Friday 26 September 2014

The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-nine Steps, written in 1914, is the first of five thriller/espionage novels in the Richard Hannay series by John Buchan. Barely a hundred pages long, Buchan's story begins with his thirty-seven year old hero returning to England after a long period in Africa. Disappointed and fed up after only a month of his new life, he believed himself to be 'the best bored man in the United Kingdom.'

Less than twenty-four hours later he becomes caught up in an international plot intended to incite a world war.
Hannay's adventures began when Scudder, a strange, nervous little man living in a nearby flat came to him with a wild tale of an anarchist conspiracy.  Hannay believed the man was genuine, if not a little mad, and gave him shelter as Scudder was in mortal fear of his life. Three days later, Hannay returned to his flat after a business meeting to find his guest lying sprawled on his back with a long knife through his heart pinning him to the floor.
Any doubt of the veracity of Scudder's tale had gone and Hannay found himself placed in a position where both the conspirators and the police were after him.
Assisted by the discovery of Scudder's pocket book which contained some details of the plot, Hannay embarked on his escape initially masquerading as a milkman and thereafter in various other disguises. The chase begins and Hannay is hunted throughout the Scottish countryside (beautifully described by Buchan) and in a series of highly improbable encounters and Providences, he eventually gains the help of Sir Walter Bullivant, a senior official in the British Foreign Office.

Suddenly I remembered a thing I once heard in Rhodesia from old Peter Pienaar...
He was the best scout I ever knew...
Peter once discussed with me the question of disguises, and he had a theory which struck me at the time. He said, barring absolute certainties like fingerprints, mere physical traits were very little use for identification if the fugitive really knew his business...
If a man could get into perfectly different surroundings from those in which he had been first observed, and - this is the important part - really play up to these surroundings and behave as if he had never been out of them, he would puzzle the cleverest detectives on earth.

The Thirty-nine Steps is a quickly paced story, and although it lacks the depth and level of mystery of some of Buchan's later novels, it is a great introduction to the espionage genre and his novels in general, especially for a younger reader.
Although it has the peculiarities and prejudices of its time it lacks the sordid material that often inhabits other more contemporary books of this nature. Most of my children read this book around the age of 13 and thoroughly enjoyed it and have read many of his other novels.
There are some of his novels that are better left until later (Witch Wood,
for example) but the remaining four Richard Hannay books would be enjoyed by the 14 to 16 year old age group.

These are:

Greenmantle (1916)
Mr. Standfast (1919) - my favourite; contains allusions to The Pilgrim's Progress
The Three Hostages (1924)
The Island of Sheep (1936)

The Thirty-nine Steps can be found at Project Gutenberg and a good Kindle version is available here.
Librivox has a well done audio narrated by Adrian Praetzellis.

Friday 19 September 2014

Ambleside Online Year 7 - Creative Narrations using Alliteration

Many children write verse as readily as prose, and the conciseness and power of bringing their subject matter to a point which this form of composition requires affords valuable mental training. One thing must be borne in mind. Exercises in scansion are as necessary in English as in Latin verse. Rhythm and accent on the other hand take care of themselves in proportion as a child is accustomed to read poetry.
A Philosophy of Education Pg. 193

Bengy is working through The Grammar of Poetry and I asked him to use write a narration based on the Battle of Bosworth (covered in AO Year 7) using alliteration:

Lesson 23 is on Alliterative Imitation and the student is asked to read some excerpts from Beowulf and then write an alliterative poem with a similar sound and feel. Bengy chose to base his poem on Ivanhoe.

We're not rushing through The Grammar of Poetry but it's been interesting to note that this is my son who would choose to do a poetic narration any day over any other kind of narration but he struggles with the more formalised presentation in this book. I have the older spiral edition which doesn't have a great deal of practice in some sections where it would have been helpful but there is a new version with additional aids that I haven't seen. The book does go in to quite a bit of technical detail on the different types of 'feet' which is probably the hardest part and there are numerous exercises in scansion. I like how the tropes or pictures such as similes, metaphors etc are presented but more ideas for practice would have been helpful. The book is easy to use and so far I haven't seen a book that includes both the writing of poetry and the appreciation of poetry that I like better.
Bengy says of the book: 'Some parts of it are interesting but some I find extremely boring.'

Sunday 14 September 2014

20+ years of Family Read Aloud Chapter Books

Elizabeth Shippen Green "The Library" 1905

A growing list of chapter books I've read aloud over the past twenty odd years to my children (in no particular order).You'll probably notice certain authors cropping up regularly - I've listed books by the same author together.
The books I've read were in most cases listened to by everyone who was present at the time. I haven't included most of the non-fiction titles I've read aloud at different times as part of our more structured lessons.
I'll add books in as I have time but if you're curious about any of them just drop me a note in the comments and I will be able to give you some idea of the content, suitability & time period.
I'll link to any book I've reviewed and an asterisk beside a title means "don't miss it!"

What Would Jesus Do? by Mack Thomas
This is the first chapter book I remember reading aloud.

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder - my husband went to the USA on business in 1993 and brought back the boxed set of these books and I started reading them aloud to our two older children who were 5 and 3 years of age.
I read the first five to them and left the other four for them to read themselves when they were older. My 3 year old used to take one of the books to bed each night to 'read' and he would spend ages looking intently at the simple Garth Williams illustrations scattered through the book. The box has all but disintegrated and the books are just holding together after much use by our seven children:

* Little House in the Big Woods
* Little House on the Prairie
On the Banks of Plum Creek
* Farmer Boy
The Long Winter

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanor M. Jewett

Isaac Newton by John Hudson Tiner
Johann Kepler
George Frederic Handel
Robert Boyle
George Washington Carver

Michael Faraday by Charles Ludwig

* Johnny's Tremain by Esther Forbes
A Father's Promise by Donna Lynn Hess

* The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
* The Wheel on the School
Far Out the Long Canal
Along Came a Dog
The Big Goose and the Little White Duck

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
* The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Bronze Bow

Mystery of the Roman Ransom by Henry Winterfield
* Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John (I recommend any of this author's books; powerful writer)
* Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Boy by Roald Dahl
All of a Kind Family by Sidney Taylor
Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting
* In Freedom's Cause by G A Henty (my husband read the first two of these aloud)
Under Drake's Flag
With Wolfe in Canada
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
* Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
* Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales

* Sun on the Stubble by Colin Thiele (Hilarious. Great for Dads to read aloud)
River Murray Mary
Storm Boy

Young Nick's Head by Karen Hesse (see here for some historical background on the story)
* Walkabout by James Vance Marshall
Bush Boys by John Tierney (a number in the series which were mostly read on their own)
We of the Never Never by Jeannie Gunn

All Sail Set by Armstrong Perry
All About Captain Cook
Call it Courage

John of the Sirius by  Doris Chadwick
John of Sydney Cove

The Switherby Pilgrims by Eleanor Spence (Australian setting, early 1800's)
No one Went to Town by Phyllis Johnston (Pioneer life in N.Z)
* I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall (Australian Classic of a boy with polio; early 1900's)

The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter
The King's Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter
* Vinegar Boy by Alberta Hawse
Jotham's Journey by Arnold Ytreeide (didn't like his other books) 
Morning Star of the Reformation by Andy Thompson (Historical fiction, John Wycliffe)
The Kon Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl
Longitude by Dava Sobel

* Mocassin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw 
The Golden Goblet (Ancient Egypt)
Master Cornhill (Charles II; Great fire of London)

* Scout By Piet Prins
* Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop (WW2; suitable for younger age group. Loved this book)

Strange Intruder by Arthur Catherall
* Phantom Patrol by A.R. Channel (same author as above writing under another name. The boys LOVED this book)

Caesar's Gallic Wars by Olivia Coolidge
* Banner in the Sky by James Ramsay

* Otto of the Silver Hand

* Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan (WW2)
Swift Rivers by Cornelian Meigs
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

King of the Wind 
Misty of Chincoteague 
The White Stallion of Lipizza

Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
Thee, Hannah!
* Black Fox of Lorne

* Sarah Whitcher's Story by Elizabeth Yates (lovely story for younger children)
Amos Fortune, Free Man

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

* The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lancaster Brisely 
The Kidnapped Prince by Olaudah Equiano

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Charlotte's Web

The Hawk That Dare not Hunt by Day by Scott O'Dell (historical fiction based on William Tyndale)

A Heart Strangely Warmed (John Wesley) by Louise Vernon (good historical fiction series on Church history for younger age group)
The King's Book (the printing of the King James Bible, 1611)
Ink on his Fingers (Johann Gutenberg)
Johann Gutenberg
Johann Gutenberg
The Man who Laid the Egg (Erasmus)
The Beggar's Bible (John Wycliffe)
Key to the Prison (George Fox)

* Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark
Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Latham

* The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
* Prince Caspian

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray 
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
* Calico Bush by Rachel Field
* The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge

A Piece of the Mountain by Joyce McPherson 
Albrecht Durer

The Wright Brothers by Russell Freedman
* William Tell by Margaret Early
* The King's Shadow by Elizabeth Alder (wonderful book!) 
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell 
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

Augustine by P.De Zeeuw J. Gzn.
Just David by Eleanor H. Porter
String, Straightedge and Shadow by Julia E. Diggins 
Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel C. Brill

* Andries by Hilda van Sockum (great for younger children but we all loved it) 
The Mitchell's: Five for Victory
* The Winged Watchman (excellent, WW2)

* Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery (excellent, WW2) 
Reb and the Rebcoats

Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard 

Herodotus and the Road to History by Jeanne Bendick 
Galen and the Gateway to Medicine 
Archimedes and the Door of Science 
Along Came Galileo

Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Shultz
Created for Work

The Magna Carta by James Daugherty
The Lewis and Clark Expedition by Richard L. Neuberger 
Genghis Khan and the Mongol Hordes by Harold Lamb 
* The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum

Ancient Rome: How it Affects you Today by Richard J. Maybury 
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Dr Jenner and the Speckled Monster by Albert Marrin 
Victory on the Walls by Frieda Clark 
Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Pollard 
* God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew 
Midshipman Quinn by Showell Styles 
Flint's Island by Leonard Wibberley

* Man of the Family by Ralph Moody
* Little Britches
Shaking the Nickel Bush
The Fields of Home
Mary Emma and Company
The Home Ranch
The Dry Divide
Horse of a Different Color

The Story of Beethoven by Helen L. Kaufman 
The Story of Mozart

Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal by Robert Reilly 
Hard Times by Charles Dickens 

It's a Jungle Out There! by Ron Snell (very funny; great books to read with teenaged boys)
Life is a Jungle!
Jungle Calls

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (excellent author;  most of her books I've given to my children to read on their own).
Viking Tales by Clive Bulla 
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George 
The Otterbury Incident by Cecil Day Lewis 
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien 
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
* The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Franz Shubert and his Merry Friends by Wheeler & Deucher 
Joseph Haydn 

Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Fallacy Detective by N & H Bluedorn
Adam and his Kin by Ruth Beechick
* The House I Left Behind by Daniel Shayesteh (Islam, Iran)
The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac 
Linea in Monet's Garden by Bjork & Anderson 
Vendela in Venice by Bjork & Eriksson 
Incident at Hawk's Hill by Allan W. Eckert

The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty 
Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma

Struggle for a Continent by Betsy and Giulio Maestro 
In Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson 
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

How to be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay 
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater 
* The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds

Albert Einstein by Marie Hammontree
Thomas A.Edison by Sue Guthridge
Anna and the King by Margaret Langdon
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Huguenot Garden by Douglas M. Jones

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
The Small Miracle

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Seabird by Holling C. Holling
Tree in the Trail
Paddle to the Sea

The Birds, Our Teachers by John Stott
* Warrigal the Warrior by C. K. Thompson
Thunderbolt the Falcon 
* Karrawingi the Emu by Leslie Rees

Good Queen Bess by Diane Stanley
Joan of Arc

* A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

* The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Starting Older Students with Classical Education

 The Cardinal Virtues by Raphael (1511)

As some of my children have neared the end their high school years there has been a temptation to want to cram all the things I think they should know or should have covered or really 'must' read into the remaining time. In fact, cramming or gap filling seems to be a pretty common temptation, even with those whose children still have years to go before they finish homeschooling. 

When there have been glitches in our plans - sickness, moving house, the addition of a new family member; when circumstances overwhelm us for different reasons, we rush to make amends when we get the chance.
In this video Andrew Kern addresses this temptation in the context of a student who hasn't been classically educated as yet and advises the parent not to stress out and cram in an effort to fill in the gaps.

Even if you are already classically homeschooling, this practical and encouraging video helps to identify the true goals of a classical education and how important it is that wisdom guides our decisions. 
I appreciated his perspective and the lack of elitism when giving his answer to the question below.

"In those years when you weren't teaching classically...maybe some other really important thing were happening."

Am I moving towards wisdom & virtue? - this should guide be our guide and then:
"You do what you can do, when you can do it."

Question: What can I do for an older high school student who hasn't been educated classically to fill in some gaps? 


I've added a page on Classical Christian Education at the top of my blog which I'll add to from time to time.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made by Philip Yancey & Dr. Paul Brand

I've been reading a chapter of this book aloud each week, mainly to my 14 year old son but my 9 year old daughter always wants to listen in. It has required some editing but it's been easy enough to do it as I go.
The book is a unique and beautiful exploration of the human body - with an unusual twist. The author takes the intricate structure and function of cells, body chemistry, bones, muscles and the myriad other complexities of the human body, and presents them as analogies to the Church, the Body of Christ.
It is such a quotable book. Every chapter I've read has had something that has stood out to me or has prompted questions from my two listeners. My son normally doesn't like anything in the least way medical but he is enjoying this book. 

Today we read the chapter, Inside-Out, which presented us with the analogy of the crayfish. This creature has an exoskeleton. This hard, external skeleton protects the crayfish and is its defense against the outer world. We, on the other hand, have an internal or endoskeleton. Our outer bodies are vulnerable, warm and responsive.
And then the author in a twist links the exoskeleton to legalism, where Christians wear their skeletons on the outside. As he looked at the history of the Church, and its areas of failure, the author saw that the failures,

'can be traced to a misunderstanding of the place of the skeleton in the Body of Christ...

As the rules God gave to free His body begin to calcify, we tend to hunker down inside them for protection. We develop a defensive exoskeleton...

But Jesus never described anything resembling an exoskeleton which would define all Christians.'

I've been thinking lately on idealistic versus realistic expectations in regards to bringing up children. Idealism can produce unrealistic expectations. The crayfish analogy revealed an aspect of this to me. When idealism comes up against reality the temptation is to develop an exoskeleton - a hard shell that in reality is a covering  for weakness. We become legalistic and in response our children learn to wear their skeletons on the outside.
The author gives us a sobering thought relating to this:

A troubling phenomenon recurs among young Christians reared in solid homes and sound churches. After living their early years as outstanding examples of Christian faith, many become spiritual dropouts. Did they fail because they concentrated on the exterior, visible Christian life? Did they learn to mimic certain behaviours, nuances of words, and emotional responses? Crayfish-like, did they develop a hard exterior that resembled everyone else's and conclude such was the kingdom of God, while inside they were weak and vulnerable?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made is scheduled for the upper years of Ambleside Online under Health. It has some adult content which is discussed here but as I mentioned above it isn't difficult to edit.