Review: John Ronald’s Dragons

Earlier this year we were delighted to read a gentle introduction to the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien introduces the reader to a boy who loved dragons, hearing stories read aloud by his mother as a child.

Lovely illustrations detail important events in Tolkien’s life, such as living with an aunt after the unfortunate death of his mother, meeting and marrying his wife Edith, serving as a soldier in World War I, and even meeting at the pub with fellow writer friends (their group affectionately known as the Inklings).

Finally we see read about the “birth” of the hobbit, born of Tolkien’s imagination and brought to life through stories he told his children.

So many of us know the name Tolkien because of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, but we know little of the man behind these stories.

This wonderful story makes Tolkien accessible to readers, young and old, and illustrates how many life experiences, even darker ones such as the death of a loved one and a world war, shaped the man who created an entire fantasy world that is loved the world over.

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In Common – August 9th Edition

In Common is my (mostly) weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I’ve been slowly working through The Well-educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. While there is a lot in this book that reminds me of How to Read a Book – and in fact SWB not only mentions Adler’s book on several occasions but does go into the different levels of reading – I love how she devotes a chapter each for several book genres.

In each chapter, she goes into some detail about the genre itself, and then specific suggestions on how to read books in the genre. Finally there is an extensive annotated book list.

I am currently working through Chapter 7, which covers History books.

“The overall task of the historian isn’t just to tell you what happened, but to explain why: not just to construct a bare outline of facts, but to tell a story about them.” The Well-educated Mind

SWB gives a thorough overview of periods of History writing, covering Medieval and Renaissance history, Enlightenment, as well as so many -isms that have always tripped me up, such as Relativism, Positivism, Progressivism, Post-modernism, and others. I feel better equiped to tackle History titles having read her introduction.

“History was not meant to serve any sort of ideological end. It was meant to find the truth.” The Well-educated Mind

SWB’s annotated list is extensive – she lists in order of time period written, earliest to most recent, starting with Herodotus’s Histories and wrapping up with Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

I am finishing up Math and Magic in Camelot this week, so look for a review soon. I am really enjoying the story as well as all the additional activities and information included.

Current Reads:

 

Review: Out Of School And Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

One book that is a staple in many homeschoolers’ personal libraries is Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study.

Comstock’s Handbook deserves its own review but today I wanted to share a picture book we have thoroughly enjoyed here.

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Jessica Lanan, is a wonderfully put together introduction to the life of Anna Comstock.

It shares the story of Anna’s childhood love of exploring nature, and how this love matured along with her, into a life’s passion for studying nature.

Anna did not marry right away, but went to college (in a time when this was not the norm) to learn more about plants and insects.

“Such thousands of insects I never saw before.” Anna Comstock

She spent time developing her art skills, drawing insects. Her drawings were even used by a professor in his lectures, as well as by farmers identifying insects that were destroying their crops.

Some of the lovely illustrations in the book.

She also used engraved wood prints to produce very detailed images. One thing that I love in this book is the recreation of these wood prints – some can be found in her Handbook of Nature Study.

Side-by-side view of the illustrator’s rendering of Comstock’s wood stamp drawings, and the images from The Handbook of Nature Study.

Anna Comstock wasn’t just a scientist and artist though – one of her passions was getting children out into nature. She worked hard to convince teachers to include nature study – real study with children getting OUT into nature and not just reading about it at their desks – in schools.

“Nature study cultivates in the child a love of the beautiful.” Anna Comstock

I think The Handbook of Nature Study is an essential addition to any homeschool library, and we so enjoyed learning about this remarkable woman who made this work possible.

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This book gave an abbreviated introduction to Comstock’s life – but you can read more at Britannica,  and wikipedia includes references and external links to check out.

Two resources worth mentioning that use The Handbook of Nature Study:

The Handbook of Nature Study: The Outdoor Hour

Exploring Nature With Children

 

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In Common – August 2nd Edition

In Common is my (mostly) weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

My attention has been on school scheduling lately, so I am making slow progress through my current reads.

I have to keep reminding myself that my reading schedule works for me, and not the other way around, so I don’t get super stressed when I fall behind.

I am hoping to wrap up my current stack by the end of the month, and free up some time for pre-reading school titles in early September. I’ve also been scrutinizing my 2017 reading list, deciding what I am willing to cut to make room for a few new titles that I’d like to tackle this year. There’s just never enough time to read!

This past week I did finish Educating the Wholehearted Child. I’ve really enjoyed this book and have gleaned so many helpful and encouraging things from this book.

“This book is an incomplete but honest attempt to capture and communicate our own family’s vision for home education. Obviously, it is written to influence your vision for the education of your children., but ultimately that vision must come from God working in your own heart and mind. You must find your own vision for your life as a Christian family.” (Educating the Wholehearted Child, p. 333)

This week I did start a new book – the second Math and Magic book by Lilac Mohr – Math and Magic in Camelot. I’ll be writing a full review in the next week or so, but I will share a couple tidbits.

“The Pigeon tapped his other foot as Mrs. Magpie scrawled “49° N, 77.47° W” across a crisp white envelope and placed The Message inside. He watched with disdain as she added two metal charms to the parcel (oh, the weight!), sealed it with a drop of wax (more weight!), and attached it to his leg with thick twine (oooh, the indignity of twine!).” (Math and Magic in Camelot, p. 1)

This book follows Math and Magic in Wonderland, and continues the story of twins Lulu and Elizabeth as they experience more magical adventure, and draw upon their love of math, science and literature to solve problems they encounter.

“‘I am Lady Elfinheart, and it is with utmost pleasure that I present my sisters Lady Lynette and Lady Olwyn,’ she gestured to the two women beside her, both of whom curtseyed. ‘We are the Lily Maidens of the House of Orkney and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Beds, defenders of honor and the three-petaled way. Welcome to Camelot!” (Math and Magic in Camelot, pg. 44)

I am really excited about this book – I’m reading it myself this week, and then will do a reread with my ten-year-old. Together we will also do the Play Along activities in the back for each chapter. Look for the review soon.

Current Reads:

 

Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

In a recent Facebook book club discussion about science books, the book title The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elizabeth Tova Bailey, caught my attention. Intrigued, I found it on amazon and immediately ordered it for myself.

Though much of my reading in this season is focused on education philosophy, my background is in science, and I’m trying to make room in my reading schedule for more science titles. This book certainly fit the bill.

This book is part memoir, part natural history and biology of the snail. The author manages to find the perfect balance between the two.

“Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.” (p. 6)

Bailey writes about the year following a debilitating illness that left her unable to get out of bed or care for herself. Lying in bed was her existence, and even rolling over was a feat.

“It took time for visitors to settle down. They sat and fidgeted for a while, then slowly relaxed until a calmness finally spread through them. They began to talk about more interesting things. But halfway through a visit, they would notice how little I moved, the stillness of my body, and an odd quietness would come over them. They would worry about wearing me out, but I could also see that I was a reminder of all they feared: chance, uncertainty, loss, and the sharp edge of mortality. Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health.” (p. 40)

During the author’s convalescence, a visiting friend brings in a garden snail with a potted plant. As she watches the snail she becomes intrigued by its habits, and over the course of several months that the two are “roommates” she makes incredible observations.

“Several times I was lucky enough to see it grooming; it arched its neck over the curved edge of its own shell and cleaned the rim carefully.” (p. 33)

The author weaves scientific facts about snails, along with excerpts from a surprisingly vast collection of literature, poetry and natural history writing about snails, with details and reflections of her time being bedridden and isolated from the world.

“I found that every field, from biology and physiology to ecology and paleontology, was packed with insights on gastropods… Then I discovered the nineteenth-century naturalists, intrepid souls who thought nothing of spending countless hours in the field observing their tiny subjects. I also came across poets and writers who had each, at some point in their life, became intrigued with the life of the snail.” (p.40-41)

At the end of the book, we find out that while she has regained some independence, the effects of her illness linger. The release of her snail back to its natural habitat, followed by the release of one remaining offspring she had kept, was somewhat symbolic to her reentry, of a sort, back into the wider world.

“The snail had been a true mentor; its tiny existence had sustained me.” (p. 160)

This book is beautifully written, it is really just lovely. The book is a quick read, but it has a calm pace. And while there are scientific details in the book, it is not science heavy. Readers will gain an appreciation for their own health, as well as an appreciation for the simple garden snail, after reading this.

In Common – July 11th Edition

In Common is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I’ve got several titles I’m trying to finish up this month. I’ve been working on my school plans for the Fall, so my personal reading has really been pushed to the side these past few weeks. I’m behind schedule, as usual, so we’ll see if I reach my goals.

I couldn’t help myself – I added another book to the pile. I saw it recommended somewhere – maybe Goodreads or Instagram and started it this month. Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner – the author really breaks down the process of learning a new language – what works and doesn’t work.

Wyner stresses practicing recall for learning a new language – writing down or saying from memory what you have studied – rather than just studying over and over.

“When you study by reading through a list multiple times, you’re practicing reading, not recall. If you want to get better at recalling something, you should practice recalling it.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

Seems intuitive, but it’s a study skill that is applicable in any subject really. He recommends using flash cards, and specifically a study method called Spaced Repetition Systems – what the author refers to as flash cards on steroids.

Another point he stresses is to stop translating. So often our foreign language learning attempts have this middle step. If we are learning the word cat, we may see a picture of a cat, the English word CAT, and then the word we are learning, GATTO, as an example. But your brain has to go through this extra process of translating. It is more efficient to see the cat and learn the word gatto.

“By throwing away English, I could spend my time building fluency instead of decoding sentences word by word.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

One more area the author stresses is the importance of learning proper pronunciation at the beginning – you don’t get bogged down with broken words (words that we think are pronounced one way but are actually pronounced another) and we also learn to distinguish between similar sounds, known as minimal pairs (the author use the examples of R and L in English for a native Japanese speaker – their ear isn’t trained to distinguish the R and L sounds as separate).

“If you have better listening comprehension, you’ll gain more vocabulary and grammar every time you hear someone speak your language.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

One thing that I am loving about this book is the detail and research presented in this book. It’s not just a book of Do This, It Works! The author goes into a lot of detail of why and how it works. How our brains hear language and recall information. It’s very thorough.

I did manage to get in some other reading this week.

This week I have been working on the July chapter in The Life-giving Home. Sarah Clarkson writes about the importance of story in developing our own character.

“Literature is humanity’s ongoing conversation with itself about what it means to be human, to be good, to live with meaning.” (The Life-giving Home, Sally and Sarah Clarkson)

Sigh. There is my motivation for reading good books, and ensuring my children are surrounded by good books.

Speaking of good books – I’ve got a stack of books arriving over the next couple of weeks as I get ready for the new school year – I look forward to sharing our curriculum plans soon!

 

Current Reads:

 

In Common – June 14th Edition

In Common is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I continue to progress slowly through my June stack. I’ve fallen behind in my Don Quixote reading – I had hoped to be further along but I think I overloaded myself this month. But small steps are better than nothing.

I am really enjoying Don Quixote. It is such a funny story, and I so love the dialogue. I was laughing out loud throughout Chapter XII, where Pedro the goatherd is telling the story of the broken hearted shepherd Grisostomo to Don Quixote. Pedro keeps using the wrong words and Don Quixote corrects him several times, to the point of annoyance, but always followed with a gracious compliment of the man’s storytelling skills. After the story is finished, Don Quixote, having been invited to attend the funeral of the deceased shepherd, responds:

“I shall be certain to, ” said Don Quixote, “and I thank you for the pleasure you have given me with the narration of so delightful a story.” (Don Quixote)

I am currently reading about autobiographies in The Well-educated Mind. This has never been a genre that has caught my attention, but this particular chapter is really winning me over.

“You no longer read an autobiography to find out the truth about past events (an assumption that governed the memoirs of political retirees for decades). Rather, you read autobiography to find out what it’s like to see the world from another point of view, from inside the skin of another person.” (The Well-educated Mind)

Susan Wise Bauer suggests the book The Timetables of History as a reference tool. I’m ordering it this week and look forward to utilizing this resource. Amazon allows you to peek inside, so you can see how the tables are set up, with time periods along the left side and columns containing significant events in several categories including history and politics, literature and theatre, music, religion, philosophy and learning.

I continue to enjoy Educating the Whole-hearted Child. So many gems in this book! Concerning reading and language arts:

“the single best way to strengthen your children’s minds is making sure they read lots of good books.” (Educating the Whole-hearted Child)

And this comment about raising readers:

“Do everything you can to cultivate in your children a love of books. Give them their own copies of special books they read on their own, illustrated storybooks that capture their hearts, series of books that they especially enjoy, classics that every child should have, informational books about subjects that are special to them, and even books that they are not quite ready for but will be soon.” (Educating the Whole-hearted Child)

And finally:

“Be generous with books. It is an investment that will return hundredfold rewards in your children’s lives.” (Educating the Whole-hearted Child)

I’m pretty sure that Clay and Sally just told me to go buy a lot more books. Done and done!

Current Reads:

 

In Common – May 31st Edition

In Common is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

This past week I snuck a reread into my stack – The Awakening of Miss Prim. This is such a delightful read, and full of goodness and inspiration for simple living and spiritual growth. I absolutely love the pace and quality of living in the village of San Ireno de Arnois.

“Nowadays, to live quietly and simply you have to take refuge in a small community, a village or hamlet where the din and aggression of the overgrown cities can’t reach; a remote corner like this, where you know nevertheless that about a couple of hundred of miles away, just in case, ” – he smiled – “a vigorous, vibrant metropolis exists.” The Awakening of Miss Prim

The children in the village learn the basics in the village school (the three Rs) but then continue their education at home and with others in the village, in an intimate setting.

“They’re being brought up with good books so that later they can absorb great books.” The Awakening of Miss Prim

I’ve continued with my slow reads, including Educating the Whole-hearted Child. This week’s focus was on discipleship study methods. One point that really stood out was the importance of keeping the Bible as the primary source of Bible study.

“The incessant fragmentation of Bible content into booklets, condensations, Bible stories, Bible products, software, websites, greeting cards, Biblezines, ad infinitum unfortuntately trivializes and devalues Scripture rather than making it more valuable. “ Educating the Whole-hearted Child

I am slowly working through The Fourth Turning – it is so full of minute details I can’t imagine going at any faster of a pace. The premise, that human events in history are cyclical, is just fascinating.

“What happens to each generation separately is only part of the picture. Of more importance to history is what happens to generations together. They age in place in a manner that Francois Mentre described as ’tiles on a roof’ – overlapping in time, corrective in purpose, complementary in effect.” The Fourth Turning

My slow reads continue. I’ve also taken on two more books this week, reading along with fellow book clubbers. Don Quixote (I am reading the newer Grossman translation), as well as Locke’s Second Essay. I’m just getting starting on these two so look for commentary starting next week.

Current Reads: