Monday, December 02, 2013

Readings for Advent

Advent means coming and is the season of time marked by the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Traditionally celebrated with an Advent wreath, candles, and appropriate readings, it is a time that one sets aside each day to anticipate the coming of the Christ child. I love this tradition because it makes me pause in the middle of all the hustle and bustle and remember the true gift of Christmas. It also takes me back to those feelings I had as a child, the longing for Christmas morning, the anticipation of the arrival of the baby Jesus and it reminds me of the longing of the world for our Savior.

One more aspect of Advent that I love is that when we celebrate this wonderful tradition, we are joining with millions of other believers, actually acting out the command to be united in our faith. Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Pentecostal, people in home churches and those worshipping in cathedrals, believers of every nation, tribe, and language are joined in their remembrance of what an incredible miracle we celebrate each Christmas. 

Celebrating Advent with your family is a wonderful tradition as many of you can attest to. If you have not participated in marking this season with your family, I would encourage you to consider it this year. It truly transforms the season from one so easily marked by excess consumption and consumerism to one that is more thoughtful, more meaningful, and truly celebratory.

Online resources:
  • Dr. Jono Linebaugh is posting weekly advent devotionals and videos on the Knox Seminary website. They're very good and highly recommended. Click here
  • Ann Voskamp provides beautiful advent readings, Jesse tree ornaments, and her book, The Greatest Gift, makes a wonderful family read-aloud with daily readings for the month of December.

We Light the Candles: Devotions Related to Family Use for the Advent Wreath
This is a great resource for families who want to incorporate an Advent wreath into their family devotions. The readings are set up for each day making the celebration of Advent very easy. 

The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child and Christmas
The Jesse Tree is another form of Advent calendar and involves daily readings and the creation of an ornament to place on a tree. Each ornament is symbolic and relates to a specific reading from the Bible. This is a wonderful way for the entire family to participate in Advent and provides readings from the Old Testament attesting to the expectation of the Savior! 

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean
This title would be great to use along with the one above as it is beautifully illustrated and would help younger children understand the activities taken from The Advent Jesse Tree. McCaughrean's text tells the story of a little boy who enters a church while a carpenter is working on constructing the Jesse Tree.  In lovely prose that would appeal to children of all ages, the stories of the Old Testament are outlined and the meaning of Christmas is related. 

God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer's Christmas meditations have quickly established their place in the Christian tradition for good reason. His understanding of the joy and gravity of the incarnation causes readers to see how truly marvellous Jesus is. This is an excellent resource for families with older children and for adults who want to add Advent readings to their personal devotion time. 

Advent and Christmas, Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen
I love the writings of Henri Nouwen. His understanding of grace transformed my view of God and this little collection of readings is a wonderful way to be introduced to this humble priest. Each day presents a reading as well as a tip for application, making this a book you can put into action. 

Watch for the Light, Readings for Advent and Christmas
This is a great collection of meditations from writers like Thomas Perton, Madeleine L'Engle, Dorothy Day, C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Philip Yancey, and many more. For those of you who want to add something to the traditional Bible readings of Advent, this would be a great addition and provides enough readings to take you right in to the new year. 

If you are interested in purchasing any of these books from Beautiful Feet, just give us a call at 800.889.1978 and we'll be happy to help you.

There are about a million other resources available online and many other great Advent books, but I hope this gives you a start. Please share your favorite resources by leaving a comment below so all our readers can benefit. And we wish you all a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering C. S. Lewis

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis. One of the best-loved children's authors of the 20th Century, C. S. Lewis introduced countless children (and their parents) to the wonders of Narnia, explained Christianity in lucid and clear language, and was an man of enormous cultural influence during his life. Following his death that influence only seems to have grown as his children's books continue to grow in popularity and his work as a Christian apologist continues to shape people's understanding of God and salvation.

My first experiences of C. S. Lewis's writings were, of course, through the Chronicles of Narnia. My dad read them aloud to us in the evenings and my siblings and I would gather around, eagerly awaiting the next installment of the adventures of those lovable Pevensie children. Naturally, the thought of other worlds accessible by way of a magic wardrobe was intriguing and incited all of our imaginations. I'm not sure about my other siblings, but I was unable to resist the urge to push my way to the back of an antique wardrobe in my parent's bedroom, profoundly disappointed to find nothing but the solid wooden backing. As I grew older I came to understand that C. S. Lewis's great gift to children was not a literal escape from this world into a world of magic. It was the gift of fantasy and the encouragement to use our imaginations to shape entirely new worlds. The Narnia books certainly played a roll in all of the "orphaned children" adventures my siblings and cousins embarked upon during the hours we were shut outdoors with nothing but wide open spaces to claim as our own.

Later on in my life, Lewis's work as a literary critic would prove formative in my college studies. And his defense of fantasy is something everyone should read. While in college I had the opportunity to spend a semester studying at Oxford and the experience of sitting in the Eagle and Child where he and the Inklings argued faith and reason, listened to the writings of one another, and built lasting friendships was inspiring. In fact, one of the things about Lewis's life that has influenced me the most, outside of his writings, is the time and effort he put into developing several close and honest friendships. These relationships were so influential in his life and he obviously valued them highly. He was not afraid to have friends with whom he disagreed knowing that "iron sharpens iron" and he sought honesty in his exchanges with men and women he respected and trusted.

In honor of his life and legacy, which continues to grow stronger with each passing year, here are some resources for learning more about Lewis's life and legacy. 

The BBC's site devoted to C. S. Lewis provides a great biography as well as audio recordings from Lewis! 

The C. S. Lewis Foundation's website provides great resources on the life and writings of the great man as well as information on wonderful conferences for those interested in learning more. Be sure to check out the "Resources" section of this website.

I love this article that includes excerpts from Lewis's letters to children! And if you want to read more, definitely check out this book:

C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children

Article in which C. S. Lewis's stepson remembers being told that his stepfather had died. 

In honor of Lewis, may I suggest you read a chapter from one of your favorite Lewis books and maybe indulge in a piece of Turkish Delight?

I would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination

Photo Credit: KRT
Tomorrow, November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While I was not yet born when this happened, I grew up hearing people relay their memories of where they were when they heard that the president had been shot and I knew it was a day that changed the lives of many people. Regardless of your politics, the assassination of a president is always tragic. What any student of history should find incredible is that in our nation the sudden and unplanned loss of a leader does not lead to political collapse. So much has been written about JFK, his assassination and his legacy, I do not need to add my thoughts to the tomes of information available but I do want to recognize how incredible it is that our nation has survived the assassinations of four presidents without further violence, civil war, or government failure. When you consider that the horrors of the first World War can be traced back to the assassination of an archduke, or you look at the upheaval leading to the removal of rulers during the Arab Spring and the chaos that generally ensued, it is a truly remarkable fact. When the founders of our nation set up the apparatus to replace a fallen president they were helping to guard against the fear and anxiety that a nation feels when it has no leader. This system insures that we remember that our nation is not defined by a single leader or figurehead. Within one hour and eight minutes of Kennedy's death, LBJ was sworn into office aboard Air Force One. A few hours later he would address the nation as its new president. The transition was swift and effective in calming a nation galvanized by its loss.

LBJ's notes for his first public address as president.
For those of you wanting to learn more about JFK and that fateful November day, here are the best resources I've been able to find online.

The best site I've found for comprehensive coverage of the events surrounding the assassination as well as retrospective interviews, photos, and more.

Audio recording of LBJ's first remarks to the nation.

Slide show from the New Yorker: Losing President Kennedy 

I would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. 
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's most famous speech, a speech still memorized by school children and admired for its brief poignancy. The Gettysburg Address, perhaps one of the most famous war-time speeches of all time, was not your typical "guts and glory" motivational appeal. One of the reasons it resonates so deeply with us 150 years later is because Lincoln took his three minutes to accomplish two very important tasks. First he cast a vision for a united nation. Up until this time the United States still viewed themselves primarily as a collection of independent states, bound together for various purposes but each maintaining some level of its own autonomy. President Lincoln knew that in order for the nation to survive as a whole, it had to band together and form a national identity. He casts a vision for a nation born in a "new birth of freedom", something that would have appealed to his audience and indeed, continues to inspire us today. He skillfully begins to plant the seeds that would result in people thinking of themselves first as Americans and secondly as citizens of their states. Secondly, Lincoln sought to pave the way for a smooth transition from civil war to national unity. No where in the speech does he deride the Southern States for succeeding. He honors all the "brave men who struggled" on that bloody field and he reminds his audience of the heritage of their country, knowing that in order for the two sides to come together after four years of fighting it was of utmost importance that there be a unifying vision and force that would bind the North with the South. Sadly, Lincoln's assassination was the death knell for a gentler reunification and the Radical Republicans took over reconstruction efforts paving a way for geographic divisions and cruel Jim Crow laws. Yet, Lincoln's vision continues to inspire us and remind us that as a nation we can choose mercy over fear and freedom over security.

In order to help you study this momentous event, here are some of our favorite resources.

New York Times front page from the day of Lincoln's speech.


Images of one of the existing copies of the Gettysburg Address.

Resources to study the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Original source material collections:

Biographies of major players:

Abraham Lincoln by James Daugherty

Lee and Grant at Appomattox by MacKinlay Kantor

Classic Civil War Literature:

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

Great Civil War Websites:

Related Posts: 

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Stock up for Christmas

We've recently launched a "Closeouts" section on our website. Here we will be listing books we will no longer be carrying due to study guide updates, changes in supplier, etc. These are all quality books that we have carried for years but simply no longer have room to warehouse. All books are discounted 15-35% meaning you can stock up on some extra readers or load up on stocking stuffers. Here are some of my personal favorites from the closeouts page:

Anna and the King by Margaret Landon
Anna Leonowens, a proper Englishwoman, was an unlikely candidate to change the course of Siamese (Thai) history. A young widow and mother, her services were engaged in the 1860's by King Mongkut of Siam to help him communicate with foreign governments and be the tutor to his children and favored concubines. Stepping off the steamer from London, Anna found herself in an exotic land she could have only dreamed of, a lush landscape of mystic faiths and curious people, and a king's palace bustling with royal pageantry, ancient custom, and harems. One of her pupils, the young prince Chulalongkorn, was particularly influenced by Leonowens and her western ideals. Anna taught him about Abraham Lincoln and the tenets of democracy and years later he would become Siam's most progressive king. He guided the country's transformation from a feudal state to a modern society, abolishing slavery and making many other radical reforms. This would make an excellent gift for the adventurous girl in your life! Currently available for $3.46! 

Caddie Woodlawn's Family by Carol Ryrie Brink
I must have read this book a dozen times as a child. I loved the original Caddie Woodlawn stories and was thrilled when I discovered this sequel. Featuring more adventures of Caddie and her brothers, I'll never forget reading about them stealing watermelons, engaging in cattail fights, and adopting baby animals. You'll also hear of a young preacher doing a favor for a wandering Indian, a poor girl revealing a surprising talent at a medicine show, and Caddie ruining her new dress at the Independence Day celebration. Caddie Woodlawn's Family is sure to capture your attention and your heart. Grab a copy for family read-aloud time while supplies last. Currently 25% off!

Also available are four wonderful CDs featuring the stories and music of Mozart, Vivaldi, Tchaikovski, and Bach. All of these would make wonderful Christmas gifts as so many of our Christmas songs were written by these musical geniuses. All are currently available for 30% off!

These treasures and more can all be found on our website! But remember, they're only available while supplies last so take this opportunity to expand your library and stock up on Christmas gifts! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jane Austen on Marriage

Today I have a treat for you! A while back I wrote a blog post on how so many contemporary critics fail to see Jane Austen's writing for the complex, dynamic, and brilliant literature that it is, opting instead to read their own opinions, prejudices, and social anxieties into her stories. Elsewhere I have recommended Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Prior Swallow as one of the best books I've had the pleasure of reading this year. And now Swallow has written a fantastic essay titled "I Learned Everything I Needed to Know About Marriage From Pride and Prejudice". It's a funny, thoughtful, and perceptive article on marriage and Austen's keen insights into this institution. I loved the points that you can "judge a man by the size of his library" and "you really do marry a family, not just a person." There are many more excellent points in the article and I cannot add to its insights, so without further ado, here's the link. May I suggest reading it over a cup of tea? And discussing this with your pre-teen and teenaged children should provide all sorts of interesting insights.

Related Posts:

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Single Stories in History

In a wonderful TED talk, author Chimamanda Adichie makes a poignant case for avoiding the dangers of what she calls the "single story." It's an excellent talk, only 19 minutes in length, and well worth watching.

In her talk, Chimamanda speaks about the limits we place on reality in believing "single stories." These single stories are often media driven and perpetuate stereotypes. Examples cited by Adichie include the portrayal of Africa as a country instead of a continent of individual countries. Africans as poor, starving, tribal people, instead of a diverse people made up of different nationalities, cultures, languages, and beliefs. She also argues that the immigration debate in the US tends to portray immigrants most often as abject Mexicans who come to America to steal jobs. These examples of single stories paint reality in one color and fail to provide the details and nuances that create truer pictures of real life situations and people. In our culture it has become far too easy to rely on single stories for our information. The 24-hour news cycle spares no time for complex stories. The division between media outlets along partisan lines further limits the chances that we are getting all the information we need to make informed decisions. On Facebook I have a diverse group of friends ranging from liberal atheists to fundamentalist Christians and I see the danger of unquestioning belief in single stories from both ends of the spectrum. Single stories are convenient and easily manipulated into providing "evidence" for our preconceived notions of reality. As Adichie puts it: "Show a people as one thing over and over again and that is what they become."

This got me thinking about how history is often taught. When you look at your average textbook it's hard to argue that it is little more than a collection of single stories. These stories often take complex events and boil them down to the bare essentials in the name of "factuality." But is a presentation of basic facts actually honest? Or is it the sort of single story that Adichie says "robs people of their dignity"? I would argue that history told in such a way does exactly that and it not only robs the people and events portrayed of their meaning and value, it cheats the reader, allowing him to become complacent. Instead of having to tackle history in all its complexity and confusion, single story history allows readers to be spoon fed conclusions instead of working out their own opinions based on a detailed understanding of past events. It fosters laziness in students and plants the seeds of boredom.

By using literature and living books to teach history one is able to combat single story history. Yes, it takes more effort, but it is well-worth it! One question we often encounter at homeschool conventions and in our discussions with educators goes something like this: "Why are your answer keys so limited? It would make it a lot easier if you provided more detailed answers to the comprehension questions." Over the years we've wrestled with this, sometimes finding ourselves willing to oblige and expanding the answer keys in our study guides, other times we have not. When I am writing a study guide I always go over this question in my head and struggle with how to find a balance. The reason behind this is that a part of our mission at BFB is to challenge the students to learn how to think for themselves. By presenting the best historical information available in the form of great literature we are combatting single story history. Students are introduced to complex characters, inspiring ideas, and monumental events. While writing comprehension and discussion questions to help students suss out the meaning behind these things, I want to get encourage them to think about the events in a more engaged way that most history textbooks require. There will be a few questions in my study guides that have clear, black and white answers. Of course it's important to know that the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 but I'm more interested in prodding the students to think about why this document was so important in the history of freedom loving people. Single story history lends itself to detailed answer keys. True history does not. And so, BFB customers know that our study guides are full of questions aimed at creating discussions not perfect quiz scores. And we hope that students will be trained to engage with material in a way that goes beyond stereotype and single story and will continue to do so as they become adults and engage with the world. Not only will they find that history is anything but boring, they will also find that life is a lot more exciting and colorful and meaningful when we push aside single stories to see how complex life and humanity really are.

I would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. 
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Friday, November 01, 2013

November means Thanksgiving!

It's November! I love November because it means that Thanksgiving is around the corner and autumn has firmly settled into place. In Florida that means that we can turn off the AC for the first time in months but the only seasonal color is the red cups popping up at Starbucks. Regardless, I love Thanksgiving. As it falls late in the month this year (the 28th!), I wanted to get right on top of sharing some ideas for celebrating this uniquely North American holiday. 

Of course, the first thing I'm going to recommend is that you start reading books about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving celebration. Here's some of our favorites:

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh
The Thanksgiving Story "is the only really distinguished book we have on that holiday. Miss Dalgliesh has told the Pilgrim story simply from the point of view of the Hopkins family whose little Oceanus was born on the Mayflower; and Miss Sewell has made wonderful full-color pictures. A beautiful book." -The Horn Book

The Pilgrims of Plimoth by Marcia Sewall
When the pilgrims set out for America, they brought with them a dream for the future. Sickness, hardship, and heartache stood in the way of that dream. But the pilgrims worked hard, keeping their dream close to their hearts, until they were finally able to make it come true. Marcia Sewell's text draws on journal entries from the Pilgrims and recreates their lives in striking detail. Beautiful illustrations accompany the text. This book is currently on sale on our website! Save 22% off retail. 

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas
This title, by one of our favorite contemporary authors, tells the amazing story of Squanto and how God used tragedy in his life to save the Pilgrims. A wonderful story of redemption and friendship.

The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
In England in the early 1600s, everyone was forced to join the Church of England. Young William Bradford and his friends believed they had a right to belong to whichever church they wanted. In the name of religious freedom, they fled to Holland, then sailed to America to start a new life. But the winter was harsh, and before a year passed, half the settlers had died. Yet through hard work and strong faith, a tough group of Pilgrims did survive. Their belief in freedom of religion became an American ideal that still lives on today. Based mainly on William Bradford's personal diary, this is a must-read for all who are interested in knowing more about the Pilgrims.

Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Pumphrey
This 1910 publication has been newly edited and expanded to include a horizontal history of the world of the Pilgrims of the early 17th century. This replaces the formerly titled Stories of the Pilgrims used in our Early American History Primary Study Guide. Now children will learn not only the faithful saga of the Separatist's struggle for religious freedom, but also that young Rembrandt was just learning to walk when the Pilgrims arrived in Leiden, that Galileo was fighting his own battle for religious and scientific freedom, and that William Brewster served as clerk to Queen Elizabeth's secretary until the ill-fated execution of Elizabeth's half sister, Mary. Historical figures from around the world will see the Pilgrim's heroic struggle in a more meaningful context. With whimsical illustrations by Christen Blechschmid, children and parents alike will see the world as the Pilgrims saw and lived it.

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla
An ideal introduction to this important segment of the Pilgrim story, This account is among the best we've seen it tells the amazing story of Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, who went to London with some of the first English explorers, was sold into slavery in Spain, and finally returned to America where he befriended the Pilgrims when they landed.

Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness
A beautifully illustrated book which relates the personal story of the Allerton family from the perspective of young Bartholomew, Mary and Remember. These elaborate watercolors with detailed maps, time lines and tender depictions of Pilgrim life will be a treasured addition to your family library.

William Bradford, Pilgrim Boy by Bradford Smith
This book will tell you all about the brave man who led the Pilgrims in their quest for the freedom to worship God in the matter they saw fit to. Orphaned at a young age, William Bradford was formed by forces which were providentially preparing him for the great call upon his life. Follow his life from his boyhood in Scrooby, England through the years when he led the Pilgrims as the first governor of Plimoth Plantation.

Image from
Once you have the reading down, it's time to get into the spirit of Thanksgiving. By setting aside time each day this month to recognize things for which you are grateful, Thanksgiving will take on an entirely new dimension. One of the best ways to do this is to make a Thankful Tree. Tia over at the blog, Events to Celebrate, has a beautiful idea for constructing a Thankful Tree. Check it out here. Once you have made the tree each family member adds a leaf on which they've written something they're thankful for. By the time Thanksgiving comes around, you have a beautiful tree bursting with all the blessings we can so often take for granted. 

As you get closer to the big day, it may be fun to do some research on the lives of the Pilgrims and Native children who lived in and around the Pilgrim village. To do so, check out Pilmoth Plantation's website. There is a whole section of activities for kids including games, recipes, a chance to investigate the first Thanksgiving, and much more.
 Another way to incorporate gratitude into the entire month is to recite some traditional Thanksgiving prayers. There are so many wonderful ones and you can easily find them by doing a Google search. To get you started, here are a few of my favorites:

Traditional Thanksgiving Hymn
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to his name: He forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side, All glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
-A translation by Theodore Baker, 1851-1934
Thanksgiving Prayer
Heavenly Father, on Thanksgiving Day
We bow our hearts to You and pray.
We give You thanks for all You've done
Especially for the gift of Jesus, Your Son.
For beauty in nature, Your glory we see
For joy and health, friends and family,
For daily provision, Your mercy and care
These are the blessings You graciously share.
So today we offer this response of praise
With a promise to follow You all of our days.
-Mary Fairchild

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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