Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

My Literature List

Dear Reader,

Like a lot of you, I have collected lists of books, some form here, some from there. I had one document but it was very rough and unedited. Promoted by a friend, I took the time recently to edit it as best I can. I have tried to keep this list for books that we would consider literature/fiction/free reading/read alouds, but a few non-fiction books have crept onto the list. The line between history and historical fiction is a particularly fuzzy one.

There are many authors who have written more than one good book; some are quite prolific. For the most part, I have not listed every work so if you see an author listed here and then find other books of theirs, you may want to check them out. I have also tried to indicate in the “notes” column if I know the author has more to offer.

The “code” column relates to who in my family has read a book; you can ignore it.

I have gone back and forth on “level” and opted in the end for the simplest divisions. I have four main categories: picture (books), elementary, middle and high school (HS). Picture books are the most obvious. Elementary books are intended to be those an elementary student could read on their own. This includes a wide range from easy readers to chapter books to slightly more substantial but still relatively simple works. Middle is almost a catch-all between elementary and high school. Books on the high school category are placed there for various reasons relating to both reading level and content.  I also have middle+ and HS+ for those books which seem at the upper end of their age brackets; again this may be about content and not just reading level.

One last note: don’t be bound too much by levels. If a book is truly living, it will likely be enjoyed by all ages so your middle schooler can still listen to a picture book. And when read aloud, kids can understand and appreciate books well above their level. Some of our favorite read alouds were books that I thought were well above my kids at the time — I’ve read Don Quixote and Robin Hood and Dickens to elementary students to good effect.

I will try to update this list as we find more books we like. There are a few on the list which we haven’t used but which I have heard of so much that I felt they could stay (we never read Pinocchio, for instance).

Here then is the list:

My Big Literature List (opens a google doc)

If you have suggestions or corrections, let me know. It may be there are books I forgot (I think there must be a lot!) or haven’t heard of and we are always looking for new choices.

Happy reading!

Nebby

Great Quote on Literature

Dear Reader,

I found this in Catch-22 (which ironically I was reading in preparation for making my high schooler read and write an essay on it):

“He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it.” (Joseph Heller, Catch-22, p. 78)

Kind of makes you rethink literary analysis, huh?  . . .but my son still needs to write his essay 😉

Nebby

 

10th Grade Lit: American Bestsellers

Dear Reader,

For 10th grade literature this year I had my oldest do a course on Great American Bestsellers. (You can read about all our Charlotte Mason-y homeschool plans here.)

The idea for this course is from The Great Courses. I based it on and used their audio series of that title. The class actually includes many more books than we were able to do but I picked those that I thought would be the best fit for us. For each one I had my son read the book. After he had finished I gave him an essay type question to answer and then we listened to the lecture together. I also read each of the books. Some I had read in my youth but had a sketchy memory of and I wanted them to be fresh in my mind so I could make sense of his essays.

A couple of notes on The Great Courses: We have used a few of their products. Their quality varies with the professor who teaches them. I tried and rejected another one of their American Lit courses as being dry and unnecessarily mature in content. I bought the CDs but they also have audio downloads and your local library may also have copies (mine has quite a lot of them). They also have frequent sales so if you are in no hurry, wait for one. You could do the course I had my son do without the lectures. I don’t really see any good reason to spend extra money for the video version for this subject. The lectures are each 30 minutes and we did them on the way to his bagpipe lessons when we had to be in the car anyway.

The books covered by The Great Courses’ class are: The Bay Psalm Book, Common Sense, The Last of the Mohicans, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, Little Women, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Virginian, The House of Mirth, The Jungle, Main Street, The Maltese Falcon, The Good Earth, Gone with the Wind, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Woman Warrior, and John Adams.

There is no way we could have made it through all these books in a year. I eliminated some for not being fiction, others for being long and/or not of likely interest to my son. The books he ended up reading were: Common Sense (not a book or fiction but a short selection to get our feet wet), Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Maltese Falcon, Of Mice and Men (substituted for the much longer Grapes of Wrath), To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catch-22. Huck Finn I actually let him do as an audiobook but he still had to write a paper and listen to the lecture. Little Women, the Last of the Mohicans and Gone with the Wind we watched the movie versions of and listened to the lectures but he did not have to write on. I might make my daughter read them when her turn comes though, but I didn’t think my son could make it through two long girly books. The Good Earth he started but just couldn’t seem to get through so much to my chagrin I let him drop it. Catcher in the Rye I started to (re)read and remembered that it is pretty much annoying teens sitting around talking and using bad language. I hated it and didn’t want to keep reading it so I dropped it. We also listened to the lecture on The Bay Psalm Book. We are already pretty familiar with Psalters so there was really nothing to read here.

Here then are the questions we used for each book we did do. The Great Courses gives sample questions in the guide that comes with the lectures. Occasionally I used these. More often I googled essay questions and selected and/or modified ones I liked.

Common Sense

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t seem to find the exact question I had him answer on this one. I think it was along the lines of: What arguments does Paine give to justify his cause (rebellion)? Are these arguments convincing?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:

Uncle Tom

George Harris

Augustine St. Clare

Miss Ophelia

Little Eva

Topsy

the Hallidays (the Quakers)

Simon Legree

2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?

Ragged Dick

What does the author, Horatio Alger, value? What would he say one needs to get ahead? Give specific examples from the book to support your position.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In Ragged Dick we touched upon the moral system of the author– in particular what he views as good behavior and what he sees as the consequences of good behavior.

The situation is a lot more complicated in Huck Finn. Discuss the moral world of the book and its author. The following questions may help you think about this and can figure in your essay (but don’t have to if you don’t find them helpful):
1. Think about lying in the book. Are there good and bad lies (to the characters)? What defines the difference?
2. What about the morality of helping an escaped slave? How does Huck view it? Tom? Why do they do what they do? Who is more moral?
3. Where does Huck draw the lines between good and bad? What actions (his own or of other characters) does he approve of or disapprove of?
4.  where in the book do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? You might want to answer this question for a few different characters.

5. What do you think Mark Twain’s view is? In Ragged Dick the author’s opinion was obvious. Is it here? Is there one character that you think Twain would agree with? Does he even give his own view? Or does he maybe just criticize others? Is he saying anything about society’s views?

Again your essay doesn’t need to address all these points. Think about them and see what you can come up with and then link it all together in one essay on the general topic “the moral world of Huck Finn.” I would like you to touch on Mark Twain’s own view though if there is anything we can discern about it.

The Maltese Falcon

It’s one question — answer the main one and weave in the other ones if they are useful: Write an essay about what motivates Sam Spade. Does he demonstrate commitment to his profession? If so, how? Is he a hero or an antihero? Are his motives the same as the other characters’? Are they nobler?

Of Mice and Men

Why does George stay with Lennie? Why does he do what he does at the end of the book? Think about each of the minor characters. What information or insight do they contribute to the story? These seem like 2 question but I think they relate. Try to weave them into one essay.

To Kill a Mockingbird

TBD

Catch-22

Is Yossarian crazy? How do he and the other characters deal with the difficult situation they are in? Pick a few characters and discuss how they deal with the hardships or war and life in the military. Who do you think handles it best? Why? Does anyone have a sane response?

 

Living Books: Victorian England

Dear Reader,

We took a slight detour from our study of American history recently do look briefly at Victorian England. I’m amazed by Queen Victoria, how she managed to have a healthy marriage, a whole passel of kids, and run a country and win the love of her people. She was quite a woman.

When it comes to kids’ books set in or about Victoria’s reign, there is no shortage of wonderful choices. In fact, there really are too many to choose from and we were dealing with a fairly short time-frame.

Let me start by talking about some of the books we didn’t read — though they are some of the best kids’ books ever. The cream of the crop, of course, is Charles Dickens. We have actually been reading Great Expectations as our lunch-time read aloud (a wonderful practice that I highly recommend, by the way; meals make for captive audiences). We have also read “A Christmas Carol,” Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield so I didn’t feel we needed to add any more Dickens at this time. But our goal is a Dickens’ book a year and that is another practice I would highly recommend. Don’t wait too late either. Kids can appreciate the stories earlier than you think. My youngest was 8 when we first read a whole Dickens novel and she was able to enjoy the story despite its length.

Speaking of Dickens, you might also want to check out Dodger by Terry Pratchett in which Charles Dickens is a character. I have only read a few of his books, but Pratchett is becoming a favorite author. Dodger is one I read for myself some time back. It is a wee bit raunchy though the morals of the main character are good. It’s probably better for high schoolers more because of content than reading level.

Next up is a category I am calling “wonderful authors but they are apparently actually Edwardian.” In this group we can include Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, and E. Nesbit of The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet and many more classic children’s books. Because we have read a lot of these in the past and because they technically aren’t quite the right period, we didn’t do any this time (with one exception from Nesbit; keep reading to find out what it is).

Other books to consider on this period but which we haven’t used recently (I told you there were a lot on or from this period):

  • Books I’ve never read but which are on my to-do list: Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
  • Books I couldn’t lay my hands on: The London Child and Country Child, Dream Days by Kenneth Grahame
  • Books I have on my counter and am going to get to soon: The Eleventh Orphan by Joan Lindgard and Montmorency by Eleanor Updale
  • Books we listened to in the car which were pretty good if somewhat fanciful: the Bogle books by Catherine Jinks
  • A Victorian era author to consider: George MacDonald — lots of Christians love him. I have liked a few of his books but found others not to my taste.

Now, on to the books we actually did use. In the realm of non-fiction, I already gave  a preview when I posted on how I choose living books. You can read that post here. Of the three mentioned in that post, I chose not to us Becoming Victoria by Lynne Vallone because, as I said, it didn’t appeal to me early on. I also, regretfully, set aside Edward Ormondroyd’s All in Good Time mostly because it is the second in a series and I’d like to do the first one first.

I did end up having my ten-year-old read Sally Glendinning’s Queen Victoria: English Empress.

victoria7

She seems to have enjoyed it and to have appreciated Victoria’s family life. I think she made even more of a connection, however, with the other book she read, At Her Majesty’s Request by Walter Dean Myers:

victoria5

This is the story of an African princess who lived in Victoria’s court and seems to have been quite an engaging one.

My 12-year-old read Queen Victoria by Dierdre Shearman:

victoria13

It was not the best living book but was alright.

My 9th-grader read The True Story of Queen Victoria: British Monarch by Arthur H. Booth:

victoria12

It was a little simple for her and is probably better for middle schoolers. In her words, “it was not really a good book but it wasn’t bad either.” I should say she is a very harsh critic of anything she knows is for educational purposes.

I thought about having my daughter read In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap. It is a novel about Florence Nighingale which I loved the idea of, but a cursory examination led me to believe that it had way too much girly, romance stuff in it for my tastes.

victoria4

I had my 10th-gradre focus in a little more and read The Crimean War by James Barbary:

victoria2

I don’t know if he enjoyed it but he did a good job narrating it and it seems to have given a good introduction to the Crimean War. I consider it one of my better picks this time. I would definitely look for Barbary’s books in the future.

I read Victoria and Her Court by Virginia Schomp aloud to my younger two:

victoria9

Again, it was not really a living book. It gave us a very general overview of the queen and her time. I would say it had more about her private life than about public events.

We also squeezed in a couple of  picture books, Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan (a good author to look for) and A Picture Book of Florence Nightingale by David Adler (he has a number of such books and they tend to be good):

Both were quite enjoyable.

The big winners of my “must-read” prize, however, were two books which each give a picture of life in Victorian England.

victoria15

Long Ago When I was Young is by that old favorite author, E. Nesbit. Unlike her other books, it is not fiction but an autobiographical (or semi-so?) account of her childhood days. It is an absolutely charming book. I couldn’t put it down. I wish I had had time to read it to all my kids, but I did have my 10-year-old read it. (Note that while I said the novels of the grown-up Nesbit are Edwardian, her childhood would have been Victorian.)

victoria1

Fanny and the Monsters by Penelope Lively is actually a collection of 3 shorter stories about a young girl with a large family living in Victorian times. You get a feel for her life with nursery maids and governesses, she visits the fanous Crystal Palace, and you even get a taste for the controversy over Darwin. And it is very amusing.

Nebby

 

Literary Analysis: Lost Horizon

Dear Reader,

As we have before (for the most recent example see this post), my kids and I recently made a stab at literary analysis. We used as our guide Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (see my review here). The object of our analysis this time was Lost Horizon by James Hilton.

losthorixon1

Let me start by saying that I loved this book. I highly recommend it as a read aloud even if you are not going to analyze it (beware that I can’t discuss this book without giving some spoilers, though, so you may want to stop here and come back after you’ve read it). Lost Horizon was written in 1933, between the world wars, and reflects the concerns of the time. I have been amazed how deeply World War I seems to have impacted European thought. I think those of us living after WWII have forgotten how profoundly the Great War affected those who lived through it. (We can see this even in the writings of my beloved Charlotte Mason; I touched on that here.) The main character in this book, Conway, is a veteran of the War to End All Wars and has been changed by it. He and three others are in a plane set to evacuate them from Baskul when it is hijacked (a very modern plot device!). They are flown to a distant, unknown part of Tibet where they encounter a secret community known as Shangri-La (I never knew where that term came from, but this is it). Shangri-La, as it names has come to mean, is meant to be a kind of utopia. Its guiding principle is moderation and its purpose is to preserve human culture in the event of ultimate destruction, which its members believe is inevitable. Once there Conway meets the High Lama of the community, discovers its great secret, and is told that he and his companions will not be able to leave.  Three of the newcomers, including Conway himself, are okay with this, but one, Mallinson, is determined to leave.

I began our discussion by asking my kids whether they would have chosen to stay at Shangri-La. I got one unequivocal no, one probably yes, and two I-don’t-knows.

We then backed up and I gave a little historical context. First I asked them when the book was set. They found this pretty easy (between the wars). If your kids are younger or have had less world history then you can just fill them in. Deconstructing Penguins has a nice summary of the era on p. 106 which you can read aloud.

Next came our perennial question: Who is the protagonist? As we learned from our previous discussions, the protagonist is the one who moves the action forward, who is trying to accomplish something. He (or she) need not be the main character or a good guy. The possible answers we came up with were Mallinson, Conway, and the High Lama. After some discussion, we said that Mallinson represents one camp (anti-Shangri-La) and that Conway and the High Lama are in the opposing camp (pro-Shangri-La). I then asked what the action each is trying to move forward would be if he were the protagonist. It was suggested that the High Lama’s goal is to get a new high lama, but this was overruled in favor of the preservation of knowledge and culture. Conway, we said, wants peace but really isn’t trying to do very much. Mallinson is trying to get away from Shangri-La. We also asked what each of these three characters value. For Conway the answer was peace; the High Lama values knowledge and moderation, and Mallinson values living life, real people, and extremes (as opposed to moderation).

losthorizon2

We still didn’t have a lot of agreement on who the protagonist is or whether we would want to stay in Shangri-La. So next I asked what Shangri-La represents or how it is characterized. The child who had been vehemently against staying said that Shangri-La is about kidnapping which we had to concede is true. On the negative side of the chart, he also said that it has a bad theology (those who go there seem to lose their Christian theology), nothing new and is not creative. Shangri-La preserves but for the most part does not innovate. On the positive side we listed long life, quiet and peaceful. We also said that Shangri-La represents the old, not the new, and that it is anti-progress.

We still weren’t getting a lot of agreement nor strong opinions on what they would do (except from that one child). We tried to compare Shangri-La and the outside world. The former we said was for peace and moderation but was apathetic. The latter was about extremes, worry, destruction and  a lack of peace.

losthorizonn3

I tried to them turn the discussion to what the author was trying to say. After some discussion, we decided that we can’t really say why Conway decides to leave in the end, whether he is just helping Mallinson or whether he has been won over by Mallinson’s arguments, though it does seem that he tries after a while to return to Shangri-La. In the end, the main conclusion we reached is that the book leaves us not knowing whether Shangri-La is good or not; we are, like Conway and presumably like Hilton’s original readers, caught between the real world with all its problems and this weird but peaceful alternative. Hilton asks the questions, but he doesn’t give the answers.

The conclusion of Deconstructing Penguins was that Lost Horizon is about the balance between freedom and security which I found to be a very modern concern. We skirted around this idea in our discussion but didn’t end up there. Which just goes to show that there is no one right answer in literary analysis. Any answer you can support from the text is valid.

Nebby

Is there a place for twaddle?

Dear Reader,

Those new to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy often wonder if they should allow their children to read “fun” books. Does every book need to be a living one? Is there room in one’s life for Captain Underpants if that is what your child prefers? What about the American Girl books or Magic Treehouse?

From a favorite book of mine, The Golden Milestone by Frank Boreham, I find this answer:

“There is a place in life for the novel, the love-story, the frolic of an author’s fancy. It is sometime pleasing and restful to leave a world of facts and sail out on the fairy seas of fiction. The product of a great imagination has its irresistible charm. We are among the shallows of literature, it is true, but then we are only attempting to minister to the shallows of life. The danger comes when we settle down to the shallows; when we never hear the voice of the deep; and when the deep within us becomes neglected and starved. It is good sometimes to get away from the shallows into the deeps; to enter into fellowships with the great masters; to feel the throb of reality; and to grapple with the problems of the universe.” (from The Golden Milestone by Frank Boreham; emphasis his)

Now there are fairytales and such that we would consider living books. The test here is not whether a book is found in the fiction of non-fiction section of one’s local library. I think Boreham uses the words fiction and novel more to denote the sort of books which we would today call “popular fiction” or “beach reading.” Nonetheless, his point, I think is a good one. There is a place for our lives, and our children’s, for these easier, more purely entertaining books.  The danger comes when we do not delve deeper and challenge ourselves with deeper works.

Charlotte Mason uses the analogy fo food and I think it is (if you will pardon the pun) a fruitful one. Those quality living books are the meat and vegetable sof life; they contain the proteins and vitamins which out bodies need and without which they can’t thrive or ultimately even fiction. There are other works which are more along the lines of white bread; they are not awful for one but they would not sustain one in a healthy way for long if they were all one took in. Still others are perhaps the sweets; they may be thoroughly enjoyable and in small doses will do no ultimate harm but in large doses there is danger. And without naming names, I think there are also some which are poison; which should be avoided at all costs.

The lines we draw may be different, even within a  family there may be one child who can tolerate more “sweets” than another. For my own kids, I am willing to put up with a certain amount of Magic Treehouse; I do draw the line at Captain Underpants. But then sometimes if all a child has known is the teeth-rotting books, one must make the transition gradually. And over time, I do find that the palate changes and the child comes to enjoy the “vegetable” books and even to ask for them.

This analogy has probably already been stretched too far but indulge me in one more thought: the good advice which applies to food may also apply here — Avoid battles; Sneak in the healthy things as you can (audio books in the car are one example); Require a bite fo two of the quality nourishment every “meal”; But if you find youself cajoling and wheelding, just stop and back off; and, lastly, Be persistent.

Nebby

Another High School Homeschool Essay

Dear Reader,

I recently shared an essay my 10th grader wrote so to be fair I thought I should share one from my 9th grader as well. My point here is to show that kids who have been educated with a Charlotte Mason education and with little direct focus on writing skills can wrote coherently and even better have intelligent thoughts, that they can, as Charlotte says, form relationships with the material.

My dd is working through the American literature curriculum I developed last year for my son which can be found here. Her assignment was to discuss Thoreau’s view of government and her own responses to it. She had some preparation for this in the short answer questions I had her do as she read the passages but was here asked to pull it all together.

In Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” he says that he believes the best government is no government. He also says that the government is run by a few people with a lot of power, and those people misuse their power.

I do not think the world would go well if everyone could do whatever they liked. Thoreau is a transcendentalist and transcendentalists believe that the most pure and sacred thing is the human mind. God says that all people have sinful, imperfect minds. If you take the “pure mind” point of view, then no government might work out pretty well. Unfortunately, since people have sinful minds, then if everyone did exactly as they wanted, the world would be chaos because people would want to do sinful things and people do not naturally get along with each other.

If everyone was running around, doing exactly as they pleased, and probably fighting with each other quite a lot, then it is quite possible that a few people would become more powerful and start a government. In other words, there is a good chance that a government would start all over again.

Now, to look at the other side of the argument, there is no reason that just because there [are] laws doesn’t mean everyone obeys them. In fact, there are quite a lot of people who don’t. The laws do cut down on bad things, but they don’t completely get rid of them.

Just because the government says some thing is illegal doesn’t mean that thing is bad. There are probably quite a few laws that outlaw perfectly good things. I think most laws are necessary to keep order, like laws about not murdering, and laws about not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. There are also a good many laws that don’t really help anyone, like about not running over small children getting off a schoolbus.

Thoreau thinks that the government shouldn’t be able to tax people. There are probably some useless taxes. A lot of taxes, though, help the military, and help to set up libraries and things like that. If one had a choice whether to pay money to fund a library or not, then most people would not pay and would get to use the library for free. That is not fair.

To sum up, I think everyone should be smarter in general. The government should only do what it needs to do. People should pay only taxes that benefit them and society. Thoreau views taxes as a burden because he doesn’t experience any of the things taxes fund because he lives in a tiny cabin in the woods.

Okay, it’s not perfect. She uses the word “things” way too much for too many . . . well, er . . .things. And that last sentence probably should have been earlier on. But, she is thinking about the material and forming her own opinions. Also when I asked her how she knew transcendentalists value the human mind, she said Emerson (whom she studied previously) said so and that he was a transcendentalist too. So bonus points for that. Oh, and the bit about running over school children not hurting anyone? I didn’t teach them that. Honest.

Nebby

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