Saturday, April 30, 2016

Interesting little twist

This week I read several Christian fiction books.  One was a quick and easy read and one wasn't so easy to read.

The first book I read was one that Tracie Peterson wrote several years ago titled What she left me.  It is a story about abandonment and abuse, but also about healing.  There were several truths about forgiveness and the truth of situations that are the kind that leave deep scars for life.  There were several parts that were extremely difficult to read--which I skipped parts of.  The author explains at the beginning of the book in a note that it isn't a book for teenage girls to read.  I agree.  Tracie Peterson typically writes romantic fiction.  This book is a realistic fiction in which she tries to tackle some of the yuckiness of life.   It was good.  I am glad that I read this book, although it will probably take some time to get a few of the yucky scenes out of my head.  This is one of those books to read with caution.  

The second book I read was by Sarah Sundin, titled Anchor in the Storm.  A month ago, I picked up an older series by Ms. Sundin and reread it because I wanted to reread the plot.  I enjoyed the easy read and also enjoyed that I didn't have to worry about certain scenes that have come up in the last few books by Julie Klassen's books.  For this reason, Ms. Sundin is "safer" for me to read.  She seems to like the World War I/World War II era.  Anchor in the Storm is set in Boston during World War II.  The main character Lillian has a prosthetic leg which makes her a cripple in the eyes of the world.  The scenes from the story made me more curious about life back then.  Lillian has set out for Boston to work as a pharmacist.  She and her brother's best friend, Arch, become friends and partners trying to solve a medicinal mystery that involves the drug store Lillian works for and the ship where Arch is stationed.  There are twists and turns, of course, and a good ending.  

I enjoyed the story and how easy it was to read.  Ms. Sundin's writing is competent.  It wouldn't stand out, but her plot helps.  It's a story--this one isn't necessarily realistic to history.  It's just fun to read.

If you enjoy Christian fiction set in World War II and enjoy authors like Lauraine Snelling, Tracie Peterson, or others like them, then you'd enjoy this book.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Anchor in the Storm for review from Revell Books.

Friday, April 29, 2016

What You'll Say to a Person's Face and What You Won't

Whenever someone comments on one of my reviews on Amazon, I get a little email with a snippet of the review.  Yesterday, I received such an email about a comment posted in response to my review of The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman.  This book is a 1996 Newberry Award winning book.
Two years ago when Autumn and I read it, I was flabbergasted.  There's no other word but "flabbergasted" that describes how I felt.  I wanted her to read it because it set in Medieval times, a period of history she didn't usually read books about and it was a Newberry Award book.  This was the last Newberry Award book I've ever made my children read.

This book was given rave reviews by the Library Journal and many, many reviewers.  I was floored as much by the book as by the Library Journal's review.  Whoever wrote the review saw The Midwife's Apprentice as a story in which a girl finds her identity and place in the world.  On Amazon, the description of the book is one in which the girl gains courage, confidence, and knowledge.  And then... there's my review.

"The story centers around Beatle, aka Brat, aka Alyce. She is found by the midwife in a dung heap outside her home trying to stay warm. Brat is the bottom of the food chain and has been as long as she can remember. She endures the continual abuse of the midwife (and her neglect) for reasons that are hard for me to understand. She does not see herself as valuable. To the midwife, she is someone to be used for all she can get out of her. She leaves at one point (spoiler) and still returns at the end of the story trying to gain the midwife's favor.

There are several thematic elements that I do not think are appropriate for 4th and 5th graders in this book and the book was extremely difficult for my daughter to stomach who will be in 6th grade in the coming school year. There is an interesting (if that's the appropriate word) scene in which Brat witnesses the midwife in adultery. There is so much constant emotional and verbal abuse throughout the book. For my daughter, this book illustrated to her what abuse looks like. How horrible it is. How it wrecks people. She couldn't understand why Brat returned to the midwife at the end trying to gain her favor. I explained how people in abusive situations often return to the situation, though it is horrible for them. In my case, I also explained and identified a situation in our extended family and why it turned out as it did. She understood.

This book is probably one of the most depressing books written for children that I've ever read and I would not recommend it to anyone. My daughter would not either. I don't even think I'd recommend it to any middle schoolers. I am honestly shocked that this book received so many rave reviews and that people feel the content of this book is appropriate for 4-7 graders. But, then again, I'm not totally shocked. I just disagree."

In the past, two people had commented on this review that they agreed and were glad for my review.  The comment yesterday was of the opposite viewpoint.  Whoever it was took the time to comment, but has never commented before on any other book or written any reviews.  The comment said that my review was absurd and that it is because of parents like me that there are whiny cry-babies in college who demand that others kow-tow to them.  

Wow.  My response was this:

"Wow. You don't know me. You don't know what I expose my kids to, but you've made a lot of assumptions. Would you say all of those things to my face? 

Did you know that I was a public school teacher? Or that I purposefully choose books to help my children understand the world--like Paper Things (tackles homelessness-wonderful book!), Maniac Magee, Esperanza Rising, selections from The Skin I'm In, and Long Walk to Water. In high school, my children will read Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan and we will discuss it. That is a good book--that really tackles tough topics, but is good for high schoolers to read. I help my kids understand the world they live in and talk to them about everything. We even discussed Katlyn Jenner and her choices. So, you comment is very presumptuous. 

Read The Hurried Child. We, as a culture, are pushing things on our kids younger than they are able to understand them. I have seen children take on emotional burdens for people and not be able to cope with them and misunderstand things because they were not emotionally mature enough yet.

No, my children are not whiny and don't expect to be kow-towed to. I am raising my children to become independent adults and teaching them to cope with life. But, you wouldn't know all that--because you don't know me. I am also letting them grow up and not forcing them to give up their childhood before they have to.

Frankly, I found this book very, very sad and my daughter had the same reaction. Beatle is abused, goes back to her abuser and continues to look for her approval at the end of the book. Aside from the adultery, how is that a good example for children of what to do if you find yourself in an abusive situation?! It's not. It's just not."

I think I've expected a negative comment on this review for a long time.  We live in a world where technology has taken off the filters that many people used to have on their mouths.  Because people aren't talking face to face, they feel free to insult other people online.  I tried to respond to the comment in love and grace.  I hope I did.  This isn't the first time that I've received such a mean comment.  There have been many others over the past ten years that I've been reviewing books.  

I received a negative comment to another book that I reviewed this week--Teaching from Rest. Honestly, I have expected several negative comments on this review.  I was thankful for this comment though--because the commenter simply said that she thought I'd gotten a lot of things wrong.  I was okay with that.  I disagree with people all the time.  Even last week, a friend of mine sat for over an hour discussing the book and she gave me lots of great food for thought.  What struck me about the book hadn't struck her, but I appreciated her points and she appreciated mine.  We both left with food for thought!

In my world, I value disagreement because it's important.  Disagreement is used to help us consider what we really think and believe.  Respectful disagreement shows a person that you value what they think and that you are really listening and thinking about what someone has said to you. The questioning that accompanies disagreement keeps people from blindly believing.  Please don't get me wrong, I don't think everything needs to be questioned.  But, when people--both adults and children don't understand something, disagreement can help them understand and grow.  

There are some things that I've seen happen when disagreement isn't allowed.  One is that people think their opinions don't matter.  Another is that people stuff how they feel until they break free and then run away.  Ultimately, when disagreement isn't allowed, unhealthy relationships develop. People agree because they feel they have to, not because they really do. They agree out of fear of the other person and how he/she will react.  

But, there is a way that is helpful to disagree and there is a way that isn't.  The way the person disagreed with me about the Midwife's Apprentice was not helpful.  I chuckled when I got an email this week letting me know that someone else had commented on that review.  I was curious, of course.

I chuckled at the sarcastic comment directed at the negative reviewer.  The commenter said that obviously the negative commenter had become a very responsible adult who knows how to disagree because of reading literature like that book.  The commenter went on to explain that she/he was glad for the review because it wasn't the kind of book they were looking for for their kids.  

Disagreeing is hard, but I've come to believe more and more that it is important.  But... just because we can say something doesn't mean we should and there are nice ways to say things and there are ways to say things that are, well, just plain mean.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Finding Peace While Homeschooling

I find for some reason that I am often in the minority.  Such is the case with regard to a book I've begun reading over the past few days.  A good friend of mine had asked if I'd read it because several of her friends had really enjoyed it.  My curiosity was piqued, so I began looking for a preview of the book online.  I found a pdf preview of the first third on the publisher's website, which I read a few nights ago.  Then, on Monday I happened to be at a friend's house who had the book (and wasn't reading it), so she let me borrow it to get the full picture of the book.

When I was reading yesterday, I thought to myself, maybe I'm just missing something...  So many people like this book...  As I read on, I found that there were some things I agreed with the author about and then others that I saw very differently.

The book is Teaching From Rest:  A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah
MacKenzie.  The premise of the book is that homeschooling parents need to find their rest in the Lord and thereby simplify their expectations for homeschooling and how they homeschool.  When I reflect on the expectations I had after reading The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer when my daughter was in kindergarten, I can definitely say that I needed to remember these things.  Books and people outside of ourselves can inspire us in both positive and negative ways--towards grace or towards perfectionism.  

My friend who lent me the book was very helpful in identifying that this book aligns well with a Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling.  This approach uses primarily living books and experiences to help children learn through "an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" according to the website  That same website has a free curriculum guide which is very interesting.  Basically, you learn by doing, by experiencing.  Ms. Mackenzie states in this book that you don't need to teach every subject every day or even all year.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I want to start with the first section of this book.

I was struck that Ms. Mackenzie is very concerned with words.  She begins by explaining that we should not want a "rigorous" education for our children, but rather that we should seek to be diligent.  She was looking at the dictionary definition of rigorous, which when spelled out as it is in this book is obviously not what home educators want!  But, Ms. Mackenzie must have been unaware that this word is used differently in an educational context.  On the website,, there was a very helpful and complete definition of how educators use the word rigorous and what is meant by a "rigorous education".

What educators mean is this:
"While dictionaries define the term as rigidinflexible, or unyielding, educators frequently apply rigor or rigorous to assignments that encourage students to think critically, creatively, and more flexibly. Likewise, they may use the term rigorous to describe learning environments that are not intended to be harsh, rigid, or overly prescriptive, but that are stimulating, engaging, and supportive."  from:

That is what educators mean.  And I think we all want that for our children.  The author's argument is a circular one which begins with dissection of the word rigorous and presenting diligence as what we truly want when it comes to our children's education.  

This first section of the book tackles the topic of rest.  The author beats around the bush and says the same thing multiple times.  Basically, we need to remember that God is in control and that we can rest in Him.  We need to be diligent and faithful with our time each day, loving our children and husbands.  We do not need to be driven by the clock or a textbook when a child does not understand a particular concept.  Instead, we homeschool so that we will have the time to pause, breathe, and really learn.  While I agree with her premise about resting in the Lord, she beats around the bush and is quite wordy.  I think she could have been more succinct.   

While the author says that resting in God is what we really need, I will say that we also need emotional and physical rest (which she does mention near the end of the book).  Many words have multiple meanings and it is okay for rest to mean both physical rest and "resting in the Lord".    

Moving on from her discussion of rest, Ms. Mackenzie discusses her ideas about curriculum.   

Curriculum is the second word she expounds upon.  She refers to curriculum as the whole learning plan and not the specific books one uses.  While this is true, the word truly does refer to both things.  It is both the wholistic plan for a child's education and the actual books.  Again, it is okay for a word to have multiple meanings.  Sometimes as parents we do miss that our children are learning all the time and remembering that there is an all inclusive curriculum plan for what we want our children to learn can be a helpful reminder.  I believe that is ultimately the point that she is trying to make.  

At this point, she outlines how she believes parents should simplify their curriculum.  And this is where our roads significantly diverge.  She sees the goals of education as being "to order a child's affections and teach him to love that which is lovely" (page 34, Teaching from Rest).  These are not how I would put my goals nor my husband's in regard to the education of our children.  I think it is a helpful exercise for every homeschooling parent to sit down and articulate what their goals for their children's education.  Then, it is easier to listen to the ideas, sift through what people say, and understand what applies to your situation.

Here are my goals:

  1. What I want most for my children is to find joy in their lives and to glorify God.  
  2. I want to raise them to be independent adults who can live in this world.  
  3. I want my children to think of and be aware of others' needs—to love others well.
  4. I want my children to enjoy learning and know that to enjoy work and food is a gift from God. (Ecclesiastes 2:24)
Her advice for simplifying curriculum is based on her goals, what she wants her children to learn--fewer things in greater depth in a looping manner (which she explains in her book). What I appreciate about Ms. Mackenzie's ideas is that she explains how a Charlotte Mason approach can look like in practice for her family.  Her schedule involves a family studying multiple subjects together and requires students to be focused on getting their work done during their independent time (which is relatively short).  I was very honestly surprised and even shocked a little by her middle school schedule and the subjects studied.   Middle School is preparing students for high school and the difficulty and work required in middle school needs to increase in order to help them gradually adjust and be ready for 9th grade.  

My husband and I want different things for our children than what is recommended in this book.  Let me give one example.  She explains that all subjects don't need to be studied every day or even all year (even Math!).  She lumped all of the subjects together in her statement.  I believe some subjects do need to be studied every day.  These core subjects, if studied every day, will promote a greater depth of learning and retention. Yet, for some subjects, I do agree with her--they do not need to be studied all year or every day.  Art and Music Appreciation are subjects this would work for.  But, instrumental music needs to be an ongoing effort in order to make progress and grow.   Foreign language can be studied sporadically if the goal is only awareness and exposure to a second language.  But, if the goal is ultimately fluency and being able to communicate in that second language, then daily study (even if only 15-30 minutes) is very helpful and necessary.  Our goals are fluency, so our children practice foreign language using Duolingo and Rosetta Stone each day at their own paces in addition to a group lesson once a week with a French teacher.  

Another thing that struck me was Ms. Mackenzie's misunderstanding of why schools give students a wide exposure to different subjects.  It is based upon the educational theory of Schemas by Jean Piaget.  This theory explains that our brains connect new learning to something that is old and already in our brains.  By connecting new information to old, it is more likely to be remembered.  The Classical Conversations founder, Leigh Bortins, put this concept into her own words (without giving Piaget credit) when she writes about hanging knowledge on "pegs".  Ms. Mackenzie feels that students would do better to study fewer subjects at greater depth.  I fall in line with Piaget's theories and have seen this work well with my children as math concepts are developed to a greater complexity with each passing year in their math books.  I don't think it's wise to start swimming out in the deep end of the pool if you don't know how to swim.  Rather, building confidence by going deeper bit by bit develops strength and skills along the way.

The last section of the book focuses on putting primacy in one's life on relationships, rather than the doing.  This is the age old truth of Mary vs. Martha living from the Bible.  Yes, relationships are important.  Not being able to stop for a child who needs you to listen is something we can't get back after the moment has passed.  I agree.  But, as with most things in life, balance is needed.  We do live in a very driven world and we have to be careful not to miss the blessings of homeschooling--being able to slow down and savor learning.  But, we also have to be careful of the weaknesses of homeschooling, too.  One weakness is that children can miss learning how to work within deadlines/due dates and manage their time and coping with this--which is a life skill that most public and private school children learn during their school years.  Giving children due dates for anything wouldn't align with the rolling schedule Ms. Mackenzie uses--which is fine for her family.  My family sees different priorities as our children get older and get ready for high school.  In three short years, my oldest will be taking classes at the local community college (with dual enrollment) and I want her to be as ready as I can help her to be.  I want her to be able to work within due dates, understand grades, and cope with the stress she encounters as she enters a new school environment.

I am glad that many moms have found this book to be encouraging.  It's not my cup of tea.  I prefer books that have anecdotes and stories in them--pictures of real life.  Ms. Mackenzie is surprisingly impersonal in her book and doesn't include stories from other moms.  Although, I do remember her mentioning that she asks moms who've graduated homeschoolers what they regret and she says they regret not savoring the time with their children more.  Ironically, this isn't what I've heard when I've asked the same question of parents and graduated homeschoolers who are now raising their own children.  One graduated homeschooler said to make sure your children know they are little fish in a big pond.  One said to make sure they learn cuss words and understand social mores so that they'll understand the world around them.  Parents I've spoken with have talked of what a tough road it is, but that they are grateful to have walked it.  I love hearing the stories of moms who are ahead of me on this homeschooling road.  

This middle section of the book doesn't fit my family because I'm not a Charlotte Mason mom, which became significantly clearer to me as I read this book and looked over the site  I like textbooks because they help me know what needs to be covered and it keeps us on track.   Outside of our schoolwork, I talk to my kids about everything from Kaitlyn Jenner to homelessness and how to make choices about spending money.  I've heard this approach referred to as standards based (though I'm not teaching according to Common Core or state standards).  I need my kids to be able to work independently at various times of the day so that I can keep up with my house and the health/physical needs of my family.  I recognize when I start snapping or getting stressed that I need to take a step back and remember that everything is in God's control.  He graciously gives me strength each day. I have no doubt that homeschooling looks different in Ms. Mackenzie's home and in mine--but neither is wrong.  We both teach our children based upon our short-term and long-term goals for their education.  

In summary,
Teaching from a Place of Rest is good for:  
- Charlotte Mason parents
- Parents who are intending to homeschool K-12 and never intending to put their children in public or private schools (they would have holes).
- Homeschooling parents who desire encouragement to slow down and savor the education process.

Who it isn't good for (in my opinion):
- Parents of middle and high school students (the middle section isn't applicable to parents who live in the state I live in, where specific subjects are required). 
- Parents who intend on their children applying to competitive four year colleges or prep high schools.  
- Homeschoolers who don't follow Charlotte Mason's teachings in their philosophy of education
- Parents who are open to, or are considering placing their children in a formal school setting prior to college.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Another Book of Book Lists

Most homeschoolers I know, including myself, are continually looking for reading lists with ideas for books their children can and should read.

A good friend of mine gave me this book by Leslie Raynor and Christopher Perrin to peruse and asked me my opinion of it.  I read through all of the lists in the books and found it to be problematic.  It tries to do too much in a small space.  The lists are divided into K, Lower Grammar (1-3), Upper Grammar (4-6), Rhetoric (7-9) and Dialectic (10-12).  Within the lists, books are classified by genre and then by level (1-3--easy, normal, challenging).

I discovered as I read that book that I would not recommend this book for several reasons.

1.  There is almost no realistic fiction in this book. I only found 2 books--From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenwiler and Bridge to Terabithia in the 4-9 lists.  Dickens is considered realistic fiction by these authors.

2.  The way the books were leveled didn't seem appropriate for several books.  So, if you do purchase this book, don't depend on the levels.  Wind in the Willows was given a 1 for grades 4-6.  Wind in the Willows has an enormous amount of vocabulary that is appropriate for a much higher reading level (7th or 8th grade), though the story line is appropriate for a much younger child.  It is good for grades 4-6, but is not an easy reading level.  I don't consider the Lord of the Rings Trilogy appropriate reading level wise for grades 4-6.  There were many other books that I did not think were either as hard or easy as the authors judged them to be.  The Redwall series was rated as easy for grades 4-6, I think--I was quite surprised by this!

3.  The Giver Series, Ender's Game, Science Fiction (except for the Perelandra Series) were notably missing.  None of Cynthia Voit's books were included for older ages.  The lists also did not give a well rounded education about the world.  The older lists focused primarily on European literature and didn't seem to include books about Asia, Africa, and South America.  I did not notice books about the Civil Rights Movement in the US either.  Maniac Magee and Hatchet--two classic middle school reads were not included.

4.  The lack of realistic fiction to help kids make sense of the world they are living in stood out to me.  Homecoming (by Cynthia Voigt), Paper Things, Flipped, The View from Saturday, and Hope was Here are some examples of good modern-day realistic fiction.

5.  Harry Potter, books 1-7 were all lumped together for grades 4-6.  Books 1-4 are understandable, but after that the books start getting much darker and are more appropriate for older children, I think.

6.  Lastly, the older lists for grades 7-9 and 10-12 didn't include a lot of what I'd call "fun" books.  They are scholarly classics.  So, if that's the kind of list you're looking for, then you'll find it here.  Also, the list for grades 10-12 did not seem to include many books that would appeal to most girls I know.

Rather than purchasing this book, I'd send you over to Gladys' Hunts books:  Honey for a Teen's Heart and Honey for a Child's Heart.  These are much thicker books and include a ton more helpful information.  The book for Teen's is very helpful once your child hits a 5th grade reading level (no matter the age) because she rated books by both reading level and maturity.  I do recommend that you purchase new editions of these books and not older ones, though.

Reading lists are helpful and if you want a list of just the classics, you'll find it in this book.  Just watch out for how it groups books and rates them for reading level.  You'll probably find that you have to make those decisions yourself for any given book.

If you're looking for another list of books to peruse for ideas, I have my own list that I add to when my kids find books they love and when I find books I want them to read HERE.

Historical Christian Fiction

Sometimes books tend to blur into one another.  Sometimes they stand out.  I have been trying to figure out where the last book I read falls.  I'm not sure.

The book is titled The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White.  The story is about a young
woman, Rowena, and the grave predicament she finds herself in.  Trapped by an unwanted suitor and possible pregnancy.  Enter a young gentleman who lives elsewhere.  He becomes trapped circumstantially and accepts the consequences of that trap rather than fighting them.

The writing of this book flows and I didn't see any major issues with the plot.  The dialect that the characters from the Highlands speak made me slow down my reading at times and there wasn't a glossary for the words included in the book.  But, there was an elaborate list of characters in the very beginning--which I didn't find necessary.

The one major key to the character of Brice Myerston, the Duke of Nottingham, that I wasn't on board with was how he "heard from God".  It was clear in the book that no one could question what he heard from God.  I used to know a person like this and it made discussions difficult.  There was no accountability or questioning that person.  Of course, in the book, everything turns out just fine and what he heard from God was exactly what he should have done.

If you enjoy historical fiction set in the early 1900s in Europe, you will probably enjoy this book.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishing

Monday, April 4, 2016

Thought Provoking Song

My husband and I were talking yesterday about whether or not people can change.  Change is hard.  In our lifetimes, we have seen people change and we've also seen people refuse to change.  God can heal people when they--when we-- let go our our idol of control and trust Him.

Yesterday, I sat with my husband and he mentioned the healing that has taken place in someone we know and I cried and thanked God.  In the next moment, we were aware of another situation where all remains the same and I cried for a very different reason.

This song from the movie Like a Country Song is kind of interesting to me.  Things that have been done never really can be undone, but--BUT I know that God tells me in his Word that we can be washed clean--that we are made white as snow by Christ's blood when we repent and turn to Him.