Monday, April 30, 2012

Family Read-Alouds

by Rebecca Berg Manor

Thank you to everyone who chimed in on our post regarding reluctant readers. I enjoyed reading your responses and questions. As discussed, one of the best ways to encourage children in their literary development is to make time to read aloud as a family. Not only is this great for children's intellectual development, it adds a dimension to family time that can easily be lost in the hustle and bustle of every day life. While families often spend a lot of time together, especially as home schoolers, much of that time is spent doing the necessities of every day. By purposely setting aside time to read as a family, you are affirming the importance of engaging together. Sharing stories is also a wonderful way to create discussion. Children often have the most wonderful observations! Hearing what a child thinks about a story gives you a window into how his mind works. And stories provide wonderful teaching opportunities where a parent is able to engage with his children and talk through moral issues. Sometimes it can feel like the only time one is able to teach a child a lesson is when the child has messed up. How refreshing to be able to read wonderful stories together and talk through issues of character in a supportive setting!

Another benefit of reading aloud is the bonding that takes place between those involved. My dad read aloud to my siblings and me nearly every night while we were growing up. Sometimes we read hilarious books that would have us all laughing. Other times we were making our way through serious stories when suddenly my dad would interject something funny and it would catch us all off guard. There were many nights when we would beg for another chapter as we simply could not wait until the next night to hear what happened. These moments became the center of our family. On those difficult days faced by every family when nothing seems to go right, having this quiet hour to be together was an essential touchpoint for each of us. Instead of being bombarded by the terrible news on TV, we nestled into the security of one another's company. Instead of hearing about war and famine and death from jaded newscasters we explored Africa through the eyes of Dr. Livingstone, traveled the fantastic worlds of C. S. Lewis, time traveled to the Wild West with Ralph Moody, learned what it was like to be homeless in Paris in The Family Under the Bridge, grew up in Pearl Buck's China. For children growing up in a tiny, poor, gold-mining town in the Sierra Nevadas these literary voyages showed us a much bigger world. Sure, there were often times when one of us was antsy, distracted, or grouchy. We also read some pretty disappointing books (to this day we cannot understand why The Swiss Family Robinson is such a beloved classic!) but I look back on those times so fondly. I am very grateful that it was a priority to my parents and I can still hear Pop's low voice - it's one of those childhood sounds I'll never forget.

So, in honor of that, I want to share some of my personal favorites for family read-aloud time. Over the next week, we will look at classics, new finds, and more. I am going to divide them according to age and today, we will start with books for little ones. In respect of the fact that young children often want to read the same story aloud over and over, I am trying to include books that parent's will also find endearing, engaging, or entertaining.

Families with Young Children

(Ages 3-6) As a child I found Amelia Bedelia to be hilarious! Her mixed-up world showed me that words could be fun and misunderstandings hilarious! The originals books, from the 1960s and '70s, are the best. The illustrations are whimsical, Amelia is lovably ridiculous, and laughing with little children is just about the best thing in the world, right? Since the 1990s the series has been added to but I do not think the newer versions even deserve comparison. For reference, here's a list of the originals: 
  • Amelia Bedelia
  • Thank You, Amelia Bedelia
  • Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower
  • Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia
  • Good Work, Amelia Bedelia
  • Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia
  • Amelia Bedelia Helps Out

(Ages 3-7) Brinton Turkle's Obadiah books are charming. These heartwarming stories of a small Quaker boy living on Nantucket during the colonial period are so unique. Not only are the illustrations beautiful, the characters are entirely loveable and fully developed. Quite the feat for a short children's story! I highly recommend
  • Obadiah the Bold
  • Rachel and Obadiah
  • Thy Friend, Obadiah
(Ages 4-8) Robert McCloskey's books are so superb. I spent hours just looking at his wonderful pictures! As anyone who knows Make Way for Ducklings can attest, McCloskey was a genius in creating wonderful stories and his illustrations bring each character and moment to life. Rea wrote an interesting history of Make Way for Ducklings and you can read that on her blog. My favorite McCloskey titles for younger children are:
  • A Time of Wonder
  • Blueberries for Sal
  • Make Way for Ducklings
  • Lentil
  • One Morning in Maine

(All ages) Although I did not discover Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox until I was an adult, I have shared this with many of the young people in my life and it is one of my all-time favorites. An incredibly touching story illustrated with delicious watercolors by Julie Vivas, this book belongs on every child's bookshelf. 

(Ages 3 and up) Tomie de Paola is one of the most popular children's authors, and for good reason. His stories are unique and intelligent and when paired with his whimsical illustrations, he delivers the whole package. My favorite is The Clown of God and his Strega Nona series is lovely. 

(Ages 3-7) As a young child I collected the Golden Books written and illustrated by Eloise Wilkins. While they may not be readily available at your local drugstore like they were when I was a kid, they're worth looking for at used book sales or checking for at your library. Her stories are simple and they do not stray far from every day life. Someone gave me The New Baby when my mom was expecting my little brother and it helped me understand what was happening and anticipate his arrival. Plus her paintings of chubby little children are so endearing. 

(Ages 2-5) Margaret Wise Brown's classics The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon are probably already on your bookshelf. If you haven't read them in a while, pull them out again. While it may be difficult to be enchanted for the gazillionth time, these are very special books. Their cadence is perfect for bedtime and they are stories that portray a parent's love as wonderfully secure and safe. And, again, the pictures are gorgeous. 

(Ages 5 and up) Chris Van Allsburg's wonderfully imaginative tales may have been my first introduction to fantasy. Whether we were hearing about sailboats that could fly to other lands as in The Wreck of the Zephyr or trespassing in the intimidating Garden of Abdul Gasazi, or rolling the dice in Jumanji, my siblings and I loved these stories. We got sucked into each wonderful adventure and even though we knew the endings very well after a few readings, these are the sorts of books that do not lose their thrill. In addition to the titles listed above, I also enjoyed The Polar Express. I find Van Allsburg's more recent titles a bit less accessible for children, but others may enjoy them.

Additional authors I loved include A. A. Milne (stick with the original Pooh stories, they're brilliant and the Disney knockoffs do not come anywhere close), Margery Williams (The Velveteen Rabbit), Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss (of course!), William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, and Jan Brett. And there are many others! We are surrounded by a wealth of literature for young people and I hope this gives you some inspiration and direction. 

I would love to hear what books you recommend for reading aloud? Do you have favorites from your childhood? What are your family's favorites? I'll be back on Wednesday with titles for families with students who are a bit older. 

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reluctant Readers

The fact that this t-shirt exists makes me sad. 

The entries on this blog have focused on the importance of reading in education. Exposure to literature and the ideas contained therein is essential to the formation of a well-rounded individual. All of that is wonderful, but what if you have students who either dislike reading or have difficulty with it. ADHD, dyslexia, some forms of autism, and many other learning challenges can make reading a struggle. Others are simply not interested. What do you do in such cases? There are several practical ways to encourage and develop a love of reading.

Research backs up what any parent knows: children learn by example. Read in front of your children. Talk with others about the books you are reading. Parents who read for their own pleasure and communicate that experience by talking about the books they're reading are more likely to pique their children's interest.

Make books easily accessible. Begin building a family library. This will reinforce the value you place on reading. Make regular trips to the library so that there are new books in your home for your children to discover.

Make time for reading. Turning off the TV is one of the most important steps one can take in opening up space for reading. Limit time on the computer and playing video games. This may lead to boredom, not such a bad thing, and lead children to discovery reading for their own pleasure.

Read aloud as a family. This is essential. While many children think of reading as "boring" everyone loves a good story. Read aloud some of your childhood favorites. Once children are introduced to the joys of hearing good stories, it is often not long until they are wanting to discover good books for themselves. Reading aloud is also essential for developing good writing skills, even more so than reading silently to oneself!

Follow your children's interests. If your son dislikes reading but loves horses, read Marguerite Henry's lovely stories with him. Encourage your child's overactive imagination by introducing her to the wonderfully fantastical worlds of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Francis Hodgson Burnett, and Madeleine L'Engle. Show your children that books are one of the best ways to explore their interests.

Investigate the link between musical education and reading ability.

These are just a few practical suggestions and many people have found success in implementing some or all of these changes. If your child is still struggling, remember that all children develop at different speeds. We know children who took to reading immediately and for others it was slow process that took years. It may also be worth having your child tested for a learning disability. There are many tools and resources now available to help children with these challenges. Families have found help in therapeutic methods, teaching tools, even dietary changes! For a child who struggles with things that come easily to his friends or siblings, diagnosis can be a relief if it is presented in a supportive and encouraging manner.

I would love to hear from parents of reluctant readers! What have you done to encourage reading? How have you been successful? What challenges did you face?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Unstructured Creativity a.k.a. Boredom

Courtesy -
I have been interested lately in the research on boredom. It seems that our culture is a bit obsessed with eradicating this human condition. People seem to be occupied all the time these days. Smartphones and portable gaming devices have ensured that their owners are never without an entertainment option at their fingertips. As the former owner of a smartphone, I know firsthand how consuming it can be to have the world at your fingertips. This year my husband and I, due to various reasons, gave up our phones. It's been very interesting. No longer can I get lost in email while riding the Metro. I can't play angry birds or instantly have access to the internet if I am wondering about something. It so many ways it has been very freeing and I find myself observing the people around me more, sitting with my thoughts more, and being bored.

 I am a firm believer in the creative potential of boredom. Giving children unstructured time to explore their surroundings and even be bored often leads to the discovery of new interests. If children are given time to be bored and aren't permitted to resort to video games, TV, or internet time, they will pursue other options. I love the story of Caine's arcade that has been making the internet circles lately. This little boy was given lots of free time and he used his imagination to create something wonderful, a cardboard arcade! The video is heartwarming (there are two occurrences of inappropriate language) and shows the great potential of unstructured time and raw resources in the hands of a "bored" child.

Research has also affirmed the fact that boredom is very important for developing creativity and problem solving abilities. Being given time to just think and be helps a person to to develop a self-awareness, and consciousness of the things and people around him.

I am curious as to what you all think about boredom. Do you give your children time to be bored? Do you structure their time? What sorts of resources are available to your children during their play time? Growing up we were surrounded by books, so my default option when bored was to read. Other times by siblings and I played adventure games in the backyard that involved grand plots where we were usually orphans (a la the Boxcar Children) trying to survive on our own. Other play time included building cities of Legos, Playmobiles and wooden blocks. I remember feeling bored as a child but I knew that it was my own problem and I had to find a solution. It sure helped to have three siblings who were usually up for some sort of adventure. As we approach the summer, I would love to hear your ideas for keeping children occupied while allowing them the freedom to explore their own interests and time to just be. Also, what are some of your favorite summer reads? There were books that I read over and over through the long summer hours, books like Caddie Woodlawn, Calico Captive, and the aforementioned Boxcar Children series, the Ralph Moody books, and many others.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Education as Legacy

My reading lately has been focused on a few different themes: education, restoration, preservation, and legacy. Besides creating a jumble of thoughts in my confused mind, I have been struck with the fact that educators like you are creating, or to be more accurate, carrying on a legacy. Legacy is defined as "something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past." Unfortunately, I believe we had lost a sense of legacy in our educational systems as they become more focused on education as a commodity rather than as something inherently valuable. Colleges have been sued by students who have been unable to find work after graduation and while that may signal a failure on the institution's part it reveals a dynamic shift in the way people view education as worthwhile. 

Wendell Berry, one of my favorite American writers, made the following indictment of American education during a commencement address at Bellarmine University:

"...we are promoting a debased commodity paid for by the people, sanctioned by the government, for the benefit of the corporations. For the most part, its purpose is now defined by the great and the would-be-great 'research universities.' These gigantic institutions, increasingly formed upon the 'industrial model,' no longer make even the pretense of preparing their students for responsible membership in a family, a community, or a polity. They have repudiated their old obligation to pass on to students at least something of their cultural inheritance. The ideal graduate no longer is to have a mind well-equipped to serve others, or to judge competently the purposes for which it may be used." (source here)

This shortsighted view of education will have far-reaching consequences both for the fabric of our society and in how our cultural legacy will either thrive or wither. I find all of this alarming and see elements of it happening around me but today I want to focus on you, the people who are fighting against the commodification of education and preserving a valuable legacy! 

In resisting the cultural onslaught that questions the value of education for its own sake, you are making a bold counter-cultural assertion and stating that some things are inherently valuable, regardless of their perceived market price. Educating through the use of literature and the great books is not the most efficient way to instill facts into the heads of young students but it is the best way to engage young minds and nurture curiosity. Discussing the ideas one finds in those books takes time and energy and is much more difficult than handing a student a worksheet, but it encourages discourse and contemplation. We are surrounded with commentators and pundits raised in educational systems that failed to teach them the value of civil discourse. This results in political stalemates and resentment as well as an increasingly small worldview. By encouraging discussion, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to see situations from various angles, you are preparing your children and students to be responsible members of their families and communities, equipped to serve those around them. An education rich in ideas and discourse allows students to see outside of themselves and gives them a legacy passed down through the generations. It may not be something that the market values, but it is essential for the continuation of a free society and a generous citizenry. So, I just want to encourage you that your work is a legacy and while you may not feel like it in the messiness of the every day chaos of teaching, your actions and choices are key in preserving a heritage that is increasingly endangered. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Back to the Beginning: OOP

As all you book lovers know, OOP means Out-Of-Print and for people who are trying to create history curriculum using living books and great literature, it's the bane of our existence. As you can read in Part I and Part II of our history, Rea Berg had begun putting together study guides to help fellow homeschooling parents teach history using literature. Her first study guides were for Early American history and California state history and she used books by Scott O'Dell, Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, Jean Fritz, Alice Dalgliesh, Marguerite Henry, and Genevieve Foster. Parents began teaching using these wonderful books and their children began loving history. It was wonderful to hear stories of families reading together for the first time and learning about the Pilgrims and Jamestown and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But one problem kept cropping up. Many of these books had been in print for 30, 40, or 50 years. They had been the best-sellers and award-winners of their day but that time had passed. Families were not reading together as much and schools had switched over to textbooks. The big publishers began dropping these titles as sales dried up. It was heartbreaking to find that the d'Aulaire titles were being dropped one by one. As a child I can remember frantic searches and phone calls to remainder warehouses, hours spent tracking down the last copies so that people could use the study guides Rea had work on. When all the remaining copies of a dropped title had been found, we had to find other books that could work. These searches did allow us to find some jewels but it was distressing to see that these books we so loved were slowing being lost and future generations would miss out on being exposed to them.

So it was out of a sort of desperation that Russ and Rea began looking in to publishing the books themselves. One book they both loved was Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire. It was the best biography on Leif Erickson they had ever read and the pictures were stunning. It told the story of Leif's father Eric the Red and his sailing to Greenland and Iceland. Its readers were introduced to the charismatic King Olaf and Norse mythology and the early conversion of the Norwegians to Christianity.

Young minds were captured by the gorgeous lithographed illustrations. It felt like reading an adventure story backed up by impeccable research. The d'Aulaires were a husband and wife team, fluent in many languages, devoted to historical research and story telling, and accomplished artists. They had won the Caldecott Award for their biography of Abraham Lincoln and millions of US children had grown up reading their other biographies of American heroes. In the late 1980s and early 1990s children's literature was changing. There was a growing divide between books that were designed to be instructional and those that were just for fun. Instructional books, biographies, historical texts were becoming more technical. Beautiful biographies were not selling as well as they used to and were therefore less and less profitable. Leif the Lucky had been out of print for years at this point and more and more of the books used in the study guides were being dropped.

Rea was heartbroken to see these titles disappearing and decided that she needed to do something. She researched printing contracts and copyright law, tracked down the sons of Ingri and Edgar and arranged a meeting. It was providential that these distinguished gentlemen even agreed to a meeting. They did not know Russ and Rea from Adam and they had no qualifications, no experience, no credentials to assure these men that they would take care of the life's work of their parents. The one thing Russ and Rea had going for them was their deep love for the d'Aulaires and their genuine enthusiasm in wanting to bring Leif the Lucky back into print. And they were blessed with a contract! And then came the scary part. Beautiful Feet Books to this point had been a small side business but the Bergs knew that if they were going to start printing they needed to invest their time and resources into the company. Russ resigned from his job, they moved their four children from California to Massachusetts and put everything into making a go of publishing full-time. There were a couple of scary years when neither Russ nor Rea was sure it was going to work! God was very faithful during that time. He walked them through their first printing experience with all its complicated blue-lines, PMS color checks, paper weight decisions and other small but important details. It was a wonderful day that first copy was delivered - to know that it was available again and people could enjoy it with their children, grandparents could share a book they remembered from their childhood with their grandchildren. Seventeen years later, BFB now publishes over forty books! And we are always looking for new titles to add, searching used book stores for forgotten treasures, tracking down author's decedents and copyright holders. It's been a fun adventure, there have been moments of stress and frustration, but an overall joy! We've worked with some amazing people, some talented printers and copyrighters, and have met wonderful fellow bibliophiles - including some of you!

If you have not had a chance to read one of the d'Aulaire biographies, there is a great opportunity to get your hands on one for free at the DenSchool blog! Check out Victoria's detailed review and enter for a chance to win a copy of Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Back to the Beginning: OK, now I have a huge pile of books? What should I do with it?

Welcome back to our brief synopsis of BFB history. If you missed the first part, you can read it here. Inspired by the writings of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and the ideas of Charlotte Mason, Rea set about building a library. As a child I remember boxes of books arriving regularly and I knew this was special. Each box held multiple worlds and ideas and new experiences. We also made regular trips to the library where caring librarians help us find dusty treasures that had been sitting for far too long in forgotten corners. Each time we left the library we all had checked out our limit and with four children, that was lot of books.
As my siblings and I got older our homeschooling adventure naturally shifted from lots of informal reading time to a more structured form. Frustrated by the dreariness that marked so many of the history textbooks available,  Mom began formulating our history and English curriculums around the books we were reading. We learned about American history through biographies on Abraham Lincoln, old collections of Pilgrim stories, first hand accounts of encounters with George Washington, and harrowing recollections of Revolutionary War soldiers. Living in California offered great opportunities to delve into the history of the Wild West and we read about gold miners seeking their fortunes, the doomed Donner Party expedition, the great San Francisco earthquake, Buffalo Bill and his traveling spectacular. It was exciting. History was the stories of real people just like us! By reading biographies, historical fiction, award-winning literature, and first-hand accounts, we were being given the gift of a legacy. History became personal and relevant. It was not just a collection of facts consisting of names and dates. It was "our" story, it told us why we were here. That is the beauty and importance of history. It is not necessarily the dates and facts that are of most importance. It's the reasons behind the stories that give our lives meaning and help us understand who we are. I have never heard of a child not wanting to hear stories of her parents and grandparents childhoods and that is simply because as humans we long for connection and placement. And yet, so many children's natural curiosity for what came before them is squelched when they're given a history textbook. It may provide all the facts but no matter how well-written, it cannot provide the narrative that we long for as human beings. Story does that.
So we were immersing ourselves in story and as anyone who knows my mom can attest, when Mom is excited about something, she's evangelical. Her friends rarely left our home without a book loan, she had a book recommendation for everything. As a child, I was sure that birthday party invitations would soon dry up because we were arrived with our tell-tale flat, square gifts!
Mom faced a couple of challenges in her pursuit of the best books. The first was that this was in the early 1980s so there was no access to the internet and finding some of the more obscure titles required hours of research and lots of phone calls to book finding services. Secondly, we lived in a tiny little gold-mining town and did not have access to vast libraries or other resources. Mom decided the best way to ensure that her friends all had access to these books, was to start selling them herself. She applied for a business license and soon the UPS man was making daily deliveries and boxes of books were taking over an entire room in our home.
Now all my mom's friends and fellow homeschoolers had easy access to the books that were making history come alive, but now what? It was great to have a wonderful library, but people craved a bit more structure. While she was teaching us, Mom had been putting together study notes, reading assignments, discussion topics and unwittingly creating a history curriculum entirely based on literature. As we got a bit older, Mom and her other homeschooling friends starting doing co-op classes and guess who always taught history? As their children became excited about history, these happy parents began asking for Mom's study notes. And so she typed them up on a typewriter and made photocopies. I distinctly remember this point in my childhood because we were making lots of trips to the little printing store around the corner from our house.
These hand-typed study notes became the basis for Beautiful Feet Books' History Through Literature curriculums. Soon enough there was a growing demand from parents seeking to switch from textbooks, or others who loved literature but wanted a guide for using these wonderful books as a history curriculum. The typewriter was traded in for one of those original Apple Macintosh computers and homeschooling time now included lessons in running a small business! Lessons like how to take inventory, how to collate the printed study note pages and bind them in a plastic binders, how to check in arriving shipments and politely take an order. And as the homeschooling movement grew from those early days, so did BFB. Conventions and speaking engagements soon followed as people latched on to this new approach that harkened back to a long storytelling tradition we had lost sight of in our educational approaches.

BFB now sells over a dozen history study guides covering everything from ancient to modern history, geography, literature, and more. Tomorrow, I will finish up this history by sharing the story of the first book we published.  If you have any questions relating to the history of BFB, please feel free to ask!

And don't forget, the special promotion expires tomorrow! FREE STUDY GUIDE DOWNLOAD with a $75.00 purchase. Simply enter "blogpro" at checkout and the cost of the study guide ($15.95) will be deducted from your purchase. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

Back to the Beginning: How we got started

I hope each of you had a very blessed Easter. It has occurred to me that many of you may not be familiar with the history of Beautiful Feet Books, so I thought I would spend some time sharing that with you this week. Today I want to share the inspiration behind Beautiful Feet Books. 

In 1984 my parents, Russ and Rea Berg, began looking into homeschooling. They had three young children at the time and had been reading For the Children's Sake, Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Shaeffer Macaulay. It was a revelation! Macaulay championed a return to traditional forms of education centering around curiosity and creativity, and surrounding your child with an environment that nurtured those traits. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all classrooms and post-industrial educational models, Macaulay, championing the ideas of Charlotte Mason, advocated the development of each child's unique giftings. The role of literature in this mission was foundational. Children should be reared on the best books available. They should have easy access to inspiring biographies of historical heroes, they should be able to enter the imaginative worlds of fantasy, know what it was like to live long ago by reading great literature set in other times. This approach would encourage a child's natural curiosity and foster a life-long love of learning. It would also encourage the development of empathy and compassion as children learned about their place in history and the courage and struggles of those who came before them. To read more about Rea's discoveries, you can read this article

Once Rea was sold on this unique and inspiring educational method, she set about to find the very best children's literature for her young children. Books like Honey for a Child's Heart, The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt and Books Children Love, a Guide to the Best Children's Literature by Elizabeth Wilson proved invaluable. Hunt and and Wilson combed through the available literature, listed Newbury and Caldecott award winners, provided direction in creating an inspiring family library. As a child, I devoured the books that surrounded me. In these stories I found inspiration, purpose, and identity. Family read-aloud time was a priority and I have many fond memories of countless nights spent reading wonderful stories. I learned to love E. B. White, Ralph Moody, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Brinton Turkle, Robert McCloskey, Alice Dalgliesh, Carol Brink, Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, Marguerite De Angeli, Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth George Speare, and many more. We never had television and this allowed us the freedom of time; time to spend reading alone and together, time to explore, and time to partake of imaginative play. Once formal education began in our home, Rea continued to emphasize the role of literature. We did not use history textbooks, we read biographies, original source documents, great books by authors like Jean Fritz who have a gift for making history come alive.

On Wednesday, I'll write more about how this all led to the founding of Beautiful Feet Books. If you're intrigued, we would highly recommend For the Children's Sake. It is now a classic of the home schooling movement and is a wonderful resource. You can purchase it here. The other resources can also be purchased through the links above.

If you're looking to expand your library, I put together a couple of packages with my personal childhood favorites in our Teaching Character Through Literature curriculum. There are two packages available, one for younger students, and one for older intermediate level students. These are great "starter packs" for building your family's library. 

And, don't forget our promotion of a free study guide download (value $15.95) with a $75.00 purchase. Simply use this code at checkout: blogpro

For those of you who have read For The Children's Sake, what did you find most inspiring or world-changing? How have you applied aspects of Macaulay and Mason's approaches to your own educational journey? 

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday

I wanted to share this article with you for Good Friday: Can we believe in love? Easter's essential role. May you have a blessed Easter.  

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Books for Holy Week

Thank you to everyone who chimed in on the eReader discussion. I found all of your points very interesting and insightful. 

We are currently in the middle of Holy Week and as Christians, this is a week of anticipation, reflection, and meditation. We look to Good Friday with its sorrow and promise of redemption and anticipate the joy of Easter as we celebrate the resurrection. All around the world Christians in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions have ways of marking this special week. I am currently enrolled in a class where there are people of all sorts of faith traditions and nationalities and it has been so interesting to learn about the different celebrations of Holy Week. In Greek villages, Orthodox Christians, dressed as though they were attending a funeral, gather together the Saturday night before Easter. The feeling is somber and quiet. And then, at midnight, the bells toll and everyone throws off their veils of sadness and shouts "He is risen" and everyone embraces, kisses, hugs, and a celebration ensues. Wouldn't it be amazing to see that? In Paris, Catholics will take part in processions on Good Friday marking the Stations of the Cross set up along some of the most famous streets. I love learning about these traditions as they enrich my understanding of my faith and allow me a view of the vast history and scope of Christianity. 

To mark this week, I wanted to share a couple books that helped shape my understanding of the traditions of the Christian faith. These are not theological books, they're historical and fictional, but they were important in developing an appreciation for the debt our cultural heritage owes to Christianity.

The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola introduces readers to medieval celebrations of Christ. This book is based on an ancient French legend and teaches some wonderful lessons about gifts, generosity and sacrifice. The story is lovingly retold by Tomie dePaola who charmingly illustrated the book in such a way that conveys the tenderness of the story as well as the joy.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare was one of my favorites as a teen. It opened my eyes to the  complex world of Palestine at the time of Jesus. One of the things I really appreciate about this book is that it manages to convey an idea of how Jesus would have been seen by his contemporaries. The young zealot sees him as a savior, but is disappointed when Jesus refuses to take up the sword and fight the Roman occupiers. Others see him as a gentle healer, one who inspires them, urges them to be kind, meek, gentle hearted. And others see him as the Messiah, the one who has been anticipated by the Jews for millennia. 

Quo Vadis by Henryk Seinkeiwicz is a Christian and literary classic. It tells of the persecution of the Christians under Nero and their tenacity and courage in holding on to their faith. It shows how the early Church began to form into a movement, gathering followers in spite of great hardship. In the final days of the dwindling Roman Empire, the early Christians stood out from the lavish and indulgent Romans. Marked by humility, service, compassion, charity, and grace, these early bearers of the faith stood strong despite being vastly outnumbered, powerless, and vulnerable. 

While all of these books are a part of the Christian tradition and have important significance to believers, they are also books that are essential to understanding our cultural heritage. Living in Europe has given me a greater appreciation for the fact that the history of western culture cannot be divorced from the history of Christianity. This holy week I will be able to take part in traditions that stretch back hundreds of years, events that have shaped people's understanding of their faith and therefore influenced the cultural traditions they were forming.

What sorts of traditions do you observe? Do you have recommendations for Holy Week reading? I would love to hear about them! 

Monday, April 02, 2012

To e-read or not to e-read

Credit: Grant Snider, The New York Times:  
I got a chuckle out of this comic strip because I can relate. Having been an avid collector of books since I was nine years old, I've had to put a damper on my book buying since moving overseas nearly five years ago. A semi-nomadic lifestyle and a collection of two thousand books are not mutually compatible. In four years of trekking back and forth between Europe and the US, I've lugged more than my fair share of 40-50 pound carry-ons. Baggage weight restrictions meant all those heavy books were not checked into the cargo area. No, they were strapped to my back where I wouldn't be charged excess baggage fees. I mean, that's money that can go to buying more books! Once I had boarded and successfully stashed my literary burdens I will admit to feeling a bit panicky at times as I imagined someone innocently opening the overhead locker and being concussed when my overstuffed backpack tumbled out. Thankfully, my carry-ons were always too heavy to "shift during landing". And so my two loves, travel and reading, stood in opposition to one another until I was gifted a Kindle last September.

I love the convenience of a Kindle. It's perfect for travel. It is easy to use, has a nice feel, and I can take it anywhere. Aside from that, I do miss the feel of a book. I miss turning pages. I find it annoying that I can't flip around to different spots in the books I'm reading. I also miss the smell of books. But most importantly to me, I miss the knowledge that when I open a book, I am either entering into a history of previous readers sharing this same experience, or I'm beginning that history when I crease the cover of a new book for the first time. Flick on the screen of an e-reader and it's an individual experience. You cannot lend your library to other people. You are reading words on a screen that only you see. For some reason, I'm less apt to read interesting parts of books aloud to my husband when I'm reading my Kindle. Give me a real book, and I'm probably a bit annoying with my "Hey love, listen to this" barrage. Additionally, I wish I could purchase my books from independent bookstores. Having grown up in a publishing family, this is important to me. The Kindle is purely a convenience to me for a phase in my life. I know I will be buying hardcopies again in the future, possibly even copies of books I've read on my Kindle and really enjoyed. There is just something about a book that makes it irreplaceable to me. But I may be an anomaly in this age of electronic gadgets, tablets and smart phones. I thought it would be interesting to hear from you. Do you have an e-reader? Do you enjoy using it? What are the benefits and drawbacks for you? Do you wish there were more books available in electronic format? What about children's books? Do you use eReaders for educational purposes? Do your kids read books on a computer, Kindle, or iPad? Do you find you end up buying hardcopies of e-books you've read? Are e-books the future? Or will we always have books?

We would love to hear what you think about e-books and the future of reading.