A Year of Homeschooling Peacefully in the Ancient Times

May 30, 2022 at 1:42 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The school year began, for me, in a bit of chaos. My son was born over the summer. My mother had died. In addition to my newborn son, I had two extra children in my household. I was overwhelmed by the impending doom of our co-op. I could sense it coming, but I honestly thought it was a year or two off and I was committed to giving it my kiddo’s fifth grade year before bailing, believing that the proverbial poop would hit the fan a few months after my departure. (It hit sooner.)

Still, after the children went back to their own home. The co-op dissolved and something new began… we found ourselves homeschooling through the ancients in our own little Pax Romana. We declared this our year of homeschooling in peace and it has been phenomenal.

As usual, we began our dive into Ancient history with the Epic of Gilgamesh. After years of reading the picture book trilogy by Ludmila Zeman, it was time to upgrade to a a more “grown up” version of the story. Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean was a perfect bridge for the dialectic stage, from elementary to the full translations of high school. Kiddo was struck by the subtle differences, the pieces that make it suitable for older readers, but not for younger ones. As a child who doesn’t like change, learning that different adaptations have a different flow and feel to them has been a challenge. As a ten/eleven year old, she has now been exposed to several adaptations of the Gilgamesh myth and also has a much broader view of near eastern cultures and history. I’m happy to say, my homeschooler as an elementary graduate has a more thorough understanding of history and other people groups than I did as a public school high school graduate. These are the goals, and we’re winning.

I read The Golden Bull by Marjorie Cowley out loud to two ten year olds and an eight year old. This is right about the time we started making our timeline (using Amy Pak’s Home School in the Woods History Through the Ages Record of Time), and having the kids perform narrative plays of what I had just read to them while I nursed my infant. Our house is fairly full of music, so naturally we ended up making a lyre (and some ukuleles) as a hands on craft which in turn became props in our living room productions of The Golden Bull.

Meanwhile, we were also re-reading Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the Wold Volume One for the third time, reading Story of Civilization for the first time, plucking our way through the Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, reading the Old Testament, and for good measure added a plethora of picture books I had on hand from the last time we studied the ancients.

Ox, House, Stick by Robb was discovered while we studied the Phoenicians and the alphabet. This one came highly recommended, and the kids liked it ok, but it wasn’t my favorite. We also re-read The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone by Giblin, that one is always fun and fascinating.

We had some extensive discussions regarding laws and lawmakers. The kids each read a biography on Hammurabi, the one by Mitchell Lane Publishers was the best, we thought. A few rabbit trails later and we spent an afternoon on You Wouldn’t Want to Be an Assyrian Soldier.

As we moved into the time of the Egyptians, we tackled Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt, The Landmark Book of Pharaohs by Payne, Mara: Daughter of the Nile by McGraw, The Golden Goblet also by McGraw, and The Cat of Bubastes by G. A. Henty. Kiddo hated Mara, I thought it was great. I found the Golden Goblet on the boring side, Kiddo loved it. The fun thing about reading so many books together are the discussions. Homeschooling is basically book club every day. I love book club!

One of my pet topics of study as an adult is the Pharaoh Hatshepsut. I find her to be the most intriguing and have some theories as to where her place in history overlaps with our knowledge of biblical history. The kids each grabbed a biography and I re-read a few of my own. Although I usually love National Geographic stuff, our favorite is the one put out by Compass Point Books. Compass Point Books, for the most part, is a huge go-to in our house. If I see one, I grab it, often accidentally purchasing duplicates. They are more thorough than the Who Was series, but less daunting than the DK series, although we own a good amount of both of those as well. At this point, Kiddo tried her hand at her first full length essay, complete with me dragging out my typewriter for her to type the finished product.

I also love David MacCauley books and we read Pyramid. Kiddo does *not* love David MacCauley books, which is unfortunate because I think I own them all. She preferred diving into Mummies, Tombs, and Treasure and the Magic Tree House Research Guide: Mummies & Pyramids. Side note to the Magic Tree House books: Although the fiction books are overly simplistic and quickly outgrown, we have found that the research guides last all of the elementary school years and are revisited often. We will keep the research guides long after the fiction series is purged, I believe. As homeschool eccentrics this study coincided with our anatomy studies in science. The kids got the chance to observe a profession necropsy of a rat and later Kiddo tried her hand at mummifying the spare dead rat. AmenRAThep still lies in our garage buried in salt in his intricately decorated plastic tomb. An expository essay on the mummification process ensued. More tapping away at my now “vintage” typewriter… More revisiting all our favorite picture books (Mummy Cat by Ewert just never gets old and Tutankhamen’s Gift is lovely) as well as the HMNS for the Ramses exhibit.

Necropsy

When we wrapped up our anatomy studies, the mummification process became a nice bridge into our archaeology unit. We used the Wonders of Creation series from MasterBooks.com. The Archaeology Book by David Down and The Geology Book by Dr. John D. Morris led beautifully into The Fossil Book by Gary Parker. We’re definitely going to continue through this series into Caves, Minerals, Oceans, Weather, and Astronomy as we move through the timeline to the middle ages.

I love multi-sensory learning whenever possible, so during all this we also tried our hands bringing our history studies to our taste buds. One of my favorite cookbooks to pull out during the ancient years is The Philosopher’s Kitchen. It’s full of ancient flavors that make use of modern kitchen routines so you can enjoy the taste of the times without slaving away. We have recipes we’ve attempted to make the way they would, but I’m content with learning to use the kitchen I have instead of trying to time travel. Kiddo found some easy kid recipes in various places and we also enjoyed some Mesopotamian sweet breads she made herself that were rather tasty. Cardimon and honey is a lovely flavor combination.

Thankfully, the African Chicken was deemed “tasty” by our harshest critic.

Another aspect to unit studies/ studying all disciplines through the timeline, is that we tried Spelling You See for the first time and used the Ancient (level F) package. Spelling You See was developed by a reading specialist who encourages identifying word patterns and color coding them. Married with dictation of an entire topical paragraph, this curriculum abandons the by rote memorization of a list of spelling words. I find this method useful, but we will also continue with our Spelling Workout books after we’ve completed all the lessons in this book, as spelling is a subject we’re going to have to continue to work on long after some of our peers have abandoned it as a subject. I’m ok with this, Kiddo tests gifted in most subjects but spelling is a struggle. We remind ourselves daily that we can do hard things (through Christ) and that it is ok to not be perfect at everything as long as we’re trying our best.

Adara by Gormley, God King by Williamson (we had already read Hittite Warrior years ago), and Days of Elijah by Noble were read as we continued our studies of the Old Testament as well as Herodotus. (Kiddo loved Days of Elijah, I tried to read it with her but I found the writing style very off putting, I honestly cannot remember if I finished it or not.) Kiddo re-read Bendick’s Herodotus & The Road to History, we both love all things Bendick. I wanted to re-read Herodotus’s book as the last time I had read it Kiddo was two or three, but time got away with me. We were knee deep in fractions because math may never be abandoned, no matter how many people die (we had four significant deaths this season), or how tired you may be. What kept our mind clear enough to finish our Singapore 4a&4B curriculum and get through Math-U-See Epsilon, was the fact that we were taking time to study God’s word daily. We weren’t just trying to incorporate theology in our homeschool, my husband was actually leading bible study every evening (and had been since the start of our marriage in 2020); and in addition to that, upon moving into our new house in 2021 we began using the Simply Charlotte Mason Scripture Memory System. I found a reasonably priced recipe box on Amazon and started adding index cards as per the instructions of the method (follow the link). Focusing on hiding God’s Word in your heart, opens the mind up for so much more, and in all the crazy we prayed for God to help us be good stewards of our brains and our time and the results have been delightful.

With all this Bible study, Kiddo requested to eventually study Aramaic and Hebrew and Koine Greek, but we decided to wait as we continue on our Latin studies. One thing at a time, and we still have some Latin books to complete.

Now, for the Greeks… The D’Aulaires have a lovely Greek Myths book. In addition to that, Kiddo read more books on Homer’s work than I can count. The highlight reel were repeat romps through the Mary Pope Osborn adaptation, Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus, and Lively’s In Search of a Homeland. She also read for the first time Aleta and the Queen, Flaxman’s The Iliad of Homer, and Colum’s Children’s Homer. By the time she reads Homer’s unabridged work, she’ll know the stories so thoroughly I’m hoping the poetry of it will shine through and delight her in ways that evaded me when I blindly trudged through it for the first time because I had no previous knowledge of context to work from. I had planned for us to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, but when you’re done, you’re done. So we’re saving Hamilton for the next time around, in four years.

Bendick’s Archimedes and the Door of Science as well as The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Lasky are must haves. We have read them every time we’ve studied the Ancients and sometimes we pluck Lasky’s picture book up to read just for kicks.

Rome Antics by MacCauley was beautiful. It takes about ten minutes to read, but days to absorb if you want to go back and study all the architecture as well. I didn’t dwell on it too much as she’s already read Where Were the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? and Where Is the Parthenon? (we did a hands on project with friends building the Parthenon out of marshmallows which was fun). While on the Who/What/Where series kick, she also read Where Is the Great Wall? We’ve studied ziggurats and pyramids and a number of other structures this year, and now that we are currently studying Rome, I’m going to have to collect my thoughts and make proper plans to lay the groundwork for a strong introduction to architecture. In the meantime, now that summer is here, we’re listening to the Rise of Rome on Wondrium, and plucking through our never ending reading list.

I’ll continue to update as we make our way through the last hundred years or so before Christ, through the New Testament, and onto the invasion of Britain. We already studied Pompeii and went to the museum exhibit with our co-op, and volcanoes were studied in passing while we raised money for the Pacific Rim Awana programs and made a homemade volcano during a friend-date at our house. (I think we may start a science club…)

(We got a taste of Asian mythology and folklore with some read alouds and picture books, but I think we will revisit them in a more heavy handed way when we study Marco Polo again. If you’re looking for titles, I recommend perusing everything by Demi as well as 101 Read-Aloud Asian Myths.)

This school year has been our most relaxing yet, despite the chaos of life, and we hope to continue this pattern in the years to come.

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Thornton Burgess Nature Stories

February 15, 2022 at 6:47 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , )

A year ago today, I was reading Cinnabar the One O’Clock Fox by Marguerite Henry with my daughter. We were in the middle of studying American History and what better way to fit in a nature story for “school” than to add it to your history lessons. George Washington’s crafty fox was a good excuse, especially in February as Washington’s birthday lands on the 22nd. This year, we’re studying ancient history again, and while Kiddo tackles Herodotus, I’ve been reading The Adventures of Reddy Fox by Thornton Burgess to my son. (What foxy title will I be reading next February, I wonder?)

Since last year, I had a baby, bought a new house, my mother died, my niblings came to stay for two months, and though we kept on schooling––as homeschoolers are apt to do––we needed some calm. Calm came in the form of Thornton Burgess, an old childhood favorite of mine.

I grew up on little pocket paperback two-for-one-dollar deals from good ol’ Wally World. Most of those now sit on my kids’ shelves, being enjoyed by the next generation of bibliophiles. Among those paperbacks were Thornton Burgess Bedtime Stories. Each little paperback following the tales of a new anthropomorphized character: The Adventures of Old Man Coyote and The Adventures of Prickly Porky, to name a few.

Imagine my glee when I found a Thornton Burgess Nature Stories, short tales from the Smiling Pool where Grandfather Toad spends his days. Thoughtful anecdotes that teach children about different kinds of birds and how they nest, through stories about mischievous rabbits trying to spot them. Eels with wonder lust, who find romance… These stories are the perfect medicine for children who have lost a grandmother, a breath of fresh air when it is too sweltering to go to the park, a cozy ray of sunshine when it’s actually the dead of winter. I am determined to collect them all and read every single one of them to my children, even after they have grown too old. They are simple, there is no mistaking them for great literary works. But they are beautiful. Sometimes we all just need a little more of what is beautiful.

If you haven’t read these little gems to your children or grandchildren, the entire collection is free on kindle. As for me, I like collecting the old copies.

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The Atchafalaya Basin

October 12, 2020 at 5:02 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to pick up and take school into the world. We love field trips. I realized recently that I always refer to them as field trips and not vacations, because each change of scenery for us offers a new learning experience, and we never stop working on math and spelling.

So when we had the opportunity to venture out into the swamplands of Louisiana, we packed up our school work and went.

Although our family’s main homeschooling style relies on the Classical model by choice, by nature after growing up in the GT program of public schools, I’m a Unit Study girl. So when headed to the Atchafalaya we watched a National Geographic youtube documentary on the basin and loaded up on picture books.

Jim Arnosky is a long time children’s book favorite of mine. He is the author of the Crinkleroot character, possibly my favorite children’s character of all time, and truly my go-to when looking for any sort of nature themed studies. I was pleased to discover I already owned copies of All About Turtles and All About Alligators, perfect for swamplands. We picked these up years ago and I just love the whole series. They’re perfect for little nature lovers to peruse in their free time when they are excited about a particular animal or another, or for building unit studies on a particular ecosystem like we did when we went to the swamp.

The One Small Square series by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne is another favorite. Instead of individual species and their place in the world, this series starts with the ecosystem and defines what is in it. From the cypress knees and ferns to the bacteria and fungi, Swamp talks about all the different layers of life that make up each square inch of swamplands, including diagrams of life at a cellular level… “A carpet of sphagnum moss covers this floating peat island. The moss’s tangled leaves have special hollow cells that soak up and hold water…” Swamp also covers mangrove swamps and the differences between the two.

Homeschooling is such a blessing and it was so exciting to not just read about the environment, but go and––literally––put our hands in it. I am thankful to God every day for the adventure of educating my kiddo.

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Homeschooling Chemistry and Physics

August 20, 2020 at 3:43 am (Education, Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This year at Atrium (my kiddo’s co-op), I’ve been teaching science with a bit more purpose than I did last year. Last year consisted of a lot of impromptu science articles and activities… when we were studying the bubonic plague in history, I covered fleas on rats, the plague, what modern day scientists said about it, and played a song from YouTube about it set to the tune of Hollaback Girl. In the spring we covered lots of random pollinator things, talked about bees and butterflies and the anatomy of a flower. We did black out poetry over articles I had printed. At some point in the year, I brought roly polies and we talked about crustaceans and literally played with bugs in the driveway. We made terrariums. It was a hodge-podge of whetting the group’s appetite for the idea of studying science seriously, but was mostly exactly what you’d expect homeschool science to be: nature studies, crafts, songs, and critters.

The 2020-21 school year I was determined to do different—to do better.

Naturally, I started teaching what I consider the most difficult science of all the sciences: Chemistry & Physics. To a group of children that range between 5 and 13.

If you’re going to get serious about science, the studies of matter and energy are the way to go, right? Every time I prep for class I’m two parts terrified and one part giddy.

But today, I realized, I’m not failing them. And more than that, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

In our first two lessons, we covered matter. We talked about properties and how scientists use properties to describe matter. I started by describing that matter is anything that has volume and mass, but to say that then I had to describe what volume and mass are. I sent them home with a white bread recipe. One of the fourth graders actually baked it over the weekend and was able to tell me all about how cool it was that the same ingredients can create something with a different amount of volume. I was so pleased. If only this one child understood volume because of a white bread recipe, then I felt I was already winning.

During that same first lesson I taught them about displacement and was delighted when my classically educated group of kids were able to participate in a retelling of Archimedes and the Goldsmith. Several kids shouted “Eureka!” along with me. If I wasn’t already sold on the trivium, that moment would have done it.

Density was when it got really fun. In Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics I found a lab with salt, water, two eggs, and two cups. Fill both cups with water about halfway. Dissolve a quarter cup of salt into one of the glasses. Have the kids announce their hypothesis on what might happen, then drop the eggs in their own glass. The egg in the salt water will float because the water is more dense than the egg when there is salt there, but the egg in the regular water will sink because the egg has more density. One of the kids was convinced it was because one of the eggs was bad and one of them was good, so another mom swapped them. The experiment won out!

After that we talked about buoyancy and made aluminum boats. (This lab was also found in Fulbright’s textbook.) Everyone had brought a casserole pan where we had blue dyed salt water and pennies sprinkled at the bottom of each. The goal was to make a boat that could float the most pennies without sinking. The kids loved playing pirates and stole each other’s pennies a lot in a spirit of imagination and fun. Our best ship held 176 pennies. Runner up had 173 before the ship started taking water. The take away: surface area helps.

On day two, the following week, we talked a lot about gold versus pyrite, how luster and hardness helps you identify matter.

The kiddo and I made playdough the day before and at the start of the lesson I put pieces of tree limbs, various garden and river rocks, aluminum foil, and the play dough out on the table. There were plenty of sensory aids for everyone to have their hands on something. Nearly everyone squished play dough in their hands for the duration of the lesson, which I thought was perfect as it helped explain the concept of malleability to the littlest ones and kept hands busy so their brains could focus.

My new, very involved husband sent me to class with a giant magnet and we also discussed how magnetism can help you identify different materials. Everyone got a turn choosing a piece of junk I’d collected from around the house to try against the magnet.

Finally we wrapped up the day with a Mel Science Lab. I’m obsessed with our subscription and it was pretty cool seeing the kids get to do a more intense lab. I had the oldest kids in the group do work, two boiled water and we talked about the “rapid vaporization of a liquid using heat” because I love defining things while two others mixed up the chemicals and dropped in the pyrite samples. Fifteen minutes later, we had a small sample of Prussian Blue!

All in all, I’m pretty pleased how our class is going and I can’t wait to map out next week’s adventure. Because of the broad age range of kids and the desire to keep them all engaged and learning, I’m trying to maintain at least one craft oriented activity, some sensory aids, and a Mel Science Lab per gathering. If you have any ideas or advice, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from the more experienced.

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Vikings!

August 19, 2020 at 1:21 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Kiddo is studying Early American History at co-op this year. So, naturally, we’re already super into it.

I thought we’d be diving into the Pilgrims or the Revolutionary War at the start, but the tutor has wisely chosen to go back and lay the ground work for the Americas with ALL the early explorers. At home, we study all the world’s history chronologically so we love that the course is being tackled this way, despite the fact that it means we’re back pedaling over things we studied this last year. Repetition is good, anyway.

Her homework was to read D’aulaire’s Leif the Lucky. We collect all D’aulaire’s work so both of us were pretty pleased with the assignment. Although we did get distracted and took a detoured into studying the Northern Lights, why they occur, what they look like, and why Leif might have thought he saw Odin riding a chariot through the sky.

We read the assigned pages, and then looked for more… we highly recommend listening to some Danheim while you study. I’m loving Janeway’s fictional depiction of Eric the Red and Leif Ericson, and Landmark books have never steered us wrong.

Click here for additional resources if you want to study this subject as well.

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Homeschooling During Covid

August 19, 2020 at 12:53 am (Education) (, , , )

We’ve always homeschooled, thank God. Educating this way has been the biggest blessing of our lives. Post-divorce, during single motherhood, it was the easiest way to spend the most amount of time with my kid while staying on top of her education. In homeschooling, a little bit of time goes a long way. As a public school graduate, the public system always seemed like for every second of education occurring, there were hours of waste. Homeschooling is efficient, we cover a lot of ground in less time.

“Play is the work of childhood,” and I want my kid to have lots of play time.

During the chaos of sheltering in place, school getting canceled, and whatnot, the only thing that changed for us was me going to work (I got laid off a few months before I was planning to quit), and attending our extra curricular activities. A good chunk of our daily lives looked the same, just more relaxed. Way more relaxed.

Now, in the midst of so many of our friends dealing with school district uncertainty, virtual public schooling, Zoom courses, and a plethora of other dramas–we’re going on with life business as usual. Our co-op is so small and cozy, and several members already recovered from Covid, so we still get to meet as usual.

So what does our Classical Homeschooling life look like?

At Home:

We started a formal Spelling curriculum last year, just using McGuffey’s Speller and memorizing wasn’t cutting it for us. The Workout Spelling books are fantastic and I highly recommend them.

We’re flying through Math-U-See Delta and using Singapore 3A on review days to keep all those math skills sharp. (We do math every day, year round: Math-U-See we maintain her appropriate grade level and Singapore we do the year before. She tested above grade level on her end of year CAT last year, so we think this routine works for us.) We finished the Mensa K-3 reading list this summer and have been plugging away at the 4-6 list and loving it.

As a family, we’re making a point to learn more recipes in the kitchen. I quit buying bread at the grocery store this month and am officially baking all our bread myself. Something I’ve always loved to do, but not had the time and energy to maintain doing it regularly. Now we both have a routine and baking and cooking has been a magical experience instead of a stressful one. She has to help with a minimum of one meal a week, next semester I’m increasing it to three. Hopefully by next year she’ll be making more things on her own, but as it stands if she goes to college with only what she knows now, she’ll be eating a lot of waffles and french toast.

She’s still working through the Botany science curriculum she started this summer in addition to helping me prep for the Introduction to Chemistry and Physics science class I teach at the co-op. We have a stockpile of MEL Science kits we can’t wait to dig into.

At Atrium:

The kid’s course load isn’t light, by any stretch of the imagination, but so far she’s loving it… Early American History, Critical Thinking & Logic, Introduction to Chemistry & Physics, Poetry, Writing & Rhetoric: Fables, Fix It Grammar, Song School Latin 2, Art, Kung Fu. (I’m teaching two Latin classes, the science class, and Kung Fu. Course load sharing with other moms is so fun, as every morning I get a well deserved coffee break while the other moms are “on deck.”)

Extra-curriculars:

So swimming was a great choice for us for 2020. Dipping kids in chlorine seems like a pretty safe choice and the kid swims like a fish now!

I’m not going to lie, I’m a tad envious of her piano lessons. She’s rocking them and composing music like there’s no tomorrow. She graduated the Let’s Play Music program amidst a pandemic and it was worth every penny and then some.

So, if you’re homeschooling this year for the first time ever and need help, message me. If you have ideas for things we’re covering, please share them! (Your favorite DIY science labs and dinner recipes are welcome!)

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Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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Tristan & Iseult

October 14, 2019 at 3:14 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Tristan and Iseult, Tristan and Isolde, Drustan and Yseult… the variations of spellings are endless, but the way the names – and the story – roll of the tongue, largely stay the same.

I didn’t read the story growing up, but I gathered the main plot points throughout other literary references my whole life. The story was built slowly, for me, an allusion here, a quip there, until when I watched Legends of the Fall for the first time in college, I thought I understood the the gist of the movie’s genius: naming the wild heart that could not be tamed “Tristan” and subtly throwing in that his wife’s name was Isabel.

The movie is based on a book by Jim Harrison, that I later read and was not so smitten by, I even wrote a less than glowing review here. But in finally reading Tristan & Iseult both to myself and aloud to my daughter, I’m finding the desire to re-read Jim Harrison’s novella swelling in my literary soul.

The part that never sunk in through other literature, or the heavily influenced King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot love-triangle–the part that left me briefly chuckling in a “Oh I see what they did there” –was that there are TWO Iseults. (And *spoiler* Tristan’s wife in Legends of the Fall is known as Isabel Two.) The story of Tristan and Iseult follows the tale of Tristan falling in love with Iseult the Fair, Queen of Cornwall, but marrying another Iseult, called Iseult of Whitehands. If you wanted to twist literature and try to be one of those people who got extra creative, telling authors what they were really trying to say and all that, you could say the wild-hearted Tristan had mommy issues and was Oedipally in love with the first Isabel. But that’s just too much…

The point is that literature is pervasive, ancient poems permeating society for generations; legends evolving and growing, but also maintaining. The stories of Tristan & Iseult, in all their incarnations, heavily influenced the King Arthur tales, the theme or forbidden love–no matter how ridiculous–ending in passionate death (Romeo and Juliet, anyone), continue for centuries. Bits and pieces dribbled in to make each new story more rich with nuance and the truths behind the human condition.

John William Waterhouse painting of Tristan & Isolde drinking poison.

So, I found the most “original” version I could find (and still read in English) for myself, and the most kid friendly version for me to read out loud for my eight year old. Rosemary Sutcliff is my go-to when it comes to ancient or medieval tales brought to life for a young audience. Much to my pleasure, she had a Tristan & Iseult published in 1991. Kiddo gave the story 4 stars on Goodreads, “It was really amazing, but also dramatic, and all the love stuff isn’t what would really happen.”

We had many discussions on the difference between love and passion. “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, love is not rude or self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth…” A man who loves you will never encourage adultery. A woman who loves a man will not participate in adultery. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Cheating isn’t love, it is passion. Some romance can be romanticized too much. It’s not that the “love stuff isn’t what would really happen,” it’s that it would happen, it does happen, and that’s not love, that’s agonizing obsession.

I enjoy working through literature with her. When she’s in college, I’ll be interested to see what her much more informed reaction will be to Legends of the Fall. As soon as my library is out of storage, I plan to re-read a few things, and see if my own mind has been changed by the experience of reading the literature that came before.

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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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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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