Posts Tagged ‘living books’

Living History Books, Settlement and Native Americans

Dear Reader,

Last year in our homeschool we covered the Middle Ages so this year we are up to the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration. In term one our emphasis was more global as we looked at the big ideological trends. In terms 2 and 3 we looked at the settlement of the new world and Native Americans respectively.  You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living History Books: Settlement

There are relatively few selections in these sections as I mostly had my two kids read the same books. If you are looking for books for younger kids, check out my lists from the first time we covered this period of history: this one on Colonial New England and on the Settlement of Virginia and on the Colonization of America more generally.

Sweet Land of Liberty by Charles Coffin — My oldest son actually used this book years ago when we covered settlement (see links above). It covers quite a span of time and does so fairly thoroughly without having overly long chapters. A great spine book for this period. 

Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken — I really like this book on the Puritans. I think it gives a very fair portrayal of them. 

The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster — I read this one (or sections thereof) aloud to them in our time together. Foster’s books are wonderful and are often used at younger ages but I find they still have quite a lot to tell to high schoolers. They contain a lot of info. I chose this one mainly because it gives an international perspective and brings in events in Europe (and beyond) from the time period. And frankly, I couldn’t find anything better for that.

Living History Books: Native Americans

We ended the year with a term on Native Americans and the various wars and battles involving them. I had dated going right into the Revolution but didn’t think we could miss the French-Indian Wars entirely. I had them both continue with Sweet Land of Liberty (see above).

Flames Over New England by Olga Hall-Quest — This is a nice, not too long volume on King Philip’s War. You might skip over these events if you live elsewhere but we are in new England and actually quite a lot of things around here are named for Philip. (My son took drivers’ ed at King Philip High School.)

The Struggle for a Continent by Albert Marrin –Marrin is one of my favorite authors for this age because he covers so much ground in a readable way. This one is on the French and Indian Wars. 

Nine Years Among the Indians: 1870-1879 by Herman Lehmann– I was looking for something on Native American life for each of my kids. I had my son read this one. It is about a boy who was originally kidnapped by Native Americans and later decides to stay with them, joining a couple of different tribes. Amazon had a few books with titles like this one but this seemed the most readable. 

The Tracker: The True Story of Tom Brown, Jr. by Tom Brown — My daughter expressed an interest in “how Indians know how to do what they do in the woods.” I am not sure this book is what she had in mind but I read it myself first and thought it was fabulous. It would be a great nature lore book even apart from the Native American element. The author was actually a white boy who learned Native American ways from a friend’s grandfather. There is a bit of a pantheistic/nature-is-God element but I did not think it was too obvious in this book (though it appears to be in some of his others) and I don’t worry too much about my kids getting messed up on that point at this age. 

Happy Reading!

Nebby

Living History Books, 1400-1600

Dear Reader,

Last year in our homeschool we covered the Middle Ages so this year we are up to the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration. Next term we will focus on the settlement of the New World which will take us into early American History. This term our emphasis was still more global. I am down to two students this year, a ninth- and a tenth-grader. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living History Books, 1400-1600

There are three big topics within this time frame: the Renaissance brought cultural and philosophical transformation; the Reformation changed the religious landscape; and the Age of Exploration and particularly the discovery of the New World had profound political consequences. I tried to give each of my children at least one book dealing with each of these three areas.

History: The Age of Exploration

Around the World in a Hundred Years by Jean Fritz — This is more of a middle school level book but it provides a good overview as it covers some 10-12 explorers. I had both my kids read it so I would feel that they had both at least heard of all the major figures of the period. Because each figure is given a chapter, it divides up very nicely in a typical 12-13 week term. I know some have concerns about Fritz’s portrayal of Christianity in this book in particular. Honestly at this stage of life I feel my kids have a solid enough foundation that I am not too worried about it.

Albert Marrin is one of my favorite authors for middle and high school history because he covers a lot of ground in a book on a single person. He gives you the feel for an era. A perfect example is the book my 10th grader read: Marrin’s The Sea King: Sir Francis Drake and His Times.  For something on the Americas, I also had him read Inca and Spaniard (Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru). There are a lot of good stories from this time and place and he seemed to enjoy reading them. My 9th grader read his Terror of the Spanish Main: Sir Henry Morgan and His Buccanneers. She was thrilled to read about pirates.

I also had my 9th grader read Iris Noble’s Spain’s Golden Queen Isabella which again could be a middle school book. Noble is another favorite author.

Philosophy

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The Renaissance brought a lot of new ideas. We began a study of philosophy with Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live. As I did with my older kids, I have them both read the book and watch the video series. They contain the same information but I like to reinforce it. To date, we have only gotten through the first two-thirds or so of the book but this covers the relevant portion and we plan to continue with it and to do a full-year course on philosophy next year. Schaeffer, while a wonderful resource, is mainly for us an introduction to the concept that there are ideas out there define an age and affect its art and politics.

We also read the relevant sections of Hendrik Van Loon’s The Arts. This is a wonderful, thick book of art history which also covers a fair amount of history and culture along the way. If you haven’t stumbled across it yet, I highly recommend getting a copy.

Religion

Schaeffer’s book addresses the Protestant Reformation but I also had both my children read Benjamin Wiker’s The Reformation 500 Years Later. Wiker is a favorite author of mine. I am a little more hesitant with this book. As he is Roman Catholic and I am Protestant, this is the area where our differences are most apparent. Nonetheless, The Reformation is an accessible book that covers a lot of topics and gives one a fair amount to think about. Rather than having my kids merely narrate it, I gave them a list of readings and specific questions to address for each section. Think of it more as a guided narration. You can find that assignment list here (opens a Google doc). You can find my review of the book here.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

Should We Use Textbooks?

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

I seem to be on a roll with practical posts (quite unusual for me). Last time we talked about how theology impacts our methodology in education. This time I’d like to touch on the kinds of books we use, specifically whether textbooks are a good idea.

In A Reformed Christian Perspective on Education (Grand Rapid: ChapBooks Press, 2011) Donald Oppewal argues for Christian textbooks. The point he is making is that Christian schools need Christian textbooks. He is not making an argument for textbooks as opposed to other kinds of books or materials. Nonetheless, his comments give us some insight into how textbooks operate.

Whereas secular textbooks, such as are used in the public schools, assume a materialistic, godless worldview, Christian textbooks “contain many explicit examples of faith integration” (p. 229). Oppewal gives the example of a literature textbook which gives “several pages of introduction” in which “the student is given biblical explanations of the importance of choosing properly and making careful decisions” (p. 228). Though the stories themselves are given without commentary, they are carefully selected. Likewise, the civics book provides a certain view of the role of government in society. The science books are laced with a “type of commentary [which] is repeated throughout the series” (p. 229). Thus in both their selection of material and in the commentary at the beginning and perhaps throughout the book, a certain viewpoint is being given and the child is being guided (to say the least) into how to think about the material.

Because books are not neutral, and texbooks themselves are curated collections, we should approach them with discernment. “More parents and teachers than ever before,” Oppewal tells us, “are realizing that textbooks contain not just bare information but also have a point of view, a perspective on the subject” (p. 231).   In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We need to recognize that textbooks are no more neutral than any other book, and, as they choose material and put it in a framework, so we need to be discerning in choosing them and in how we use them.

There may be times and situations in which textbooks are our best available choice. Certainly for some subjects, such as math or foreign language, they seem quite appropriate. But there is also an unnecessary building up of layers here. The parents choose a school. The school chooses teachers. The teacher chooses a textbook, the content of which has itself been choosen by someone else, possibly by a committee of people and a number of editors. The texbook presents not just material but a certain take on that material. And perhaps the teacher also gives her own spin to the whole thing by choosing which parts of the book to use and by adding her own commentary. That’s a lot of people and a lot of minds between the parent and the student and between the material and the student.

I would like suggest that we take a page from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and eliminate as many of these layers as possible. In Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen speaks of the “pecularities of authorship” (p. 103; see this earlier post). I don’t know how the textbooks Oppewal advocates were written, but many have multiple authors not to mention editors. An individual gives a particular view and communicates ideas in a way that a committee cannot. As Esolen says later: “Five people can have a conversation. A thousand people can only make noise” (p. 206). The more people we invite into the conversation that is our children’s education, the more chaotic it becomes.

Charlotte Mason believed that the main thing in education was to put children in contact with other minds. Ideas, she believed, are caught from one mind to another. Given contact with other minds, children do not need a lot of commentary from us which only serves to interrupt the conversation (so to speak):

“Given a book of literary quality suitable to their age and children will know how to deal with it without elucidation . . . they will tell you the whole thing with little touches of individual personality in the narrative.” (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 204; see this post)

Thus Mason urges teachers to engage in “[t]he art of standing aside” (School Education, p. 54):

“Half the teaching one sees and hears is more or less obtrusive. The oral lesson and the lecture, with their accompanying notes, give very little scope for the establishment of relations with great minds and various  minds . . .” (Ibid., p. 54)

There is still a role for the teacher. We know that not everything in this world is good and true and beautiful so we must choose what minds to put our children in contact with. Those minds come with their own built-in worldviews, whether they themselves are aware of them or not, so discernment is needed.

Whether — or perhaps we had better say when — we expose our children to minds whose views differ from our own is a point which requires some insight. As I have discussed on a number of occasions (see this post), as reformed people we do believe that there is some measure of truth which is revealed to non-Christians. We do not exclude them from the conversation. I would like to propose a scheme in which there is a gradual opening up. For the youngest children we are probably not going to choose as many resources with views that differ from our own. But as they age, it is perfectly appropriate to expose them to a wider variety of materials. Though Mason was opposed to much commentary from the teacher, viewing it as a barrier between the student and the mind behind his book, some commentary, infrequently given, can guide students into being able to discern the underlying assumptions behind a book (or commercial or movie or song or …).

Better yet — we can provide books which themselves show us how to identify underlying assumptions. Two I would recommend are Grant Horner’s Meaning at the Movies and Francis Schaeffer’s How Then Should We Live. Though the former is about movies, it is a good introduction to how to think about the assumptions behind an artistic creation. The latter is a classic on how large trends in western thought have shaped culture. Another book I found quite helpful is Deconstructing Penguins. This is not a book for the student to read (though an older one certainly could). It describes a book club for younger children and how the authors walked them through identify protagonists and antagonists, point-of-view, and also world views in various classic children’s books. I used this book to construct a kind of mini-course for my own children. Using books that were too easy for them I think actually worked quite well. We could concentrate on the ideas behind the books without getting bogged down.

Books are powerful things. Through them we encounter other minds which may be separated from us by time and space. We believe there is good and evil in this world so we do not want to give our children free rein to all that is out there, especially at a young age before they have developed any discernment of their own. But we do want them to be able to interact with these other minds. Our tendency, I think, is too often to jump in and interrupt this conversation. Textbooks are simply not as good a choice a living books by one author who knows and loves his subject. They add layers, making the conversation more like a game of telephone. They bring more voices in and they mute the original voices by taking them out of context. If we want to use textbooks, Oppewal is perfectly right that Christian ones are preferable. But there is even a better way — actual, real, living books. In the words of Henry Zylstra,

” . . . the teacher and the textbooks are but guides and interpreters of traditions of life and thought which are embodied in book.” [Testament of Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958) p. 84]

Nebby

Mason vs. Lockerbie: Two Views of the Teacher

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here. More recently we have been looking at what various reformed thinkers have to say on education. You can find the intro to this this series within a series here. 

I have been reading through D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia: The Habitual Vision of Greatness (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design, 2005). While there is a lot I like about his philosophy of education, our main point of difference, as I discussed in this post, is in how we view the role of the teacher. For Lockerbie, as for his mentor Gaebelein, the Christian teacher is paramount.

Though I do not accept the exalted place Lockerbie gives to the teacher, I would like to take a few minutes to look at some of the qualifications he lists and to compare them to those Charlotte Mason gives.

Because the character of the teacher is so central to his philosophy, Lockerbie demands and expects a lot of them. Teachers, he says, must always be learning (p. 92). They should know their subject matter inside and out and be able to fuse it with their faith (p. 147). They should love their subject (p. 94).

In contrast, this is what Charlotte Mason says:

“Living ideas can be derived only from living minds, and so it occasionally happens that a vital spark is flashed from teacher to pupil. But this occurs only when the subject is one to which the teacher has given original thought. In most cases the oral lesson, or the more advanced lecture, consists of information got up by the teacher from various books, and imparted in language, a little pedantic, or a little commonplace, or a little reading-made-easy in style. At the best, the teacher is not likely to have vital interset in, and, consequently, original thought upon, a wide range of subjects.” [School Education (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008) p. 121]

Note that the standard is a little higher here. The teacher able to communicate ideas is not just someone who knows her subject but has had original thought on it. By this standard, there may be a lot of university professors, those who do their own research and writing, who qualify, but the average school teacher does not have the leisure, or, sadly, often the intellectual ability and training, to do so.

The truth is, when there is someone who knows their subject and is passionate about it, this comes through, and even a subject one is not inherently interested in becomes fascinating when they talk about it. This is a lot to expect of every teacher in every class they have to teach, but that’s okay. The wonderful thing about us humans is that we are able to record our thoughts so that another human, even thousands of years later, can read them. In this way our teachers are not only those standing in front of us, but those who communicate to us through books. A given school may have a wonderful chemistry or English or history teacher. Perhaps it even has all three. But through the power of the written word — and it is quite powerful — the students get not just one good teacher but dozens on any given subject. That is why I would argue, with Mason, that teachers not read and distill the materials for their students but that they put their students in direct contact with these great minds through their writings.

Nebby

Living Books on Asia for Middle and High School

Dear Reader,

The first two terms of this year we were studying the Middle Ages (see this list). That was really all the time we needed on that so I thought I’d use the third and final term to look at various Asian cultures. I had each of my three currently-homeschooled children pick a culture and in our time together we looked at Asia more broadly. If you are looking for books for younger kids, I had an earlier booklist on China here and some books on the Boxer rebellion in this list. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Books on China

 

My 9th grader studied China. For the historical side of things I had him read The Pageant of Chinese History by Elizabeth Seeger. This is a lovely older book. For historical fiction he read Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. It is the story of a young boy who becomes an apprentice coppersmith and has various adventures. Based on his narratuons, it didn’t seem like the best book, though I am finding he is a poor narrator for fiction especially so that could be just him. I also threw in The Long Rampart by Robert Silverberg because I love this author. There are various smaller books on Chinese inventions and the like. I had him read Made in China by  Suzanne Williams. It is probably not the most living book — it is short readings on a variety of subjects — but it fit our purpose. Other, slightly lower level books, which are similar are The Technology of Ancient China, Arts and Crafts in Ancient China, and Science in Ancient China.

Other books to consider:

The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert De Jong — a wonderful histocial fiction book but we had already done it as a read-aloud. Probably middle school level or even upper elementary, though imo living books are ageless.

Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Yin Chang Compestine — We had also already read this one and it is about communist China, not ancient China, but it was quite good.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck — a classic I usually have my high schoolers read for literature. I didn’t think my 9th grader was up to it. Does have some adult content.

Li Lun, Lad of Courage — I don’t know much about this historical fiction book.

Other authors with historical fiction books on China: Katherine Paterson, Laurence Yep, Gloria Whelan (my girls have loved this author but her books do tend to be girl-y)

Missionary biographies of Eric Liddell, Gladys Alward and others. We just didn’t have time for more. I also recently read The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun. See my blurb on that here.

Books on Japan

My 8th grader studied Japan. I couldn’t find one book on the history that covered the whole period so she read Japan Under the Shoguns: 1185-1868 by Mavis Pilbeam and Japan from Shogun to Sony: 1543-1984 by John R. Roberson. She also read Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun by Rhoda Blumberg. This book is often on lists for younger kids but is a good one and we hadn’t had a chance to use it yet. I found fewer books on the culture and science of Japan but had her read Technology of Ancient Japan by Meg Greene. Again, this is not truly a living book.

For historical fiction, she read The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson and The Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard. They are set in the 18th and 16th centuries respectively.

Other books to consider:

Japanese Castles by Turnbull – Ichecked this one out from our library but it seemed too detailed and dry. If you have a kid that loves castles though it could be a good choice.

Other historical fiction I considered but didn’t use: Bamboo Sword by Preus (set in 1853; 335pp); Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes (younger ages; 80pp), Born in the Year of Courage by Crofford (set in 1841), The Big Wave by Pearl Buck (about a tsunami; 80pp), Shipwrecked by Blumberg (set it 1841; middle school level); Heart if a Samurai (set it 1841; 300pp). Also other books by: Paterson, Crofford, Haugaard, Preus, and Hoobler (who has a mystery series set in Japan apparently).

Books on Mongolia

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My high school senior wanted to study Mongolia which was easier in the sense that there aren’t many books out there so they weren’t many decisions to make. For history she read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. This author also hs other books on Genghis.  For historical fiction she read I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson which she said was not very good or well-written. I also had her read the story of a missionary in Mongolia, There’s  a Sheep in My Bathtub by Brian Hogan which she seemed to likke much better.

Books on Asia more generally

In our time together we read selections from The Travels of Marco Polo. I have an edition illustrated by Corbino that I had picked up somewhere. There are lots of versions of this, some simplified for younger readers as well.  For “spines” I used two books from  a series: The Asian World: 800-1500 by Roger Des Forges and Marjorie Wall Bingham’s Age of Empires: 1200-1750. These books are written in a fairly engaging way without a lot of sidebars (and those there were I tended to skip). I foudn them a bit heavy on dates which tends to bog a book down and deplete its living-ness (if you know what I mean) but since I was reading them aloud I could skip some of the details which I think made it actually easier to take in the information. Lastly, we read the chapter form Van Loon’s The Arts on Asia. I am in love with this book now. It is like Hillyer’s art history but for a higher level and includes a lot of history and culture/religion too.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

My Nature Lore Booklist

Dear Reader,

This is a question that came up on a discussion board and it’s one of those things I probably should have gotten together a while ago. You can find all my lists of living books here.

What is Nature Lore and How do you use it?

Simply put, “nature lore” refers to books that tell about nature and science-related topics in a literary way. I use the term because it is popular in Charlotte Mason circles. In reality, “creation lore” might be a better term. I fear that nature lore makes one think that we must read about nature only — animals especially and maybe a little about plants. I use “creation” to draw our attention to all that God has made, from the stars to the rocks, from weather to physical laws. Really any science related topic presented in a literary form is fair game.

If I could go back in time, I would do a lot less with my kids when they were little, but one thing I would definitely keep is reading nature creation lore aloud. The goal of science in the early years particularly is just to keep alive and feed children’s innate curiosity and love for knowledge. Most kids have a love for the world around them in some way. It may be a passion for dinosaurs or panda bears or a penchant for filling up your car and their underwear drawer with rocks and sticks, but one way or another it comes out.  Feeding this love requires two things: time outside and good books. (The former I hope is obvious but at any rate would be the subject for another post.) Books give us the knowledge to dig deeper into what we see with our eyes (and feel and smell and hear). They expand out horizons. We don’t all live near volcanoes and kangaroos. Books take us to the places we can’t go ourselves. Good authors communicate their own passion and inspire ours. They draw us in through their own enthusiasm for their subject. (For more on science and why and how we study it, see this post.)

The actual process of doing nature lore with your kids is simple: read and narrate, read and narrate. If you have multiple kids, have them take turns narrating what you read. Read chunks that are appropriate to their age and ability to retain. With the littlest kids, you may be reading a paragraph or two at a time only. If you have multiple ages, I usually gear my reading to just below the level of the oldest child participating. The oldest can still get something out of what it read but so can the next one or two. Don’t worry too much about littles. They will get more than you expect. One nice thing about science-y topics is that they often lend themselves to alternative forms of narration. Charts, pictures, and diagrams can be good ways to reproduce what one has heard. For instance, if you have just read about types of volcanoes, each child can take a few minutes to draw the various kinds and, depending on age and ability, label them.

Nature lore and time outside are really all you need for science in the elementary years. I know this can be hard to swallow and that you want to add in more but remember the goals — to encourage a love for creation, to build relationships with the things God has made, to encourage curiosity and observational skills. If your child wants to do some hands-on experiments, that’s fine, but you don’t need such things. (They will be getting some hands-on experience in their time outside as well. It is fun to make slime and watch things explode and I would not deprive any kid of those joys, but often science experiments made for young children are pretty preachy and basic anyway.)

Nature lore does not need to end. As my kids got older, meaning into middle school, I would often pick a topic for the year or the term. Things like meteorology or geology (again, look at my other booklists for some of those). Even in high school we continue to use living books as the basis of our science, adding in labs and definitely being more topical (a year each of biology, chemistry, physics). But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon nature lore. There are many wonderful books written for adults that keep alive that sense of wonder and that transport us to new places.

This is not going to be a complete list (if that were ever possible!). There is just too much out there and I am sure I have forgotten a lot of what we used when they were little. If you have other suggestions, please let me know and I will add them. Don’t be afraid to find your own books. Some of the best ones we’ve used were garage sale or thrift store finds that are not on anybody else’s nature lore list. After you have done this a bit, you will become more adept at judging books for yourself. You can usually pick up a book and read the first few paragraphs and get a sense if it is going to be an engaging book and if it is the appropriate level for your kids. If you get a little ways in and for some reason don’t love it, drop it and move on to another.

The books below are roughly sorted by age level, from the youngest to the oldest. I am very hesitant to give specific age ranges. Good nature lore often appeals to a wide range fo ages. Older children can still get something out of simple books and young ones will get more than you expect from books that seem over their heads.

Nature Lore Books for All Ages

Among the ………..People by Clara Dillingham Pierson — This series of books focuses on various environments — meadow, forest, etc. Each reading is fairly short, maybe 2 pages, which can work well with younger children. We had a one volume set that included all the books. My daughter did get tired of them after a while. I do think the whole lot might be a lot to do all at once.

Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know by Edwin Tenney Brewster — This was one of those thrift store finds for me. It covers a wide range of topics (including reproduction!) at an elementary level. I include not because I expect it to be easy for anyone to find (though certainly pick it up if you do) but because look at that title — if you see an old looking book with a title like this, you should always buy it.

Millicent Ellis Selsam — Some authors are so good it is hard to pick one book by them. Selsam’s are fairly brief, mostly of the easy reader variety, and cover a variety f topics. She has books on seeds, microscopes, turtles, and more.

Robert McClung — McClung will reappear below as well. His easier books are fun, easy reader level books. We particularly liked the one about Stripe the Chipmunk.

In the Land of the Lion — Another thrift store find. Again, this is the sort of title you should perk up at if you see it. This book discusses various African animals which brings up another point: nature lore can also often be geography. It’s good to learn more details about nature close to home, but books also open the world to us.

Toklat: The Story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear by Alfred Milotte — Some books are surveys of a time or place; some take us in depth on one animal. The title kind of says it all for this one. A quick search on Amazon shows me Milotte wrote others as well and I suspect they are all worthwhile.

How’s Inky (and sequels) by Sam Campbell — The story of a porcupine (if I am remembering correctly). Told with humor.

Tale of …………….. by Thornton Burgess — Burgess will reappear below as well. His books that are along the lines of “the Story of so-and-so animal” are wonderful for children learning to read chapter books. Each section is very short but manages to advance the story so one doesn’t get bored.  I prefered his books that stick to animals and was less enamored of the ones that feature Mother West Wind.

The Storybook of Science  by Jean Henri Fabre — This is one of my must reads because it covers so many subjects, from bees to volcanoes, even including some history as I recall. I am not actually crazy about its modus operandi which is to set the information as stories told my an uncle to his nephews and nieces, but is it still a good book. Fabre has many others though I am less enamored of those that stick to a single subject.

Jack’s Insects by Edmund Selous — There are some guides to go along with this book and it is quite popular on living book lists. We used it. I wasn’t crazy about it. Honestly, it might be a bit too much on insects.

Spotty the Bower Bird by Edward Sorenson — This was out foray into Australian animals. I lovely book if you can manage to find it.

Jacques Cousteau — The famous French diver and oceanologist has written a number of books for kids. We stumbled across two, one on dolphins and one on walruses and seals. Both were fairly well done and worth getting. They are from the series the Undersea Discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. I believe there are other series under his name that are a bit more textbook-y.

Naturally Curious by Mary Holland — This book focuses on New England (my area) and gives what to look  for in each month, what is blooming etc. It tends to list a few things and then go in-depth on one or two. This would not be an every day or even every week book but is good to check in with every month to get an idea of what one might expect to see.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot — Herriot’s tales of a vet and the people and animals he encounters are quite well-known. My daughters really enjoyed them. He has various volumes and you can also find shorter versions of his books that focus on one topic, cats for instance.

Forgotten by Time by Robert Silverberg — Silverberg is a favorite author of mine. He also has books on history and one called Scientists and Scoundrels. This one is on all those animals (and a few plants) that don’t quite fit our usual categories.

The Rhino with the Glue-on Shoes by Lucy Spelman — Tales from a zoo-keeper, I believe. My daughter liked this one when she was in middle school.

Curious Naturalist by Sy Montgomery — This book has short readings organized by season. It is good even for high school. The chapter on beavers is worth the whole book.

The Animal Book and  The Bird Book by Thornton Burgess — I told you he would reappear. These two books are longer and a bit more of a haul. We found the bird book a bit much all at once though my one bird-living daughter read some of it on her own. Beware that sometimes things change in science: rabbits are no longer considered rodents.

Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson — Silent Spring is quite famous and tells of the effect of pesticides on the environment.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Tells the author’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk through the Year, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  and Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale — Teale has a number fo wonderful books. They can be read by adults but I also read one aloud to my elementary kids. Circle of the Seasons gives daily readings. A Walk Through the Year is organized by seasons and can also be found as four separate volumes. A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  is more anecdotal and the title pretty much tells you where you are going with this one.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir — Muir is famous naturalist and I have heard he was a Christian. His love for nature comes through. This is the book of his we have used but I suspect his others are also worth the time.

Tristan Gooley — Gooley has a number of books that are good reads for high school boys who might be les enthused by nature books. They cover things like finding your way in the woods.

Lost Wild America by Robert McClung — McClung reappears with a book for the older crew. This one is on endangered animals and includes some historical context for each.

Tracker: The Story of Tom Brown as told to William Jon Watkins — The true story of a boy growing up in New Jersey in the 1960s (or so). His friend’s grandfather is an old Native American tracker and teaches them what he knows. There is one tiny adult bit (that might easily slip past a child) and there is some “spirit of nature” type stuff but personally, I wouldn’t worry about it confusing an older child. Overall this is a wonderful book that is very engaging and transports you to another place plus gives lots of useful info on tracking and the like. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell — I loved this book. I laughed aloud in parts. It is an upper level book because, well, the family is included and there is some adult content. Read it yourself if you don’t want to give it to your kids. The Durrell family moved from England to Cyprus and the boy, Gerald, was quite the collector of animals. There is also a PBS series about them, though it strays quite far from the book.

As a reminder, if you are looking for specific topics like geology and environmental studies, click on the “lists of living books” link above and scroll down to the science section. There are other choices there that would work well for nature lore also but I didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

 

Living Books on Diseases

Dear Reader,

My eighth grader asked to learn  more about diseases for her science this year. Since it’s her last year before high school hits, I indulged her. She had studied medicine and anatomy last year; you can find that booklist  here. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Disease

IMG_0013Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham — As its title suggests this book gives a history of surgery. It is fairly engaging and what tween/teen doesn’t love to read about all the gory mistakes of the past?

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti — The story of typhoid in America and the mystery that led to the one carrier who spread it all.

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif — This book is often recommended on homeschool lists and is well worth it. It is something of a history of microbiology through the stories of the scientists who advanced its study.

When Plague Strikes by James Cross Giblin and David Frampton — This book covers a number of “plagues” including the black death, small pox, and AIDS.

Breakthrough by Jim Murphy — Murphy’s books are good, fairly brief treatments of various issues, Breakthrough is about blue babies and the struggle to save them. She also read An American Plague by Murphy about yellow fever. Though we didn’t have time for it, his other books include The Invincible Microbe about tuberculosis.

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson — The 1850s cholera epidemic in London told as a mystery story. Another book I considered in this particular epidemic is The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

Pox and the Covenant by Tony Williams — The story of smallpox in Boston and how Puritan preachers helped by preaching the need for immunization.

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart — This is slightly off topic but I had checked it out and my daughter really wanted to read it. It is really more of a catalog with one page or so each on a variety of plants classified as deadly, intoxicating, etc. I’m not at all worried.

A couple more books we considered but didn’t have time for:

Hot Zone by Richard Preston — The story of an Ebola epidemic told as a suspense novel. Written for adults.

The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein — The true story fo a boy who plays with nuclear energy and poisons himself with radioactivity.

Happy reading!

Nebby

 

 

Living Books on Geology

Dear Reader,

My senior chose geology for her science this year. She had a pretty busy year and she is aiming for an art school so I didn’t feel the need to make her science too tough. You might want to add additional books or some labs or other activities if you are looking for a more robust curriculum. You can find all my lists of living books here and a list of geology books we used at younger ages here.

Living Books on Geology

Secrets from the Rocks by Albert Marrin — Marrin is a favorite author of mine. He writes more often on history but has a few books, like this one, on science. This is a fairly simple book, ceratinly not high school level. It tells the story of one particular man in search of dinosaur bones.

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee — This is a thick volume intended for adults and combines a number of works which the author published separately originally (I believe). McPhee is a well-known writer who has written for The New Yorker and other publications.

A Grain of Sand by Gary Greenberg — The story of sand and what we can know from different kinds of sand.

The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester — The story of how one man noticed and deciphered layers in the earth and made a map to depict them.

Beneath Our Feet by Ron Vernon — An introduction to some of the basics of geology including basic forces and types of rocks. Includes lovely microscopic photos of rocks. 

The Rock Book by Carol Lane Fenton and Mildred Adams Fenton — A fairly detailed catalog of different kidns of rocks and minerals.

Happy reading!

Nebby

Living Books on the Middle Ages

Dear Reader,

The first two terms of this year we have been studying the Middle Ages. I have gone back to Heritage History for a lot of our resources. If you are willing to use older books (which are often better anyway) and don’t mind have them in a digital format, this is a wonderful site.  As we did when the kids were younger, we went through the Middle Ages once in broader perspective in the first 12-week term and then once focusing in on specific countries in our second term.  The third term of this year we will spend on other, non-western cultures before moving on to modern history next year. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on the Middle Ages

History of the Middle Ages in Europe —

My high school senior read The Story of Europe by H.E. Marshall. I really like Marshall’s books for history. I skimmed a number of others and though this one is easier than some (it could even be used for elementary though Heritage History puts it in the middle school category) it is one of the most engaging and covers a lot of ground. [She also had a lot of other things going on this year so I was trying not to overburden her.]

My middle schooler read S.B. Harding’s Story of the Middle Ages and Eva Marie Tappan’s When Knights were Bold. Tappan is another favorite author (I much prefer her books on Greece and Rome to those of Geurber). When Knights were Bold  is more about the culture and society of the time.

My ninth grader read The Middle Ages by Dorothy Mills. I haven’t been equally pleased with all her books but Mills is a solid author popular in homeschooling circles.

Church History and Art —

The first term I read aloud a book that we happened to hae picked up somewhere which focuses on the interplay of church and government in the Middle Ages called The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History of the Church from 900 to 1300.

IMG_0022

This is probably a middle school level book or even upper elementary. The chapters are short, about a double-sided page each, and there are lots of pictures. It is actually quite good for having a group narrate as you can read one chapter/page, have a child narrate, and then another and the next child narrates and so on. Though perhaps not the most living book, it definitely gives you a feel for the issues relating to the church in the Middle Ages.

We also read through the relevant portions of V.M. Hillyer’s A Child’s History of Art. Though this is an elementary level book, it does a good job of introducing the art of a certain time. Note that there are various versions of this book. You may see slim volumes that cover one subject, architecture or painting or sculpture. We have a thicker volume which includes all three.

My two younger children also read Monks and Mystics by Mindy and Brandon Withrow. This is volume two of a four-volume series on church history which is very good. My one criticism of it would be that it is a bit undiscriminating in whom it considers a hero of the faith, including people from a wide range of theological positions.

Literature from the Middle Ages

We read a version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales together. I happened to find the version edited by Peter Ackroyd used so that is what we used. The original tales are bawdy and this version includes those bits so I was discriminating. We did not read every tale and I occasionally edited on the spot while reading aloud.

My ninth grader read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. There are a lot of versions of the tales  of King Arthur but White’s is a classic.

My senior read James Baldwin’s The Story of Roland. This seems to be a good retelling of the classic story.

In the second term, we read  Ian Seraillier’s Beowulf, the Warrior. Again, there are many versions of this story. This one is fairly short. I was very pleased that my children seemed to remember the story from our previous bout through the Middle ages.

We also began The Story of Abelard’s Adversities, a fairly short version of the story edited by J.T. Muckle. I was not very familiar with this story and we ended up giving up on the book. It was not the castration bit which turned me off. That part of the story was actually exciting. Most of the book Abelard spends talking about how much smarter he is than everyone else and it is rather tiresome.

We did not read any Robin Hood this time but in the past we have read Howard Pyle’s version.

Historical Fiction about the Middle Ages

My middle schooler read Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray. This is a solid book that you will find on many lists I am sure. She also read The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books.

My ninth grader read Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle. Pyle is an older author well-known for his historical books.

There a quite a number of books on this period; it seems to have captured the imagination of authors. Some that we have read in the past in various contexts are: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli; the Crispin books by Avi; The Midwife’s Apprentice and other books by Kate Cushman; The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (an absolute must read); and  The Road to Damietta (about Francis of Assisi) and Hawk that Dare Not Hunt (about Tyndale) both by Scott O’Dell (I haven’t read these two but we’ce enjoyed O’Dell’s historical novels in the past).

IMG_0021

The Middle Ages in Specific Countries

Because he is studying German this year, I had my ninth grader focus on the Middle Ages in Germany during the second term. He read H.E. Marshall’s A History of Germany.. For historical fiction he read The White Stag by Kate Seredy, a relatively brief book which tells the story of Attila the hun. He also read some Norse myths (because it was hard to find anything else close to literature or historical fiction on Germany specifically) from Padraic Colum’s The Children of Odin. I highly recommend Colum’s books anytime you need mythology.

My middle schooler focused in Ireland and Scotland. She read Peeps at History: Ireland by Beatrice Homes. There are a number of books in the Peeps series and I have not always been crazy about them but looking at Heritage History’s options, I found this to be the best on Ireland. Also on Ireland she read Brendan the Navigator by Jean Fritz. Fritz is a favorite author. This is one of her relatively short books. Then I let her pick from some volumes I had gotten from our local library with Irish tales —

middle ages books (2).JPG

On Scotland she read H.E. Marshall’s Scotland’s Story and for historical fiction Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman.

IMG_0012

I had my senior focus on Spain (because she has studied Spanish) and on Islam as well. Since the Moors were in Spain during this period, there is a natural link between the two. She read A Child’s History of Spain by John Bonner and The Moors in Spain by M.Florian (both Heritage History books) and Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong. I haven’t liked all the short history books I’ve looked at equally but some are quite good. She also read a book I have read and loved: The Crusades, Christianity and Islam by Jonathan Riley-Smith. This book is nice because it relates the events of the Middle Ages to what is going on in the world today (in a very reasoned, scholarly way).  For historical fiction she read Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy.

In our time together we focused on England. As the mother country of our own, this seemed like a good choice for everyone to do together. We read H.E. Marshall’s well-known Our Island Story. Though again this is a lower level book, it is hard to beat for an engaging overview of English history.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

 

The Power of Narrative, for Better or Worse

Dear Reader,

Alex Rosenberg, a professor of philosophy at Duke University, has recently published a book entitled How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of our Addiction to Stories which describes why we are so attracted to narrative and how it can lead us astray. I have not (yet) read the book but only some articles on it. The two I have run across are: Rosenberg, Alex, “Humans are Hardwired to Tell History in Stories. Neuroscience Tells Us Why We Get Them Wrong,” Time (Oct. 10, 2018), and Chen, Angela, “A philosopher explains how our addiction to stories keeps us from understanding history,” The Verge (Oct 5, 2018). Though my introduction to his work has been brief, I would like to examine Rosenberg’s ideas a bit.

Rosenberg’s contention is that we humnas “like to have all our knowledge packaged in stories — narratives with plots that involve people (and animals) with reasons and motives, carrying out their aims and designs, in cooperation or conflict, succeeding or being thwarted” (Time). This instinct, he says, leads us astray because we attribute emotions and motives to people when we cannot possibly know if they are accurate. His theory has a distinctly evolutionary basis — we have this propensity to ascribe motives to others because it helped us in a primitive environment (he mentions the African savannah). But to do so is false because: “neuroscience shows that in fact what’s “going on” in anyone’s mind is not decision about what to do in the light of beliefs and desire, but rather a series of neural circuitry firings” (Ibid.). “So,” he continues, “the brain can’t “contain” beliefs at all.”

Now obviously there is a lot here that from our Christian context we must reject wholesale. But there is also a kernel of truth that I think we need to acoount for.

On one level, I respect Rosenberg’s science. Most godless [1] evolutionists end up inconsistent. They want to believe in something beyond the physical though their presuppositions do not allow for a spiritual element. Rosenberg admits that his worldview is a purely physical one and that physical causes must account for all things — even what we term beliefs and emotions. Because of this, he does not just say we wrongly guess others’ motives; he actually says we cannot guess motives because there are no motives, only the products of neural firings.

As Christians,it is pretty fundamental to our belief system that there is a spiritual element to creation, and to humans in  particular, for which the physical alone cannot account. We also believe that we humans are capable of true belief [2] and that we do have motives, i.e. reasons we do things, even if our reasons are not always reasonable.

We may agree with Rosenberg, however, that narrative is instinctual to our race and that it is powerful. Charlotte Mason (whose educational philosophy I have blogged on extensively though I do not agree with her in all things) relies heavily on narrative as the basis for learning for just the reason Rosenberg cites — because we are programmed to learn informaiton through stories. The biblical text supports this view; narrative more than any other mode is how God Himself has chosen to communicate with His people. Our faith is largely belief in a story and this story is a powerful one (Heb. 4:12). So, while we do not come at the issue from the same direction, we can agree with Rosenberg that narrative is both fundamental and powerful for people.

Rosenberg goes one step further and argues that narrative is deceptive and even manipulative. As mentioned above, we do not need to reject all narrative as false as Rosenberg does because we do believe in motive. But he is correct is saying that narrative can be deceptive, whether deliberately or unintentionally. To that extent that such deception is deliberate it is also manipulative. In all honestly, even true narratives can be to some extent manipulative in that they are used to create a change in the audience.

Though there is a spectrum, narrative is apt to add to its subject matter. A historical novel often invents entire characters and situations. A biography may stick to real people and events but may makes unfounded surmises about how people felt and why they did things. A textbook may not take such liberties but often ends up as a dry compendium of facts which, as I think Rosenberg would agree, is hard to learn from.

Those of us who seek to use “living books” in our schools and homeschools (as I argued we should here)  need to take this crisitcism seriously. Too often we choose books based on the recommendations of others or from various lists which circulate and do not consider whether what they have to say is true. I remmeber reading two books about the pilgrims when my children were little and finding that they gave some very different versions of basic facts, even names and dates. These things were relatively easy to fact-check, though if I hadn’t been reading both books I would never have known there was anything to fact-check. And the more a book gets into motives, the more we are at the author’s mercy.

We have spoken some on the past of the need to vet our authors – and to use caution with those whose worldview differs from our own. Now we must add to that list: check their academic credentials and propensity for honesty. Sad to say, I find it is often the “Christian” historical fiction which seems to go the farthest in terms of inventing people, events, and feelings or motivations. A certain level of sentimentality anda tendency to explain the feelings and thoughts of others shoudl raise red flags for us to proceed with caution and a grain of salt. This does not mean we need to reject narrative-style living books altogether; there are books which use narrative but do a better job of sticking to the facts without assuming motivations and thoughts. Rosenberg admits as much citing Guns, Germs, and Steel as one such book (The Verge).

On a day -to-day in the trenches basis, this is a pretty thorny issue. If I were a university professor developing a class which I would be teaching again and again, I would spend a fair amount of time researching my sources and making sure that they balance narrative with truth. As a homeschooling mom who needs to find new books for multiple kids to read in about eight subject areas every twelve weeks and who is limited by what’s available at the local library and used off Amazon, I don’t have the time or resoucres to find the best of what’s out there every time.

I do think we can use a little discernment, however. With practice and with an awareness of the problem, we can make some fairly educated guesses about which books seem to give accurate acocunts and which clearly are supplying lots of suppositional information.

In sum, then, Rosenberg has raised some concerns which we need to take seriously. Though there are apsects of his theory which Christians cannot accept, he is correct that narrative is fundamental to how we learn and that it is powerful. Like most power, it can be used for good or ill. While I do not agree with him that all attempts at finding motive are in vain, it is true that we often make wrong suppositions about others’ motives and that narrative can thus be deceptive and even manipulative.

Nebby

[1] I do not mean this term derogatively. I am simpy refering to those who accept an evolution without any divine mind behind it. Those who believe in a divinely-guided evolution would not fit in this category.

[2] This is not a statemnt about total depravity and our capacity for good, but simply about our ability to believe in anything.

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