From a Book Lover

September 15, 2019 at 2:49 pm (Education, Guest Blogger, Reviews) (, , , , )

An unnamed Guest Blogger allowed me to share this…

I have always been a fan of EB White’s children’s books. This is a great biography of him and is beautifully illustrated, too. EB White truly respected children as persons. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“Much of what he wrote was not for children, yet many consider Charlotte’s Web not only White’s magnum opus but one of the best children’s books ever written. Did EB White ever wish he’d written a masterpiece for adults? His stepson Roger Angell said that the thought would not have occurred to him. Andy (EB White) once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth….. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them over the net.”

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Back to School…

August 14, 2019 at 4:25 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Well, actually, we never left.

History in the hammock.

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King’s List

August 6, 2019 at 5:20 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

As a classical homeschool mom, I encounter many lists, I don’t always remember their sources, and often I add to them. One list is my “Chronological Order of People to Cover,” scrawled out in a yellow, college-ruled, spiral notebook that I picked up for some ridiculously inexpensive price (11 cents sounds about right) at a school supply clearance sale post Labor Day. There’s a sloppy box around my ineloquent title, and my initial attempt at writing neatly at the top of the page, beginning with:

“Cheops, pharaoh of Egypt 2700-2675 BC

epic Gilgamesh legend by 2600 BC, written 2100

Hammurabi 1750 BC

Hatshepsut 1480 BC

Tutankhamen 1355 BC…

the list goes on, until I reach King David 1000 BC”

King David is often skipped over when you consult secular lists, after all he’s not just known as the King of the Israelites, he’s the scrawny kid on the felt boards in your Sunday School class who killed a giant with a slingshot.

It’s true that those most interested in King David’s existence would be those studying Judaism or Christianity, as there are not many references to his historical presence outside those sources. But it is also interesting that he appears in the Quran, as well as the Tel Dan Stele, a stone with Aramaic writings regarding the battle history and reign of King Hazel from the 840’s. In Hazael’s account of his rule and victories, he includes an account of having killed a man of the House of David.

I love history. I love archeology. Maybe one day I’ll do more with these loves than read a lot of books, maybe not. But this bit of history found on a basalt stone is enough for me to remember that the history of God’s chosen people is a history worth studying by all people, whether you believe in religion or not. The Old Testament, archeology, all of these things are stories and evidence that point to the good news of Jesus Christ and why He’s available for ALL people to accept. All of these people are relevant pieces to the giant web of life and affect religion and politics today.

During my separation from my ex-husband I read a Beth Moore study called David: 90 Days with a Heart Like His. It was my first Beth Moore study, despite being from the bible belt of Houston. I found it comforting, captivating even. During my latest revival of the ancient history cycle with my kiddo, I read David: A Man of Passion & Destiny by Charles R. Swindoll and I found it both theologically and spiritually educational.

Beth Moore’s study, as you can imagine, goes into all the great things we think about David. All the things that truly help us see why he was called a man after God’s own heart. Swindoll does a better job of addressing his sins, the parts of him that make us wonder how this man could possibly be considered a man after God’s own heart. Swindoll addresses what a non-believer might get hung up on: David was a warlord, adulterer, possibly a rapist (depending on how you view the story of Bathsheba), he wasn’t a great father, he had many wives and his household fell to shame and scandal more than once. But David always got back up again. He always repented of his sin, looked to the Lord, and asked how to fix it.

As a history enthusiast, my immediate reaction is to find more sources and do more research on this man. I know his heart, as presented by the bible and Christian commentaries, but I want to know his world. Naturally I made some requests from the library and pulled out a few choice titles from my boxes of ancient history books… yes, boxes – plural – of ancient history books, that I own. I have a bit of a book problem and a perpetually insatiable curious mind. However, I’m still lacking the focus to choose one particular thing to study, fancy degrees, and access to fabulous antiquarian documents.

First up, Robert Alter’s Ancient Israel. I invite you to join me, if you’re interested.

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Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

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Hammock University

July 10, 2019 at 9:36 pm (Education) (, , , )

I’ve taken my studies to my new hammock. This is what lifelong learning is all about!

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Education is a Lifetime Pursuit

May 31, 2019 at 3:36 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Education is a lifetime pursuit.” I tell my daughter this constantly. It is our household motto, so much so, I would not doubt if I had already posted something with the same title before. I even hope that my readers already have read this phrase.

I am a homeschool mother. I am, in the deepest parts of my soul, a teacher. I always have been, and have been overzealous about it since I discovered the classical model. What I have loved about the classical model most is the ease in which I can continue my own education while I educate my daughter. She memorizes facts and dates in the grammar stage and not only do we supplement with rich literature to help her remember, but I get to pluck out related reading material for myself. Individually, I learn and teach the classical model… as a household, we are constantly involved in “unit studies” that are structured chronologically throughout history.

While she was memorizing history sentences about Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, and eventually the colonists dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, I was reading Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon.

First published in 1983, Changes in the Land is the earliest book I know of written directly about environmental history, not part of a political movement. Everything I’ve read published prior to this book are either beautiful transcendentalist nature essays (Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, etc.), geological science books (Lyell, Stenson, etc.), or solely activist tree-hugger type stuff. In fact, I think it paved the way for books like the one I read recently (and thoroughly enjoyed) while she learned about the gold rush called Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail, whose author also crossed genres by highlighting the land, and all the things that make it what it is and the men who mar it, as the main character in the book’s story.

The biggest thing the two books have in common, for me, is at the end of each I thought, “This must be required reading for high school students.” After all, how do you learn history of a place without comprehending the blood, sweat, and tears, that was shed on it and ALL the reasons why, not the just the wars, but trails cut, deforestation, farms, dustbowls, mining… and not just focus on what it did to the people, but what it did to the land and how all that affects us today. Books like these are a beautiful marriage of history, social science, science, and more.

I love finding these gems as I sort through piles and piles of potential reading material, planning out lengthy lists of things to shape my kiddo’s mind. I love that my mind is also being shaped. I love that I am 35 and never done studying. I love that, in addition to growing my relationship with Jesus Christ and my daughter, education is my lifetime pursuit.

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Robinson Crusoe

April 20, 2019 at 5:08 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

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Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author: Daniel Defoe

The only memory I have of my father reading to me is when he read me Robinson Crusoe. I was ten. I don’t remember why, of all the moments, he chose to read this particular book to me – when I was already reading at a post collegiate level on my own and had been for awhile – when my sister and my mother had previously done most of the read-alouds in our family. Maybe it was good timing with work, maybe he was excited I was interested in it, who knows? Neither of us remembers at this point, twenty-five years later, but what we do know is this: It mattered.

So it was a pretty big deal to me when in February of 2018, I found myself in the car on a cross country road trip to the Creation Museum with my daughter, my dog, both my parents, and began reading Robinson Crusoe out loud in the car.

Robinson Crusoe was first published on April 25th, 1719, and even though we know it to be a novel now in 2019, it still has elements that lead first time readers to believe it to be a true account of a man’s travels. It was mistaken as such during its early release, an intentional marketing ploy by Daniel Defoe, because even in the 1700’s, sensational stories are sold most efficiently if we think they’re real. Look at James Frey and his Million Little Pieces “memoir.”

The first edition of the book touted Robinson Crusoe as both author and protagonist, but now we know that Crusoe is merely a character. In my personal opinion, not even the best character, I have always been most drawn to Friday.

There are many things inherently wrong with Robinson Crusoe if you look at the story from twenty-first century eyes: Robinson Crusoe works hard and then God blesses him to become a king-like fellow. One, that’s just not how God works, and many 1700’s boys and girls were then encouraged to be like Crusoe with this lordship at motivation. Two, it highlights the slave trade, and if you ask most modern Americans they’ll tell you this is a story of white supremacy, white privilege, oppression of all others, etc. etc.

Despite these hang ups, I love it. I think it’s a story that starts conversations. We need to be having conversations with our kids. What makes a protagonist? What makes a hero? What’s right? How do you feel about Crusoe and Friday’s relationship? Do you think this is appropriate? Do you think its duplicatable? Should it be duplicatable?

Kiddo was only seven when we read this together, but I think she got a lot of out of it and it definitely gave us a better view of the 1700’s as we studied all aspects of history. We got to the travel the world through the eyes of an author who lived during the times, and whether his worldview was good or bad, right or wrong, Defoe described it all vividly.

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Beowulf

September 13, 2016 at 1:33 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school.  Or college.  I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories).  I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story.  But no Beowulf.  How did I miss it?

I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time.  We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying.  Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me.  I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not.  It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten.  I couldn’t tell you.  I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult.  Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.

unknownAs we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.

And we did.  I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead.  “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.

4cf814193a0I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA.  We got to watch that and call it school.  It was a lot of fun.  (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)

Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions.  I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go.  There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle.  So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.

beowulf-cover-hiea-900

The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them.  Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.

We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it.  Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.

Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf?  Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?

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To Be Indiana Jones…

September 11, 2016 at 4:46 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

2359468Title: Babylonian Life and History

Author: E. A. Wallis Budge

Genre: History/ Archeology

So, I want to be Indiana Jones when I grow up. Who doesn’t? Although a friend advised me that to be Andi “Tex” Klemm would be far cooler, and I have suggested that I just might have to embroider this onto a fedora.

In the meantime, I study as much history as I can.  I also subscribe to the Archeology magazine.  And the way I go all fan-girl at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, well, it’s part of what makes me awesome… right?

So my “grown-up reading time” during my 5 year old’s ancient history year was Babylonian Life and History by E. Wallis Budge.  It was neat teaching her the bare bones of the Babylonians and Assyrians out of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, and memorizing tidbits from the Classical Conversations curriculum, while getting a deeper dose for myself. I’ll continue this effort of furthering my education while I begin hers as long as I can. If you don’t have time for that, I understand completely; but if you do, this is a worthy book to select.

E.A. Wallis Budge never ceases to amaze me. Every time I think I have everything he ever wrote I think I find 3 new titles. He’s so prolific and seems to be the end all be all on Ancient History. Found some tidbit of from the ancient world you’d like to investigate? – there’s probably a Budge book for that. His prose is nothing special, and at times even a little boring, but I love reading his work and hope to read it all before I die.

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Archimedes and the Door of Science

August 10, 2016 at 7:18 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

517SvkV79rL.jpgTitle: Archimedes and the Door of Science

Author: Jeanne Bendick

Publisher: Bethlehem Books

Genre: Children’s Biography

I love these Living History Library books and Jeanne Bendick has a wonderful way of introducing great people in history and what they did/discovered on a child’s level without truly “dumbing” anything down. These books should be a part of any child’s library, and for sure any homeschoolers’ library.  My kid’s eyes have been opened to so many ideas because of this book.  At age 5, she’s already been checking out levers and experimenting with density while playing in the bathtub, she showed me how her ball has a pattern of concentric circles on it and informed me that it was three dimensional… These aren’t things that would be in her vocabulary without me reading this book out loud to her this month.

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