9th Grade Lit: American Poets, Essayists and Short Story Writers

Dear Reader,

For my eldest’s ninth grade year, I decided to ease into high school literature by tackling American poets, essayists and short story writers — basically everything but novels. I selected eight authors who seemed pivotal and had him spend about a month on each one. He did literature twice a week on his own and we as a family did it about the same amount in our “together time.” If you are not schooling multiple children or don’t want to do things all together, you could have the student do all the work on his own or do the parts we did together alongside him as a sort of introduction before turning him loose on the other parts.

I combined this with grammar and dictation and called if “English 9″ (or will do so his transcript). One could also just call it  a half credit literature course or combine it with another half credit to make  a full year course. I used a number of outside resources to piece together this curriculum so what I am about to give you could not stand alone as a curriculum guide; you will either need to find the resources I used or else find something to substitute for them. But I hope that this will benefit someone as a framework for a similar course.

Keep reading for the meat and bones . . .


9th Grade American Literature

Authors studied: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot


Cummings Study Guides

Mr. Gunnar’s English Classes

Mrs. Mammana’s Website


Henry Builds a Cabin and others by D.B. Johnson

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino


Academy of American Poets

The Big Read



The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Unabridged Classics, 2013)

The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Pub., 2010)

Emerson Central

Poetry Foundation

Thoreau Quotes

Walt Whitman ed. by Jonathan Levin (Poetry for Young People series)

Emily Dickinson ed. Frances C. Bilon (Poetry for Young People series)

Washington Irving

Irving is really the beginning of American literature. That is, he is the first to consciously make American literature. His stories are fun to read and are probably familiar so they make a great introduction to our course as well. I used a couple of different books for the text of the tales themselves. It doesn’t really matter what edition you use for the stories, poems, etc. for most of these authors. Just make sure it is the original, unabridged text.

I stumbled upon the Sterling edition listed above at our local library. It has discussion questions in the back for all the tales in the book. While I was selective in which ones I chose, I found these an excellent resource so I highly recommend trying to find this specific edition, if not for the texts, at least for the questions.

Texts read:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

  • Read the story and write an essay answering the following questions: Compare Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. How are they similar? How are they different? Which man do you think Katrina should have chosen? Is Ichabod a hero? Why or why not?

“The Devil and Tom Walker”

  • Read the story and write and essay addressing the following: Discuss Tom Walker’s fate and his wife’s. How were they alike? How were they different? What do you think happened to the wife?

“Rip Van Winkle” (together)

  • Read the work. Discuss what changes from before Rip’s long nap and after. What has changed in Rip’s life? What has changed in the country? How have the townspeople changed? What do you think this is saying about the new post-Revolution America? What might Rip’s wife represent? (spoiler: bossy mother England) Are things better or worse post-Revolution (or for Rip post-nap)?

“The Specter Bridegroom” (together)

  • Read the story. This is a lesser known work but we really enjoyed it. There is a lot of humor here. We loved the accomplished young lady who could write her name so well even her own aunts could read it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re getting into a lot tougher stuff after Irving. Emerson is hard; many of his contemporaries didn’t understand him. Yet he is pretty big in the history of American writing. My solution is to be pretty selective and to read excerpts. We looked at portions from two essays and a number of poems.


I used Mr. Gunnar’s notes for this work. The portion on “Self-Reliance” can be found here. I divided the assignment up into four sessions. The numbers refer to Mr. Gunnar’s discussion questions.

  • Read through the essay (that is, the portion Gunnar uses). Go through paragraph by paragraph and write briefly what you think the major points are.
  • Reread the first paragraph and answer questions 3 and 4.
  • Answer questions 8, 9, and 10.
  • Write and essay summing up Emerson’s ideas and giving your own reaction to them.

“Nature” chapter 1

I used the text from Emerson Central and discussion questions from Mrs. Mammana’s website. The specific link for the discussion questions is here (link should open a pdf).

  • Read the first two paragraphs and answer questions 1 and 2.
  • Read the 3rd and 4th paragraphs and answer question 3. Read the 5th paragraph and answer question 5.
  • Reread the section from “Crossing a bare common . . . ” through the end of the 5th paragraph. What does Emerson mean when he says “I became a transparent eyeball”? What is Emerson’s view of God?

Poems — I got the text of these poems from the Poetry Foundation website and got notes on each from Enotes. Many of these we did together.

  • Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
  • Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used?  To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
  • Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
  • Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
  • Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
  • Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau follows close on the heels of Emerson, chronologically and idealistically. The two were friends and Emerson encouraged Thoreau. I highly recommend the series of picture books on Thoreau by D.B. Johnson. Even older children can read these to get a brief intro to Thoreau’s life. He is one author whose life is highly relevant to his works. Another fun intro to his life which I recommend is Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden which presents key events in a cartoon like format. While we discussed the events of Thoreau’s life and have in the past visited Walden Pond and the reconstruction of his cabin there, we didn’t actually read any of Walden beyond the bits in the books I have mentioned.

“Resistance to Civil Government”

I relied on Mr, Gunnar again for this one. The relevant page is here.

  • Read the first two paragraphs and answer questions 3, 4, and 5.
  • Read the third through 5th paragraphs. Answer questions 7 and 10.
  • Read the rest of the essay. Answer questions 11, 12 and 13.
  • Anser questions 16 and 17.

Various Quotes

I printed out a page of Thoreau quotes and chose a few for my son to comment on. You could also let the student choose or pick others of course.

  • Read the quotes that begin “I know of no more encouraging fact . . .” and “The finest qualities of our nature . . .” Discuss what each of these means.
  • Read the quote that begins “”No way of thinking or doing . . . ” Copy it. Tell what it means. Tell if you agree.

Edgar Allan Poe

Because this post needed a picture . . .

Because this post needed a picture . . .

Whew. If you’ve had enough of transcendentalists, it’s time for something completely different. Poe is fun. Poe is scary. Poe is just plain weird. Kids like him.

“The Black Cat”

  • This story and discussion questions were on Mr. Gunnar so I used it. The relevant portion is here. I didn’t have my son write out answers for this story. Instead I had him read the story in one sitting and then asked him the questions and we discussed.

“The Raven”

  • Read the poem. What actually happens in this poem? What is real and what does the narrator imagine?

For the other Poe stories I used the edition illustrated by McKowen and relied upon his discussion questions. If the stories were longer, we took a few sittings to read them and then discussed at the end.

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

  • Read the story. Is the narrator a madman? Why did he kill the old man? How is he caught? Was there really anything to be heard to give him away?

“The Masque of the Red Death”

  • Read the story and answer questions #4 and 8 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Purloined Letter”

  • Read the story. This is a longer story and will likely take more than one sitting. As you go along then, ask what the student(s) think the answer will be: Where is the letter?

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

  • Read the story and answer questions #5 , 7 and 13 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Cask of Amontillado”

  • Read the story and answer questions #6, 12 and 14 from McKowen’s edition. What was the fued between the two men?

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

  • Read the story and answer questions #9 and 15 from McKowen’s edition.

Walt Whitman

Now that you’ve had a bit of  a break, we can continue with something a little less bizarre. I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.

“Song of Myself”

I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.

  • Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
  • Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
  • Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”

These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.

“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”

Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?

Various other poems

I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”

Emily Dickinson

I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my son write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.

  • Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
  • Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
  • Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
  • Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
  • Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
  • Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
  • Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
  • Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
  • Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
  • Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?

Robert Frost

I relied heavily on the Cummings Study Guides for Frost except for “Birches” for which I used Shmoop.

“The Road Not Taken”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
  • Which road does the title refer to?
  • Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.

“Fire and Ice”

  • Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
  • See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
  • Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
  • Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?

“The Mending Wall”

  • Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
  • Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
  • From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
  • What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
  • Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
  • Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”


  • Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
  • Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?

T.S. Eliot

Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

  • From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
  • Reader “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” form the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
  • Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
  • Find examples n the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales”

  • Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
  • Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
  • Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.

Various shorter poems

  • Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
  • Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bble. How does Eliot portray them?
  • Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
  • For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

Living Books on American History: Madison through Polk

Dear Reader,

Our school year has finished up and I wanted to give you all a list of the books we have used for history. My last list was on Jefferson’s presidency. This one is going to cover those of Madison through Polk, obviously a much longer span of time. There were a number of presidents we didn’t send too much time on. We used our spine books to make sure we got the essentials, but not every kid read about every president. You can find my master list of history book lists here.

Living Books on American History: Madison through Polk

Our spines were, as they have been, This Country of Ours by H.E. Marshall and The Story of the Great Republic by Helene Geurber. I like using both because I find each of them a bit sparse and hope that the two together will give us a more complete picture. They are both very readable and entertaining though. We also read Mike Venezia’s biography on each president. These are amusing, albeit simple, biographies with cartoon like pictures. The younger kids especially look forward to them.

A couple of Venezia biographies

A couple of Venezia biographies

Another resource we used all together was the History Channel’s DVD series on the presidents. Each one is covered fairly briefly but we did get some information we didn’t get elsewhere and a video is always a nice change of pace. We borrowed it free from our library.

History Channel DVD

History Channel DVD


We didn’t use it this year, but one more resource I like is this US Presidents March CD:


It’s great if you want to memorize the presidemts and/or first ladies in order.

Once upon a time someone gave me bunch of books on Madison and Monroe so as far as I was able I used what I already had.

My 4th grader read James Madison by Patricia Miles Martin and James Monroe: Good Neighbor Boy by Mabel Cleland Widdemer. Both were the sorts of books that tell you a lot about the character’s youth and not so much about their later career. I thought that was fine for her age. They were definitely stories and she seemed to connect well with them.



My 5th grader read James Madison by Alfred Steinberg. It was a little tougher than the books his younger sister read.


My 8th grader read Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz. Fritz is a favorite author. Her books vary in length and difficulty. I’d say this one was 5-8th grade level. I think she read it easily in a week. (This seems to be the one book I didn’t get a picture of :( ).

My 9th grader read 1812: The War Nobody Won by Albert Marrin, another favorite author of mine. I get his history books whenever I can find them.


On the topic of the War of 1812 I also read The Story of Old Ironsides by Norman Richards aloud to them all. We have visited the USS Constitution once and hope to do so again soon so I thought reading about the history of the ship would be good.


We used only a couple of books on John Quincy Adams. My 8th grader read Long Black Schooner by Emma Gelders  Sterne. This is a highly recommended telling of the Amistad slave ship story. It apparently has other editions under other names so you may have to poke around a bit to find it. It seemed like a pretty good story though I’m not sure she got the connection to Adams.


My 4th grader read Amistad: The Story of a Slave Ship by Patricia McKissack. I didn’t actually assign this book to her. It was laying around and she read it on her own so I didn’t have her narrate. She read it pretty quickly and didn’t seem too impressed but if you want to cover this event with younger kids it could be a good choice.


Another Marrin book – my 9th grader read Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People. He might be getting sick of Marrin but he narrates them so well I can’t resist his books.


Two silly books – my 5th garder read Robert Quackenbush’s Who Let Muddy Boots into the White House? A Story of Andrew Jackson. I’d say 5th is the upper end for this book. He couldn’t tell me at the end though what muddy boots had to do with it.


My 4th grader read Andy Jackson’s Water Well by William O. Steele. Steele is another favorite. This book is shorter and easier than most of his and is definitely a tall tale.


There’s not a lot out there on Harrison, Tyler and Van Buren. We checked out How to Draw the Life and Times of William Henry Harrison by Hilary Barton Billman though no one ended up using it. This book is part of a series and I love the idea, but in practice the drawing projects were not too interesting and the content was not terribly impressive either. The books in the series seem to have different authors though so other ones may be better.


My 8th grader read Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too! by Stanley Young. Since Harrison spent only a month in office, this book is mostly about his life pre-presidency. It is an older book and seemed decent. It was not a hard read and could be used by  a younger child as well. I’d call it middle school level or even upper elementary.


My 9th grader read This Slender Reed: A Life of James K. Polk by Milton Lomask. This was not an overly thick book but it seemed well done and thorough. It probably wins the “best find” award for this period of history.


This period of history is the time to study both Texas and the Oregon Trail. My 5th grader read another Jean Fritz book, Make Way for Sam Houston. I’d place this one at the 5th-8th grade level.


I had both my younger two read The Story of the Alamo by Norman Richards. This is from the Cornerstones of Freedom series which I find well-done. It is a quick read; my 5th grader did it in two sittings and probably could have done it in one. From the same series I also had the younger two read The Story of the Oregon Trail by R. Conrad Stein.

oregontrail2 alamo

My 4th grader also read For Ma and Pa on the Oregon Trail by Wilma Pitchford Hays. Hays is a good author and I like to look for her books. This one seemed like a riveting story with sick babies and other things that kept my daughter wanting to know what happened.

This is "For Ma and Pa on the Oregon Trail." The title is almost illegible but it's there.

This is “For Ma and Pa on the Oregon Trail.” The title is almost illegible but it’s there.

We didn’t get to Children of the Covered Wagon  by Mary Jane Carr, but I loved the look of this book (literally, it has that old, good book look) and might even check it out again next year if I can find a way to fit it in.

Doesn't it just look like a good old book?

Doesn’t it just look like a good old book?

On the settlement of California, a book I checked out but didn’t use was Carlota by Scott O’Dell. O’Dell is a well-known author who has a lot of books set in settlers’ days. I wished I had time to make someone read this one but couldn’t fit it in.


And that’s it until next year when we’ll start with the run up to the Civil War. Any don’t-misses for that period?



Last Literary Analysis of the Year: Animal Farm

Dear Reader,

For our last literary analysis of the year we tackled George Orwell’s Animal Farm (see the earlier ones here, here, and here). This turned out to be a particularly good choice since we had studied both the American and French Revolutions in our homeschool this year.

My oldest picked up early on in our reading of the book that this was a thinly veiled commentary on a real revolution. Unfortunately, the one he picked was the French Revolution. We have not studied the Russian Revolution yet so that was not on his radar. And I do think the kids couldn’t see much past the name Napoleon (the main pig character for most of the story).

This did, however, give us a good place to start our discussion. I opened it up by telling them that Orwell had intended to comment on the Russian Revolution and posed the question of how the book might apply to all, or at least many, revolutions. To start with this was meant as a rhetorical question; we would return to it at the end of our discussion.

Form there we moved to the notes I had made from our guide book, Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.

I gave background information on the Russian Revolution (see notes below for details). We talked about which characters corresponded to which historical figures or groups. We also talked about what people in a monarchy (like under the tsars in Russia) can do if they don’t like how they are being ruled (answer: not much). We talked about why the author used animals as the main characters and why he used different species. We also reviewed what an allegory is and talked about how this book fit that definition. Compared to our previous literary attempts, the most surprising thing this time was that we followed my notes almost exactly and that the kids gave the expected answers (based on Deconstructing).

We then moved on to ask who the protagonist was. My youngest made a play for Snowball, at least at the beginning, but they all pretty quickly agreed on Napoleon. His being a bad guy was no obstacle in their minds. They also agreed pretty readily that the action he was advancing was his own aggrandisement (okay, no one used the word “aggrandisement”), contrary to the action he said he was pushing forward (equality for animals). Identifying the antagonist was a problem, however. The fact tat we couldn’t identify one character who successfully opposed Napoleon led us to some important conclusions. Like that nobody stood up to him. My youngest again was pretty quick to see that Boxer could have because he had the strength to do so. They even realized on their own that he was not afraid of the dogs (aka the secret police), just as Deconstructing had said. With just a little prompting, they also saw that Benjamin had the brains to know what was going on but that he just didn’t care enough to interfere, but that if he had and had gotten Boxer on his side they could have done something.

Lastly we asked what the author was trying to communicate. The consensus was “you shouldn’t trust your government.” I thought this was a slightly interesting twist on things. I expected more along the lines of “if you see something, say something.” But I guess I am raising a crop of little radicals ;).

Finally, to wrap things up, I returned to the revolutions we have studied. We talked about the French and Russian Revolutions and how they did have a lot in common – noble ideals, followed by lots of bloodshed and one guy who is supposed to rule alongside others but ends up seizing power all for himself. Then I asked why the American Revolution turned out differently. The two conclusions we arrived at were that our distance from the motherland and the (former) king helped and that George Washington’s character was pivotal. Seriously, the more I study, the more I am impressed with this guy. He could so easily have made himself a dictator; many expected him to and assumed he would, but he did not.

Here then are the questions and notes I had to go on in leading the discussion:

  • This story is about Russia in 1917 when the country was ruled by a tsar. What is a tsar? (ans: a king).
  • Is a king elected? (no)
  • Can a king’s subjects tell him what to do or ask for a new king? (no)
  • The tsar in 1917 was rich but didn’t do any work. Who is that like? (Farmer Jones; there are a lot of clear-cut answers in this book; that, I suppose, is the nature of allegory)
  • What if the tsar was mistreating people? How could they make him stop?
  • A group called the Bolsheviks rallied the poor, kicked out the tsar and declared Russia free and all Russians equal. Read p. 77 of Deconstructing to them re the events that followed.
  • Why did Orwell use all different animals and not just pigs? (to represent different groups in society)
  • Who did Moses the Raven represent? What is Sugar Candy mountain? (the church, heaven)
  • Who did Boxer represent? (workers) Benjamin? (intellectuals)
  • Define intellectuals – see Deconstructing p.78. The key point here is that they were theoretical thinkers and didn’t contribute much practically.
  • This is an allegory. What is that? Where have we seen that before? (Perhaps you have read Pilgrim’s Progress or others you can refer to.)
  • Why does the author use animals instead of people?
  • Who is the protagonist? What action is he trying to move forward?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • Does good triumph in this book?
  • What is the moral?
  • Why couldn’t the other animals stop Napoleon?
  • Why did the author write this book?
  • Is there anybody who knew what was going on? (Benjamin) What could/should he have done?

And that’s Animal Farm. I hope to do more books next school year and to incorporate other ideas as well, like those I am getting from How to Read Literature like a Professor.


The Resurrection You Never See

Dear Reader,

As a side note to my recent posts on Genesis 6:1-4, I had a thought about the New Testament as well. Specifically, my thought is about our salvation and the resurrection. When I spoke of Genesis 1-11, I said that these chapters are about our (humanity’s) creation and fall. We tend to think these things are covered in Genesis 1-3, but my own opinion is that the story is not done until we are through with Genesis 11. Similarly, in the New Testament the story of redemption is not accomplished all at once. It really begins with Christ’s conception and birth and is not completed until He rises from the dead. Of course just as there was a moment when mankind fell — when Adam ate the fruit — there is a moment when salvation is accomplished. If we have to pick one moment, it is when Jesus is raised from the dead.

And then I was thinking that there is  a very odd piece to this story. It is this: the most important moment in the story of redemption, the very cornerstone of human history, is completely unwitnessed by humans. Wait, wait, you say, of course there are witnesses to the resurrection. That’s really the whole point of Acts, isn’t it? The disciples who knew Christ go about and tell everyone what they saw. Their testimony is based on the fact that they are eyewitnesses. Our faith is based on the fact that they are eyewitnesses. But think about it — what did they witness? They witnessed the resurrected Christ. They saw him dead and they saw him risen. But at the actual moment of resurrection there is no one there. We see Him die and we see him buried and then the next thing we know the tomb is empty and the stone is rolled away.

It’s pretty weird if you think about it. This is the climax of all human history — of all history period — and yet no one saw it. No one but God Himself was there. It is shrouded from our eyes by a veil still. We see what comes before and we see what come after but that moment is not for our eyes. I can’t help wondering why. Is it like when Moses could only see God’s back go past; is it too holy for us to look upon? Is it so even those closest to Jesus could only say they were saved by faith — blind faith, unseeing faith? What do you think?


Book Review: How to Read Literature Like Professor

Dear Reader,

I have mentioned this book in some earlier posts (see here and here), but I have now finished it and wanted to give a proper review. How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster is definitely going on my “recommend” list. As its title implies, Foster shows you how to approach a work of literature as he, a college English professor, would. His goal, as he says, is not to deconstruct texts but to help you enjoy and understand them more. And you can really tell that he enjoys them. I got the impression as I read this book that here is someone who loves what he does and is trying to share it with others so they can enjoy it too. Now I will say that one man’s literary analysis can be another man’s deconstruction so there may be some who find that he goes too far. Foster comes to the works he discusses with a lot of background knowledge of the writers themselves and also of the history of literature. It can seem intimidating and I can easily see how someone without all that knowledge would find their head swimming and think “where is he getting all this?” and “how does he know it means that?” But I do think Foster’s goal is, as he says, to show why his approach is valuable and to give the likes of you and me some understanding of how to do what he does and some of the tools to do so.

Most of the book is spent on short chapters with topics like “It’s all about Shakespesre” and “Fairytales” ad “Roads.” Basically Foster goes through a lot of things that can influence writers or can be common themes or symbols one will find in literature. He tries to show how to identify these things and how to begin thinking about what they mean. He uses lots of examples and occasionally, though perhaps not as often as I would like, gives “how to”s. This is a huge, really limitless topic, however, and he is only going to be able to do so much. So one may come out of it not feeling a lot more equipped. I hope, though, that you will come out of it as I did, having a greater appreciation for this way of approaching literature and wanting to be able to do so. Beyond that, I think there is only so much Foster or anyone can add. At a certain point one just needs to start reading and reading and reading and with some thought hopefully connections will be made.

I think a stumbling block for some may be in the very premise of this book, that is, in the why of it all. So I would like to spend a minute on the why. Rather than rehash Foster’s arguments (go get the book and you can read those for yourself), I would like to say why I liked this book. Foster’s approach resonated with me because I found it akin to two things I am already involved in. The first is how we interpret the Bible. When reading biblical stories, one of the first things I often ask my kids is “what else in the Bible does this remind you of?” In biblical interpretation we call these types and antitypes. They are things like the flood and baptism but also the flood and baptism and the crossing of the Red Sea and Joshua parting the Jordan and Elijah parting the Jordan. God seems to use the same patterns again and again. A new reader will not see all things as being related but they are. The more we read our Bibles, the more we will be able to make such connections and from them we will learn ideas. Foster takes this same approach and extends it to all literature (and the biblical themes and symbols are also a big part of what affects other literature as well). It seems daunting because the Bible at least is self-contained and Foster is really looking at all of literature. No one will ever be able to take it all in, but the more one has read and knows, the more he will be able to read like a professor (as Foster’s title says).

The second reason Foster’s apprach resonated with me is that it seems to fit so well with a Charlotte Mason approach to education. CM’s philosophy is about making connections and that it exactly what Foster is trying to do – to make connections between disparate texts. It is also about ideas and that is what Foster is after as well; he asks what the author’s ideas are by looking beyond the surface of what is written. I think too that if this approach is done well one can’t help but form relationships with the materials and the minds behind them which is also very CM.

No book (other than the Bible) is perfect so I will be nitpicky and tell you that there were some things I wished for in this book. I wish there was more of a how-to. Foster does go through lots of examples but I wished there were more specific techniques given. I don’t honetsly know if there are more specific techniques that could be given, but I know I wished for them. I also wondered to what degree his approach could be applied to non-Western literature. Foster alludes to this problem but it seemed like a lot of what he looked at was based on Greek mythology, and Bible and Christian symbolism so I did wonder how all this would carry over into other cultures. Lastly, Foster seems to have his pet authors. I got a little tired of hearing about DH Lawrence and Toni Morrison.

Overall though this is a book I was really glad to have read. I hope to incorporate its ideas into our homeschool and perhaps will even make my kids read parts of it someday (carefully selected parts because actually Foster deals with a lot of adult themes – so read carefully!).


Recipe: Low-Fat, Low-Carb Honey Mustard Sauce

Dear Reader,

Just a quick recipe to share today. This is my low fat, low carb honey mustard sauce. I like to put it on roasted potatoes or to throw it in a pot with sausage and greens, onions, cabbage, etc. Because of the molasses it is not no carb so if you are using it in a THM S setting you will want to make sure you don’t overdo the molasses.

Low fat, low carb Honey mustard sauce


1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp xylitol

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tsp molasses (you can up this to as much as 1 tbsp in a E meal)

All the ingredients except the mustard

All the ingredients except the mustard


Mix all ingredients. That’s it! I told you it was easy

Ta-da! Sauce!

Ta-da! Sauce!


The Meaning of Genesis 6:1-4 (and Genesis 1-11)

Dear Reader,

This is the fifth and final part of my series on Genesis 6:1-4. I recommend reading them in order; the earlier parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

First a review of what I have said thus far:

  • The Nephilim mentioned in the first verses of Genesis 6 are not necessarily the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men. I rather think they are not.
  • There is no good evidence that the Nephilim survived much beyond the time they are mentioned (i.e. the flood).
  • The Nephilim were notable in some way and may have been giants. They were certainly thought to be so by later peoples.
  • The sons of God mentioned in Genesis 6 are God’s holy angels. They are not fallen angels. They did mate with human women who bore them children.
  • This is not a bad or a sinful action. It is not condemned by the biblical text.
  • The offspring of these unions were human but were remarkable. They are called “mighty men” and “men of renown.”

I realize that this last point, the nature of the offspring, is not one I have spent much time on. I do not have a whole lot to add about them. I have said previously that they seem to be described favorably; being mighty and renowned are good things in the Bible. I would add that though their parentage was mixed, the Bible implies that the offspring were human by calling them “men of renown.”

While I feel that my interpretation makes the most sense in terms of how the phrase “sons of God” is used and what it can mean biblically, I know that this can pose some difficulties for us. Why, we may wonder, did God allow this mating to happen? And how can they possibly fit into His plan?

To begin to answer those questions, I’d like to turn to Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. Hopefully, you are familiar with this story. Mankind decides to all work together to build a tower to reach the heavens. God looks at them, sees their pride and their intentions, says that if they have thus begin to work together nothing will be impossible for them, and then He confuses their languages and scatters them through the earth.

I think there are a lot of similarities between Genesis 11 and our few verses of Genesis 6. In both humanity aspires to something too high for it (there does not actually seem to be a lot of choice in the matter on humanity’s part in Genesis 6 but I think the parallel is still there) and God’s reaction is to further limit mankind in some way. In Genesis 11 He confuses their language and scatters them, and in Genesis 6 He limits their lifespan. Both these stories also make us uncomfortable because they seem to imply that God was not in complete control or that He was threatened by what His creatures did.

What I’d like to suggest is that in Genesis 1-11 we are in somewhat of a different era. If I say these texts are mythological, I hope you will not misunderstand me. I do not mean that they are not true, but that they serve the role of myth in a society which is to speak of origins and to show how things came to be the way they are. We tend to think that humanity becoming what we know it to be all happened within Genesis 1-3—there was creation and then there was the fall and that’s how we got to be the way we are. But while there was a moment when mankind in Adam fell, I think the fall is in some ways a longer descent. There were immediate consequences (Adam and Eve knew they were naked, for instance) and there were almost immediate consequences (God’s curses happen soon but not immediately after), but I think there are also some consequences which took a little while. For example, we see in Genesis 4 with the Cain and Abel story a deepening of the sin and a further movement away from the Garden. There is no denying that with lifespans of up to 969 years that the people of Genesis 5 were not quite like us. So my basic idea is just this: that the first chapters of the Bible are there to tell us how the world and we, its inhabitants and caretakers, came to be the way we are. It’s really a prologue to all that comes later. But while many of the questions of “why are things the way they are?” get answered in Genesis 1-3, it is really the whole first chunk of Genesis through chapter 11 that answers this question. And there are questions to be answered and issues to be resolved after Genesis 3.

But there is a little more to it as well. It is not just that our questions don’t all get answered until Genesis 11 is complete. There is also a fluidity to the world until then. It is not fully established as we know it until after Babel. Things happen in Genesis 1-11 that can’t happen later. God goes for strolls on the earth. Adam and Eve see Him face to face (after they have sinned!) and are not struck dead or otherwise affected. Angels mate with humans. People live extraordinary lifespans. People build towers to heaven. There are (possibly) giants about. While I believe God knew the end from the beginning, from our human perspective at least, not everything was decided yet in these early days of creation. And a lot of what is not decided is about who mankind is and what he is capable of.

Let me tell you the story in another way: In the beginning, God created a beautiful and good world. As the pinnacle of His creation He made something called Man. This Man was very good, but he was also somewhat ambiguous; it was not yet clear what he would be. Would he be immortal? Would he be wise? Would he continue to be morally good? God also made a companion for Man whom he names Woman (Genesis 1-2). Sadly, Man did not remain morally good. He gained a kind of knowledge — the knowledge of good and evil, but at the same time he lost his hope of immortality. His life and the tasks he had been assigned (tending the earth and being fruitful) also got a lot harder (Genesis 3). And from there things just got worse; his offspring became even more sinful, if that were possible, and moved further from their original home (Genesis 4). But there was still positive growth too. Though sin increased, so did knowledge. Man’s descendants learned to farm and herd animals, to make music and to work with metals. Though not immortal, they lived really long periods of time (Genesis 5).

So at this point in our story we can say that there were good things, but there was also this one overwhelming problem: Man had fallen into sin, become subject to death, and been separated from his Creator. So we begin to ask how can this problem be solved? Is there an antidote to Adam’s sin? In Genesis 6:1-4, we get one of the first attempts to solve this problem. Man is separated from God, but what if he can get back a little of that divine-ness? What if earthly man intermarries with heavenly beings? Can he become immortal again? Can he become good again? For us this may not seem a  huge question but remember in almost every other ancient culture, there are stories of gods and men intermarrying and of demi-gods being born. So it might seem more natural to ancient peoples than to us to ask if we can get back to perfection by intermarrying with heavenly beings. The biblical answer is, of course, no. The offspring of these unions, while impressive, are still human. And not only are they mortal, God uses this opportunity to shorten human lifespans even further, setting their limit at 120 years. And, last but certainly not least, Man is still sinful (Genesis 6:5-6).

The first attempt having failed, other methods are tried. Maybe if God wipes out everyone who is not righteous and starts over, maybe Man can do better this time. He tries this in the rest of Genesis 6 through Genesis 9. But I almost think the main point of the story is what we get at the end of Genesis 9 — have been called righteous and brought through the flood, having seen the power of God, what is the first thing Noah does? He gets drunk and indecent. The aftermath of the flood is often called a recreation, but this creation and this Man are not better than the first ones. Starting over is clearly not the answer either.

But what if all the people work together and try really hard? What if they cooperate and pour al their energies in one direction? Surely then they can reach to heaven? Nope. Genesis 11 tells us that this also is not the answer. (This, by the way, is what it seems many modern people think; if we could just get along, if we could just come up with the right program, then we can solve all our problems.)

At this point our story does not have  a very happy ending. But this is not the ending; it is only the beginning. Genesis 1-11 have got us to the point where mankind is as we know him — his life is short, his language is confused and he is scattered. He is also fallen, sinful and at a distance from his Creator. God  has shown us through the events of Genesis 1-11 all the things that will not work — we can’t marry into holiness; we can’t start over; we can’t try harder and work together. The answer has to come not from “we” doing anything but from God Himself, and that is what He’s just about to do. Starting in Genesis 12, we see God’s plan of salvation begin. It’s a long one. It takes all through the rest of the Old Testament and then through the gospels.

The point then of Genesis 1-11 is to show us what we should have had, to show us how we lost it, and to show us how we can’t get it back by ourselves.

To return to our main text, Genesis 6:1-4, the point of this very brief and obscure episode seems to be to show us that we can’t just remarry into perfection and immortality. While the Babel story in Genesis 11 tells us that human efforts are not enough, this story tells us that no one else can come from outside and help us either. Angels can’t do it. Aliens can’t do it. The gods of the nations can’t do it.  My feeling is that God not only limited human lifespans at this time but that He also put an end to any future mixing between His heavenly and earthly creatures. He allowed it once just to show us that it was not the answer, but what happened in Genesis 6:1-4 could not happen again.

On final thought: you have probably heard that the confusion engendered by Babel was undone at Pentecost when people from all nations heard the gospel in their own languages. I would add that after Pentecost, what was not possible at Babel became possible. Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, people of different nations and tongues did manage to work together and to form one people which spans national boundaries. But what about our text, Genesis 6:1-4? When heaven and earth first came together an offspring were born, the results were, if you will pardon the term, somewhat abortive. While the offspring were impressive, they were mere men and the end of the whole episode was a shortening of human life and a further divide between the heavenly and earthly realms. But later on in history, we see this undone as well — Heaven and earth once again come together and have an Offspring. And while He is human, He is also divine and He brings with Him not just long days but eternal life. The curtain which had been coming down throughout Genesis 1-11 between the heavenly and the earthly has been lifted. Once again we don’t see all the results of that right away; 2000 years later we still don’t see them completely, but they are nonetheless real.



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