWII Exploded
Lately, I've become much more knowledgeable about World War II without intending to study the topic at all. In fact most of my life, I've avoided any books or movies about World War II because I knew enough about the war and myself to know that I wasn't ready to look that kind of evil in the eye.
But then I read The Book Thief and even though it was fiction, I was touched by the heroism of the Germans who quietly defied the Nazi party despite the incredible hardship of living in Germany during WWII. I learned about the day to day life of the typical German family, the the cloud of fear they lived under, and the little acts of defiance they did that kept them from being swept away with the dehumanizing evil of the Nazi regime.
After that I picked up Monuments Men from the library because I saw the movie and from the book I learned about a side of the war that I knew nothing about. I had no idea that Hitler was systematically looting the art treasures of the nations for his own super museum, nor did I know he planned to destroy them all if he lost.
Another novel that I read on vacation gave insight into the role of journalists during the war a life in the army camps and yet another book taught me about a heroic band of rustic shepherds and peasants from Crete who held off a highly trained and heavily armed Nazi invasion. I also read part of a biography where I learned about the years before World War II in my home state of California and a bit of the war with Japan. I unfortunately didn't finish the book because it was giving me nightmares, but I was intrigued to learn that some of the toxic philosophies about race that fueled the Nazis worst crimes, were also influential in the United States. When I read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about World War II, I was standing on familiar ground.
And all of a sudden I realized that my understanding of World War II stretched far beyond Anne Frank and whatever cold, hard facts my high school history teacher taught us. I was more well rounded an an area of knowledge where previously there had only been a few threads of understanding holding together a loose collection of facts. And surprisingly, I didn't have to read a bunch of dry, academic works. All of these books were living books. Books with soul.
Why Does Knowing About World War II Even Matter?
How does this thread of knowledge and understanding help me now, 70 years after the close of World War II?
First of all, some things should never be forgotten.
Secondly, walking through another time period and seeing it through a variety of other people's eyes keeps me from being nearsighted about my own life and time.
Finally, knowing about the past helps me see the present with discerning eyes. Here are a few instances of how knowing about World War II helps me evaluate our present culture:
Learning about Nazi propaganda teaches me that well crafted images and words can sway a public that is taught to be literate, but not taught how to think and discern. Slick advertising images, social media, and hashtags are huge influences. Unfortunately, anyone can make an infographic that looks legit or a meme that misquotes Einstein. We all know how to check sources and do our own research, but how many of us do?
Reading about how the pre-World War II Germans trained a generation of schoolchildren and then turned them into willing soldiers and executioners makes me wary of our public school system. The teachers weren't evil, they were just training kids in the philosophy of the day and doing what they thought was best based on what they knew. Since the curriculum was determined by state departments and not communities, kids were coming of age with values very different from the values of their parents. The values and behavior of the nation changed and it led to a moral break with devastating consequences.
Reading about the philosophical influences and social movements that lead up to the rise of the Third Reich makes me wary about the influences on my society. Whether a philosophy is far left or far right politically, it isn't safe taken to its fullest extreme. This worries me because America doesn't seem to practice moderation lately.
Finally, it is scary how the German people slowly were backed into a corner that they couldn't get out of without devastating effects. They wanted to live their lives and not cause trouble, so as their government slowly pushed pushed boundaries and took power. In short, they acted how I would act. I would have minded my own business and tried to manage my own home well. I would have sighed and hoped the evil I saw before me would pass or that someone would fight my battles for me. But when many people backed in a corner start defying the system in small ways, the system weakens.
That is an important lesson to know.
For Further Reading
One of the biggest challenges in studying ancient civilizations is the difficulty in finding interesting ways to make those time periods come alive. Unless of course, you are just studying Egypt, Greece, and Rome, because there are plenty of activities and books for those civilizations.
While being able to read straight from the Bible is such a great way to study the history of Ancient Israel, I also pulled together a handful of other resources to help spark my kid's imagination.
This post contains affiliate links.
Old Testament Days is a well written and well thought out activity book for students of all ages. The activities and readings in this book helped us to understand the life and culture of Old Testament times. Most of the activities were interesting and easy for me to pull off.
Ancient Israelites and their Neighbors is geared to a slightly older audience than Old Testament Days, and also includes activities for the Phoenicians and the Philistines. In addition to activities it also has short readings about the cultures, which was especially helpful in learning about the neighbors, because there isn't that much information readily available for kids about the Phoenicians and Philistines.
We also read the Jesus Storybook Bible as a read aloud during our study of Israel because it does such a great job tying the themes of the whole Bible together.
I used the illustrations from The Family Time Bible as I read the relevant chapters from our Bible because my younger kids like having a picture to look at.
While there are plenty of picture books about Noah's Ark and the Christmas story, I have a few favorites. My favorite Noah's Ark book is this award winning book from Peter Spier and my favorite nativity book is this beautifully illustrated one. The Story of Hanukkah tells the history behind the Maccabean revolt.
Throughout our study of ancient civilizations we have been going to our library to check out relevant videos from the series Ancient Civilizations for Children. Each video teaches how we learn about a specific civilization through archaeology. The Ancient Mesopotamia video covers the Israelites and the Ancient Egypt video also covers the Hebrews time in Egypt.
We also watched Prince of Egypt and Joseph Man of Dreams for fun when we finished reading about Joseph's life and later the Exodus.
Hands On Learning
Apparently you can buy toys for almost any story from the Bible, including the stories of David and Goliath, Noah's Ark, and the Calling of the 12 Disciples. A Bible Trivia Game would be a great review game.
For Further Reading
When it comes to finding supplements for history lessons, my best friend is the library and my second best friend is Amazon. Of course, the reason for that is that reading a book is far easier, less expensive, and less messy than doing a hands on project. Here are some of my favorite picture books for learning Greek History with my kiddos.
Short quotes from Socrates are interwoven thoroughout his life story in the picture book, Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by MD Usher. For older students, historical information is included in side "scrolls."
Young Pythagoras is always working out the problems he sees in the world around him sith math in What's Your Angle Pythagoras and Pythagoras and the Ratios by Julie Ellis.
The Librarian who Measured the Earth tells the story of Eratosthenes his life of curiosity and his great accomplishment of figuring out the circumference of the Earth.
A gorgeously illustrated work to introduce children to Homer's most famous work is The Odyssey adapted by Rosemary Sutcliff, illustrated by Alan Lee (originally called The Wanderings of Odysseus)
Also check out the gorgeously illustrated The Illiad by Rosemary Sutcliff, illustrated by Alan Lee (also called Black Ships Before Troy)
The Trojan Horse is a simplified version of the Illiad for independent readers.
I admire all works by Demi and Alexander the Great is no exception. It is a well written and well illustrated book.
Pegasus is a lovely retelling of the Greek myth.
Atlanta's Race by Shirley Climo is another enjoyable tale for listeners of all ages.
"Is this a story or poetry?" my daughter asked when I first began reading D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. If you buy one book from this list for your library, choose this one.
I saved the best for last! The Hero and the Minotaur is a fabulously illustrated retelling of the legend of Theseus. I probably had more fun reading it than my kids had listening to it!
How about you?
What are your favorite illustrated books about ancient Greek history?
This post contains affiliate links.
You may also like:
I'll be the first to admit that I prefer a read book in my hands over an eBook. That being said, I also take advantage of the many, many free classic eBooks that are available. I like having a couple of books loaded on my phone and tablet at all times, and here is how I use them:
This list of Free classics contains a whole range of titles and genres. While many of the titles are for middle school and up, some are appropriate for young students, too.
Disclaimer: All books were free at the time of publication. Post contains affiliate links.
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
The Complete Works of Jane Austen
Of Plymouth Plantation William Bradford
The Wonderful Wizard of OZ L Frank Baum
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
50 Famous People James Baldwin
Old Greek Stories James Baldwin
50 Famous Stories Retold James Baldwin
Six Centuries of English Poetry Tenneyson to Chaucer James Baldwin
Poems of William Blake
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carrol
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
The Count of Monte Cristo Alexander Dumas
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Poems of Emily Dickinson
This Side of Paradise F Scott Fitzgerald
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz F Scott Fitzgerald
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button F Scott Fitzgerald
The Beautiful and the Damned F Scott Fitzgerald
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
Dead Souls Nikolai Gogol
Tales of a Traveler Washington Irving
Ulysses James Joyce
The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
The Call of the Wild Jack London
The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe
The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
Common Sense Thomas Paine
The Republic Plato
Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Includes all 38 plays and and a collection of sonnets)
Walden Henry David Thoreau
Civil Disobedience Henry David Thoreau
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
Pudd'nhead Wilson Mark Twain
The Complete Works of Mark Twain (13 Classic Works)
The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America Vol 1 and Vol 2 Alexis de Tocqueville
The Suppressed Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson
Journey to the Center of the Earth Jules Verne
The War of the Worlds HG Wells
The Sleeper Awakes HG Wells
A Modern Utopia HG Wells
The Time Machine HG Wells
The Picture of Dorain Gray Oscar Wilde
The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
How do you use eBooks in your homeschool? What are some of your favorite free eBooks?
Linked to: Inspire Me Mondays, Mommy Monday, Literacy Musings, Wise Woman Link-Up, Finishing Strong
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.
Linked to: Weekend Blog Party
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?
Linked to: Weekend Blog Party, Hip Homeschool Moms
Please note this post contains affiliate links.
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.
Linked to The Homeschool Nook, Monday Musings, Finishing Strong, Mommy Monday, Inspire Me Mondays, Wise Woman Link-Up, Literacy Musings, and Hip Homeschool Moms
I find that my biggest challenge in choosing book to read aloud to my kids is accomodating the wide age range. This winter my kids are 12, 5, and 3 but with upcoming birthdays, they will soon be 12, 6, and 4.
It would make sense, with the gaps in my kid's ages, to read separately to my son and then to the younger two, but they all like starting the day out together with a little bit of family learning before they go their own ways in their independent subjects. The burden falls on me to find books that won't be ridiculously easy for my oldest or too far over the heads of my youngest two.
The selection of books that I came up with center around my oldest son's history unit (Ancient Greece), my daughter's science interests, and poetry selections for all ages.
Disclaimer: Links in this article are affiliate links.
We are currently reading the Book of Daniel for our daily Bible reading. When we are finished with Daniel, we will read the Gospel of Mark. Also, we are reading a chapter a week from The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New to help us understand the overarching themes of the Bible.
I am planning on spending a big chunk of time studying Greek history and culture this winter. Some of the read alouds I plan to use include:
I will be reading short selections from Dorothy Mill's The Book of the Ancient Greeks at time and at times having my son read from it on his own so that we can get through the book in a reasonable amount of time. It is hard for the younger kids to sit through history readings even though they really want to share in their older brother's lessons, so I just read aloud very short sections to everyone while assigning the rest to my son to read independently.
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths is a hit with both of my kids. My daughter asked me if it was "poetry or a story" and my oldest son asked to bring it to his room to look at it during his break.
After we finish D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, I plan on reading Archimedes and the Door of Science, I will also be requesting picture book copies of Aesop's Fables from the library to appeal to my youngest boy.
Most of our science selections are picture books that come from the library. Learning about the natural world appeals to all of my kids, so this winter I am looking for books about animals that live in snowy climates, changing weather, and the solar system.
When my little ones start to lose interest, I read a nursery rhyme or a poem. Our nursery rhyme book is the Tall Book of Mother Goose and the poetry book I am using is the Random House Book of Poetry.
Those are just our school read alouds. Of course, it would be unreasonable to read every book every day, so each morning, I pick a few books and read a few pages from each. I really only spend about 20 minutes a day reading aloud at the beginning of our day. It's amazing how much ground we cover in such a small amount of time.