Tuesday 27 September 2016

An 11 year Old's Notebook Keeping

Moozle started Ambleside Online Year 6 about two months ago so I thought it would be a good opportunity to record some of what she does in the way of notebook keeping each week.
I'll start with her favourite:

Nature Notebook

This is something Moozle really enjoys doing and will often suggest it early in the week. Two weeks ago we started studying earthworms and built a little worm farm to observe them:

A clear jar (glass or plastic)
3 layers - torn newspaper on the bottom, then a layer of dirt and another layer of sand
We used an upturned pot plant base as a loose lid

Keep it moist but don't overwater like we did and nearly drowned them all
Food - teabags, lettuce leaves, crushed egg shells
Cover the container with something dark - we used a black cloth bag

The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock has some ideas on pages 422-425. She suggested:

For the study of the individual worm and its movements, each pupil should have a worm with some earth upon his desk.

 Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall has a good chapter also:


I don't think Charlotte Mason actually used the term 'copywork' (I could be mistaken, but I haven't found it if she did) but she did use the word, 'transcription,' and that it should be slow and beautiful work...

Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.

Moozle has been doing this for a number of years now and I have seen a huge improvement in her spelling, especially with the addition of dictation around the time she turned ten. But I still have to watch that her writing doesn't get sloppy. She loves using coloured pens but her writing is often neater when she uses pencil. I usually let her choose her own passages now for copying or give her some choice. Shakespeare, poetry, literature, and Bible verses are some examples of what we've used.

Children should Transcribe favourite Passages.––A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another...
A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason  


I found this book  not long ago and we've been using it for French copywork (which we started doing about a year and a half ago).


This only gets done once a week at present:


Moozle's Book of the Centuries and timeline is basic and no frills, as you can see below, but it works for her. We use a cheap composition book but I'd like to find a book with a combination of blank and lined pages with better quality paper as pen bleeds through the pages on this one. The entries are updated once a week, which she generally does without prompting now. She has a separate notebook for maps and written narrations on history.

I was quite surprised at how simple the idea of a Book of Centuries originally was. There's a picture here on Page 7 that shows an example. (It's slow to upload)
Some examples of my older children's history timelines and notebooks are here.

Linking up with Celeste at Keeping Company and with Kris at Weekly Wrap-up

Thursday 22 September 2016

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

How much do you know about Australia in the 1930's? I didn't know a great deal, but I recently had an enjoyable history lesson that brought this time period to life for me.
As a result of the Great Depression, around thirty-two percent of Australians were out of work in the mid 1930's.
In 1930, the Australian Government was advised to cut wages in order to increase profits and make exports more competitive. Social services were also cut, and Britain demanded that Australia not default on her loan obligations. The controversial Premier of New South Wales at the time was Labor leader, Jack Lang, and when he decided to withhold repayments, he was dismissed from office.
The building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Old and New Guards, the fear of Communism and the belief that Australia was heading towards a revolution on the scale that Russia had experienced - these historical facts are intertwined in Sulari Gentill's book, A Few Right Thinking Men.

Published in 2010, it is the first in a series of historical crime fiction books that introduces an Aussie sleuth, the artist/painter, Rowland Sinclair.
The crime in the first book is more incidental to the story, with the introduction of the main characters, the general feel of the time period, and the prevailing political atmosphere being the main focus. This gives the book a slowish start, but as it is the first book in the series, I have the feeling it promises some interesting twists and turns later on.
Rowland Sinclair is the youngest son of a wealthy pastoralist. He is ten years old when he farewells his two older brothers, Aubrey and Wilfred, in 1914 as they leave for Egypt on a troop ship. Aubrey dies in action and Wilbur later returns home, a different man.
Rowland has an artist's attraction to the left wing and is tolerant of Communism, and much to Wilbur's disgust, occupies the family mansion in Sydney with his penniless Bohemian friends. Wilbur is one of the 'Old Guard,' conservative, and convinced that the Communists are going to overrun Australia. He lives with his wife and child on the family farm at Yass, in country New South Wales.
Rowland is indifferent to politics until a murder occurs and unsatisfied with the police investigation, he takes matters into his own hands and uncovers a bizarre conspiracy.

Some interesting aspects:

Rowland is a talented painter and his Bohemian friends have interesting characters and backgrounds: one is an ardent Communists who quotes poetry as if it were his own, to which Rowland always responds in an undertone with the name of the original poet; another is a sculptress.

Many of the chapters begin with a short extract from the newspapers of the day.

There are a wide range of political and social views represented.

The author's background is in law and she is married to an historian whose area of interest is the Fascist movement in Australian history.

The attitudes that came about after World War I  - this reminded me of my own Grandmother's reactions stemming from the Second World War. She would refuse to eat the 'German rye bread' my mother bought (decades later) when she moved to Australia to live with us. My husband's Grandmother wouldn't buy anything made in Japan because she knew men who had been killed or maltreated by the Japanese forces in South-East Asia:

"Rowly," he said, as he shook his brother's hand.
"Hello, Wil."
"I see you're still driving that Fritz monstrosity," Wilfred said curtly.
"She's a good car," Rowland replied, his voice a little tight, knowing what was coming.
"The Germans killed our brother." Wilfred's response was cold.
Rowland sighed. This was not a new quarrel, and Wilfred was not alone in seeing the Mercedes as a betrayal of Aubrey. Rowland saw it differently.

The details of life in and around Sydney were very interesting: the opening of the Harbour Bridge, the descriptions of various suburbs, razor gangs and crime, and the effects of the depression.

There are seven books in the series so far, which I'm looking forward to reading. I heard about the author's books from a few different sources - a good friend, my daughter, Zana, who has collected all the books in the series so far, & Brona, who has written about some of them here. If you enjoy some history with your crime, I'd also recommend this author.

Originally published by PanteraPress, which is the copy I have above (ISBN 9781464206375) and re-printed by Poisoned Pen Press.

Monday 19 September 2016

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1874)


I was a little way into this book before I realised that I had confused authors. I knew the book had been written by Hardy, but as I was reading I was thinking 'George Eliot.' I read Adam Bede by Eliot last year and Far From the Madding Crowd has a very similar feel to it. One of the things that aided my confusion was the humour in the early section of the story. I've read Tess of the D'Urbervilles and didn't think Hardy had a sense of humour.

Far From the Madding Crowd begins with an almost lighthearted tone, especially in the first chapter (which is a delight) but becomes more pensive over the course of the story as Hardy explores the choices and passions of his characters.
Bathsheba Everdene was beautiful, independent and headstrong, and inclined to be impulsive and thoughtless. She had three suitors: a plain-speaking, hardworking but luckless farmer; a wealthy, mature bachelor; and a dashing, reckless soldier. Bathsheba's vanity and immaturity led her into making some careless decisions that resulted in consequences she never imagined nor intended.


'...I shouldn't mind being a bride at a wedding if I could be one without having a husband. But since a woman can't show off in that way by herself I shan't marry - at least yet.'

...she felt her impulses to be pleasanter guides than her discretion.

...some women only require an emergency to make them fit for one

The Farmer:

He had lost all he possessed of worldly property: he had sunk from his modest elevation down to a lower ditch than that from which he had started; but he had now a dignified calm he had never before known and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a villain of a man is the basis of his sublimity when it does not. And this the basement had been exaltation and the loss gain.

The Bachelor:

She resolved never again to look or by sign to interrupt the steady flow of this man's life. But a resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.

The Soldier:

Never did a fragile tailless sentence convey a more perfect meaning. The careless sergeant smiled within himself, and probably the devil smiled too from a loophole in Tophet, for the moment was the turning-point of a career...the seed which was to lift the foundation had taken root in the chink...

Other Characters:

'Ay, sure,' said his son, a young man about sixty-five, with a semi-bald head and one tooth in the left centre of his upper jaw, which made much of itself by standing prominent, like a milestone in a bank.

The maltster's lack of teeth appeared not to sensibly diminish his powers as a mill: he had been without them for so many years that toothlessness was felt to be a defect than hard gums an acquisition.

We learn that it is not the rays which bodies absorb, but those which they reject that give them the colours they are known by, and in the same way people are specialised by their dislikes and antagonisms whilst their goodwill is looked upon as no attribute at all.

Hardy's Wessex settings and his poetic style of writing are draw cards for me even though I've found some of his books rather bleak and sometimes fatalistic. Far From the Madding Crowd was a very enjoyable read and revealed another side to Hardy that I hadn't noticed in his other books.

Far From the Madding Crowd is my selection for a 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.
Ambleside Online has scheduled this book as a free read in Year 10.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

8 Favourite Fairy Tale Re-tellings for Teens

Regina Doman's first fairy tale novel was published in 1997 by Bethlehem Books under the title, Snow White and Red Rose. A few years later it was re-published with the title Shadow of the Bear, and there followed more books in the series. I found these novels when I was searching for suitable books for my daughter's birthday. I think she was about 14 years of age when I bought the first one and she loved it and requested more in the series.
Each book is a modern re-telling of a Grimm Brother's fairy tale and each chapter commences with a quote from the original story. These classic tales are put into a modern setting (e.g. New York City), and the characters face various cultural challenges and battles that young people may find themselves in today. A familiarity with the original fairy tale is helpful (I've linked to online versions of the original tales) and enhances the story, but it's not essential.
The books mature with the reader, with subsequent books tackling darker themes. The first three should be read in order as the main characters re-appear in the books.

The Shadow of the Bear

Originally published by Bethlehem Books under the title 'Snow White and Red Rose,' this is a modern day retelling of the fairy tale of the same name. The two sisters in the re-telling are Blanche and Rose, and Bear is a mysterious, street-wise young man.

'Once upon a time in New York City...
...there lived two sisters who loved books, poetry, music, and fairy tales.
They lived with their widowed mother in a brownstone with two rose bushes in front of it.
One winter night, a Bear came to their door and they let him in, even though he could not tell them his real name or his real mission.
He became their friend, protector, and constant companion.
They never dreamed that his friendship might cost them their lives.'

Picky parents guide to this book.

My book isn't a 1950's throwback—it's not a sweet book. I'm a child of the '70s, a teen of the '80s and, growing up in the teeth of the sexual revolution, I lost the innocence of the imagination early, as many kids today still do. I have no nostalgia for a safer and purer time—I never knew one.

My two heroines, Blanche and Rose, face the ugliness that is out there today, and they don't back down. They face the battle for the culture, and they fight it by how they live their lives. I think that's one reason why teens love them. And the "enchanted prince" of the story, Bear, is a great character—guys seem to identify with his sense of purpose and his convictions. He's on a lonely, dangerous mission for justice that few would understand or appreciate, and I think that resonates with teens.

Black as Night


This sequel to The Shadow of the Bear is based on Grimm's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,
only in this case, the seven dwarfs are seven Franciscan friars. The story revolves mostly around Blanche, but it's a great book for boys, with its strong male characters. It moves more quickly than its predecessor and although there is some harsh realism, the author's writing isn't bleak, and the themes of faith, love and honour are embedded in the story. It's a step up, maturity level wise from the first book.

Waking Rose


Waking Rose is a re-telling of The Sleeping Beauty and centres around nineteen year old Rose and her relationship with Fish, Bear's brother. Fish is struggling with an abusive past and fears that Rose wouldn't understand his situation so he distances himself from her. When tragedy strikes, Fish is drawn into web of corruption and retaliation, and into a battle for Rose's life. This is quite a suspenseful book and has some mature themes. Recommended for readers 16 years of age and up.

The Midnight Dancers

A re-telling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
This book is quite different from the first three and can stand on its own (one of the characters, Paul Fester, makes an appearance in Waking Rose). Rachel is eighteen and tired of her restricted life with her father, stepmother and her eleven step-sisters. When the girls discover a secret passageway from their old historic home, they make night visits to a bay, meet some interesting characters, and Rachel begins to live a double life.

 But why live in the light, when the night seems so irresistibly intriguing? 

Regina Doman is a Catholic author and in this book, Rachel's parents are strict Fundamentalists. I think she does quite a good job of showing the effects of outer (legalistic) control and its inability to change the heart. Recommended for ages 16 years and older.


Alex O'Donnell and the 40 Cyber Thiefs


This is a  modern retelling of the classic Arabian Nights tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and is less intense than the other books. Alex finds out that his dad, a computer hacker and software programmer has accidentally found a mysterious website that promises instant wealth. Alex and his very untechnological girlfriend, Kateri, end up taking on 40 cyber thiefs. A good bit of technological jargon is thrown about in the book, which is probably why I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the others, but it's still a worthwhile read.
The author recommends it for ages 14 years and over.

Rapunzel Let Down

This is the author's latest re-telling, published in 2013. I haven't read it yet but will be buying a copy for my 23 year old daughter and probably my daughter-in-law also, as they both love Doman's books. It is definitely a book for 18 year olds and over, according to the author.


There are no magical or fantasy elements in these stories and the characters are very ordinary people living ordinary lives. This 'ordinariness' has allowed the author to create characters we can relate to and identify with. I read somewhere that she set out to take Chesterton's challenge and write a moden novel as if it were a fairy tale. As Chesterton observed in his book, Orthodoxy:

The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of to-day discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.  

G.K, Chesterton 

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I read this book many years ago and recently read it again. It's a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast and is suitable for around age 13 years and up. Beauty was the nickname for the youngest of three girls whose given name was Honour. She was the ugly duckling of the three girls, a tomboy but much loved by her family. To save her father's life (or so she thought) she was obliged to go to live with the Beast in his enchanted castle. It really is a lovely story with some important but not heavy handed themes. A younger child could read it but I was thinking that my 11 year old would turn up her nose at any sign of romance so I'll be leaving it for awhile.


I'm putting this here as an option for teens or adults who haven't read or may have had difficulty reading Spencer's Faerie Queen. We've used Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves, by Roy Maynard which is scheduled in Year 8 of Ambleside Online but the re-telling by Macleod is good for a range of ages.

Linking up at Top Ten Tuesday for 'Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre' - i.e. Fairy Tale Re-tellings for Teens - even though I only managed eight out of ten.

and here: