Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Books Plus Some Free Resources for a Christ-Centred Easter

Re-posting this from last year. It's not easy to find quality Easter focussed books for children but Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary is one I can recommend. See my overview here.

Another is The Tale of the Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt; Illustrated by Tim Jonke. A lovely story for children of all ages. There's a narration of the book on YouTube.

Some Family Devotional Reading:

Ann Voscamp has two free devotionals for Lent and Easter available for download when you subscribe to her email.
Trail to the Tree is seventeen day Easter devotional with Bible readings and beautiful art selections to encourage listening, lingering, praying and contemplating. Adaptable to all ages. There is also a printable 'Forgiveness: fresh start' that ties in well with the Lenten period and gives a hands-on, practical application to the act of forgiveness.
'A Lent to Repent and Refresh' is a download of 40 mini cards or 'sticky notes for your soul.' Each card focusses on a Scripture and a prayer and includes a small colour print of devotional art. I love the aspect of 'fasting' from attitudes such as indifference and negative words. This is a simple way to prepare our hearts for Easter and could be used as a family devotional with older children or to glean ideas to use with younger ones.

Scroll down to the section 'Free Tools' to download the pdf's.

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1852–6)

Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper is a valuable book that helps us to discover the value of God-centred traditions and to establish them in our lives. The author points out that these traditions are important to us all - singles, children, couples, families. Her thoughts on this reminded me of an article on 'Continuity' I read many years ago by Edith Schaeffer, but haven't read since. (I'd really appreciate if  someone reading this could shed some light on where this article can be found as I read it when I was single and it made a big impression on me.)
Treasuring God in Our Traditions is free to download here.

Other Books:

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Lent, Holy week and Eastertide - compiled by Sarah Arthur.
I'm reading through this lovely compilation in the lead up to Easter and wrote about it here.
A rich resource that would work well with highschool age children. There are also some classic poems and extracts from works of fiction that would also be appropriate to share with children a little younger.

Vinegar Boy by Alberta Hawse (1970)

This is an intensely moving story of a young disfigured boy who, eleven years before the story begins, had been abandoned by his parents. Roman soldiers had found him discarded in the hills and carried him back to the garrison for a joke as one side of his face was fair and the other a hideous purple red. After the novelty of the birthmark had ceased to amuse the men, the boy was left with Nicolaus, the steward, who had kept him and grew to love him. The boy became known as 'Vinegar Boy' and now, eleven years after he first came to the garrison, he began to hear of the miracles performed by Jesus of Nazareth. A determination grew within him to go to Jesus, believing that he would be healed - and after he was healed he would choose a new name. The time came when he was to have a whole day to himself, and he planned to seek Jesus out. However, at the last minute he was required to take vinegar to the hill where there was to be a crucifixion...

And Jesus, the only Man in the whole world who could help him, was hanging unconscious on a cross - dying.

I read this aloud quite a few years ago and it was a powerful story. It is intense in places so would probably be best for ages 10 years and up.

Hymns & Songs

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Ghent Altarpiece by Van Eyck (15th C)

And one of my all-time favourite poems:

The Donkey
When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet. 
by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Monday, 19 March 2018

In Defence of Old Science Books

A common charge against Charlotte Mason educators is that we use too many old books. When it comes to teaching science, this objection is even more vehement. How can you teach science using books that were written ten, twenty, thirty or worse still, over a hundred years ago?
Yes, we do tend to use older books but that's not because older books are intrinsically better than more modern titles. There are plenty of dud older books that we'd never use for the good reason that they aren't well-written. The reason we'd choose an older book over a more recent is because it has a literary approach, i.e. it presents facts that are clothed in literary language.
More and more, education has become utilitarian in its approach, and this is reflected in the teaching of science and the content of the books that are used. David Hicks made this observation:

' science took a technological turn and as education began preparing students for work rather than for leisure, for the factory rather than for the parlor, the school itself came to resemble the factory, losing its idiosyncratic, intimate, and moral character...
In its utilitarian haste, the state often peddles preparation for the practical life to our young as the glittering door to the life of pleasure; but by encouraging this selfish approach to learning, the state sows a bitter fruit against that day when the community depends on its younger members to perform charitable acts and to consider arguments above selfish interests.'

Norms & Nobility by David Hicks

When a book is too direct and factual there's the possibility that the student may not appropriate the material.
I've thought about this not only in relation to my children but also to my own reading. Some thoughts on uniting the literary & the scientific here.

Of course some things will have changed from when a science book was first written, but we could say that about a science text that was written a year ago. There are ways to bring the knowledge up to date without too much trouble while still giving your student the foundational concepts padded out in a literary medium. YouTube videos are one way that's worked well for us. The chapter from the book is read first and then an appropriate video is shown after that.
We take care that:

'...all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.' 
Towards a Philosophy of Education, pg xxx

Some of the science books I've been using this year for my 13 year old daughter are in the 'old' category. Some are more modern, but they are all good. The first three book below are scheduled for Year 7 (Form III) at AmblesideOnline.

The Life of the Spider by Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1910)

Notebook page for The Life of the Spider 

The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean Henri Fabre - translated into English in 1922

These two books by Fabre are my daughter's favourites. Interestingly, Fabre was not only a scientist but a poet (see a short bio here). Charlotte Mason said of French scientists that,

'...they perceive that as there is an essence of history which is poetry so there is an essence of science to be expressed in exquisite prose.'

 Notebook page after reading Chapter 17 of The Wonder Book of Chemistry

I've used some of the University of Nottingham's Periodic Table of the Elements to not only bring some of the concepts in The Wonder Book of Chemistry (and other books we've used in the past couple of years) up to date but also to see demonstrations of science experiments that we wouldn't be able to perform safely at home.

Eric Sloane's Weather Book (1952)

The BBC's Wild Weather series narrated by Richard Hammond have been helpful with Sloane's book which on the surface looks simple enough but contains some difficult topics where a visual or simulated demonstration is helpful.

Architecture Shown to the Children by Gladys Wynne (1913)

This year we started Architectural Science and Gladys Wynne's book is our primary text. I've added in a couple of other books we have that relate to the science behind architecture such as String, Straightedge, & Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins (1965)
Although this would be classified as Mathematics and not Science, we're using it alongside the above book as it relates to Architecture in the Ancient World. The Grand Design DVD's are also an enjoyable addition from time to time.

Some examples from Moozle's Architecture Notebook

Secrets of the Universe by Paul Fleisher - this was originally published in 1987 and is out of print but it was re-issued as five separate books in 2002. Moozle is reading this one at present:

This is a series that a few of my children have enjoyed and learnt quite a lot from. Fleisher has explained the concepts well and included experiments that are do-able in the home situation. This was one Moozle did on light reflection last week:

Signs & Seasons by Jay Ryan (2007) is a more recent science publication but I'm supplementing with The Constellations & How to Find Them by Sir William Peck (1942) as he writes from a Southern Hemisphere perspective.

I managed to find a sundial in a local park

Natural Science

The older books really shine with this subject and just about every book I have related to this field is old. I have up to date field guides for studying birds and plants in our part of the world but reading the writing of earlier naturalists is very inspiring. An interesting article I found about this: What Early 20th Century Nature Study Can Teach Us.
Some of the books I use the most are:

Natural History in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall (1903)

Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock (1911)

Bush Calendar by Amy Mack (1909)

I posted a list of some of these that are available free online here. 

Mother Culture Science

These are some science titles I've read for my own education, or have used with my older children in the high school years. I've linked to reviews I've written on them or where we've used them in high school.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks (2001) - my own reading and one of my sons read it around the age of 16 years.

Longitude by Dava Sobel (2011) - this was a book I read aloud about 5 years ago to multiple ages

Madame Curie by Eva Curie (1937)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson (1968)

Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov (1966) - we used this in Years 9-11

Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow & Martynas Ycas (1967)

The following books are medically related, inspirational/devotional & highly recommended:

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made by Philip Yancey & Dr. Paul Band (1980)

Ten Fingers for God by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (1965) - a biography of Dr. Paul Brand

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Back to the Classics: The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (1956)

The Rosemary Tree is the first book I’ve read by Elizabeth Goudge, although she’s been on my radar for many years, but I doubt it will be my last as I found her writing to be descriptive and multi-layered; her characters warm and interesting.
The Rosemary Tree not only has an engaging plot, it also displays a skill in revealing character and from what I’ve read about the author, this seems to be her trademark.
There are, of course, many authors who have this skill, but Goudge doesn’t leave her characters unveiled and without hope. As they acknowledge and confront their weaknesses, mistakes, and outright transgressions, those same defects become catalysts for redemption. I loved this aspect of her writing and how it reflects her Christian values.
I won’t divulge the plot as there are a couple of surprises but here are some selections from the book to whet your appetite.

Goudge’s phrase ‘Interior Riches’ and the idea of ‘furnishing ones’ own private world' stood out to me so much that I wrote about it here.

'...out of chance phrases and flashes of beauty (Michael) had always in old days been able to build for himself his country of escape. “Rest and ease, a convenient place, pleasant fields and groves, murmuring springs, and a sweet repose of mind.” Cervantes had known the same country, and had doubtless retained the power to create it even in the midst of misery, so great were his own interior riches.
But Michael’s imagination had always been dependent upon exterior bounty, and cut off from that he had been cut off from his country too.'

‘...sarcasm doesn’t grow on the same stalk as humility.’

Goudge expressed the idea that hospitality could be sacramental. I’ve been pondering this and thinking back on some experiences we’ve had where hospitality did serve as a tangible extension of grace.

Some character sketches:

Bob, the gruff old gardener:

'He did occasionally let fall tokens of respect, and always when Michael was feeling most disintegrated by a sense of his worthlessness. They seemed to be bestowed to join him together again, for Bob seemed always moved by that strong creative impulse which only the best men have. In most men, Michael thought, even decent men, the destructive impulse is strongest in the presence of weakness.'

John, the compassionate, self-deprecatory, muddling vicar; a Don Quixote type of character:

'(Miss Giles’) amused liking for the amiable muddier was infused with sudden respect; which was not lost when he stopped the car with such a jerk that her head nearly went through the windscreen. He was out of the car in a moment, apologising and helping her out in a manner that could not have been more courteous had she been a duchess. Four shallow steps led up to the front door...and such is the power of suggestion that she walked up them as though she were a duchess, and led the way to the drawing-room with an air of elegance and grace that smote John’s heart with compassion. Another man might have thought it merely laughable...but to John it was as though he saw a fragile delicate flower struggling for life in some airless slum.'

Mrs Belling - on the surface a very sweet, charming woman who ran Oaklands, a school for small girls. Underneath, a completely self-absorbed woman who exercised a compelling power.

'Oaklands aquired an enviable reputation...and after forty-five years, even though it was declining now both in numbers and prosperity, it still retained it, as the scent of a rose still clings to it after the petals have begun to fall...
But the scent of a dying rose becomes at last tinged with the smell of decay and so had the atmosphere of Oaklands, emanating Asia did from the extraordinarily strong personality of Mrs. was not easy to realise that strength could exist enclosed in such fatness and flabbiness, such laziness and self-indulgence, and hardly anyone did realise it; apart from a few of the children, and their unconscious knowledge showed itself only as a curious shrinking from Mrs. Billing’s sweetness.'

For some reason I had in my mind that this author would be a little saccharine and light but a few of my reading friends spoke highly of her writing so I knew I should at least try one of her books.
I did find the last couple of chapters of The Rosemary Tree to be a little contrived or forced (I was thinking mostly of one or two conversations where Harriet was involved) but Goudge’s revelations concerning Mrs. Belling’s true character made up for any other deficiencies.

Linking to 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge: A Classic by an Author That's New to You.
And to The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

And to Carole's Books You Loved: April

Monday, 5 March 2018

Beau Geste by Percival Christopher Wren (1924): A Tale of Decency, Chivalry, Altruism and Heroism

Beau Geste by P. C. Wren is an adventure story and a convoluted mystery set predominantly in the African Sahara. The story jumps into the first mystery immediately, but that turns out to be a distraction from the central mystery - the theft of a precious gemstone. The two mysteries are related but the connection doesn’t make sense until the end of the book and both mysteries are solved.
The main characters involved in the story are the three Geste brothers: Michael or ‘Beau,’ so named because of his ‘remarkable physical beauty, mental brilliance and general distinction;’ Digby his twin brother and John, their younger brother. Orphaned at an early age, they lived in England with their maternal aunt, Lady Brandon, and two other young relatives, Claudia and Isobel.

Poor Aunt Patricia! She had contracted an alliance with Sir Hector Brandon as one might contract a disease. The one alleviation of this particular affliction being its intermittence; for this monument of selfishness was generally anywhere but at home, he being a mighty hunter before the Lord (or the Devil) and usually in pursuit of prey, biped or quadruped, in distant places.

Lady Brandon owned a magnificent gemstone known as the ‘Blue Water’ and one evening it disappeared. The blame fell on Michael, her favourite. He admitted his guilt, but as thieving was so out of character for him, and he had no motive for the crime, each of his brothers ‘confessed’ to being the culprit.
The French Foreign Legion had captured the young men’s imaginations earlier and so it was to France that that all three individually made their way to join up to the legion. To their surprise, the three brothers discovered they had all tried to cover for each other when they met up when met up as  legionaries. Together they were stationed in Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria, under the command of the sadistic Sergeant Lejaune:

To his admiring superiors he was invaluable; to his despairing subordinates he was unspeakable...
He would have made a splendid wild-beast tamer, for he had all the courage, strength, forceful personality, hardy over-bearing consciousness of superiority, and contemptuous, callous brutality required in that bold, ignoble profession.

There followed all manner of adventure, danger, moral darkness and tragedy, complicated when Lejaune somehow heard that Michael had stolen a precious gem and determined to get it from him.
Beau Geste is a terrific story of heroism, brotherly love, loyalty and faithfulness. Duty and doing what is right, regardless of the outcome, is an ever present theme, an unquestionable fact of life.
There are some gruesome aspects of desert fighting and Legion life in the tale but conversely, there are also nuggets of humour and brotherly banter throughout that add a carefree touch to the narrative.
This is no contrived morality tale, but a sensitive, triumphant story of unsung heroes and a noble gesture (i.e. beau geste).
An afterword in my copy of the book that was written by Brian Stableford summed up the author’s intentions in writing this book. I think he admirably achieved his purpose:

His constant obsession is with matters of decency, chivalry, altruism and heroism, and his constant lament is that in this cruel world these things are too often unobserved, unappreciated and unrewarded.

Beau Geste was written from the perspective of an Englishman in 1926, so there are cultural and racial biases that would probably be seen to be offensive by today's standards. The book is free online here if you want to peruse it.
P. C. Wren said that he enlisted himself in the French Foreign Legion using a pseudonym (as is the common practice) but the Legion authorities apparently disapproved of his portrayal of their system and deny his claim. However, his account of the daily life of a legionnaire is very vivid for someone who hadn’t spent time in its ranks.
As with many classics, this is a book that serves a broad age range. I thought it was a rivetting story  and my teenaged children enjoyed it around the age of about fourteen and up. It’s a splendid book for a young man with its emphasis on true heroism, the descriptions of life as a legionary and the humourous episodes early in the story which describe the antics of ‘Captain’ Michael’s ‘band’:

When a French cavalry officer on leave from Morocco visits their Aunt:

“Bags I we get him up to the schoolroom to-morrow,” whispered Michael...
Aunt Patricia lifted off the glass cover and handed the jewel to the Frenchman...
“That has caused we know not what of strife and sorrow and bloodshed,” he said. “What a tale it could tell!”
“Can you tell tales of strife and bloodshed, please?” asked Michael, and as Claudia said, “Why of course! He leads charges of Arab cavalry like Under Two Flags,” as though she had known him for years, we all begged him to tell us about his fighting, and he ranked second only to the “Blue Water” as a centre of attraction.
On the following afternoon, the Captain deputed Claudia to get the Frenchman to tell us some tales.
“Decoy yon handsome stranger to our lair,” quoth he. “I would wring his secrets from him.”
Nothing loth, Claudia exercised her fascinations upon him after lunch, and brought him to our camp in the Bower, a clearing in the woods near the house.

John’s description of his brother, Michael:

The Captain...was a very unusual person of irresistible charm, and his charm was enhanced, to me at any rate, by the fact that he was as enigmatic, incalculable, and incomprehensible as he was forceful. He was incurable romantic, and to this trait added the unexpected quality of a bull-dog tenacity. If Michael suddenly and quixotically did some ridiculously romantic thing, he did it thoroughly, and he stuck to it until it was done.

However, despite the youthful tone of some of the earlier passages, the story takes on a more serious tone story as it progresses with some of the characters downright evil, treacherous or cruel.

As Wren observed, altruism and heroism often go unobserved, unappreciated and unrewarded, and those who fight for what is right don’t always receive their reward in this life. A striking feature of Beau Geste is the contrast between the loyal and altruistic tendencies of a handful of characters and their ignoble, self-centred counterparts.
It helped me to read Beau Geste with a French dictionary close at hand as there are French words on just about every page in some sections of the book. Some of them are redundant or related to the military but the general gist can usually be worked out from the context.

Michael after he joins the Legion:

“Don’t bray like that, my good ass,” said Michael turning to him, “and try not to be a bigger fool than God meant you to...”

“It’s seems like we’ve all got to die, either way,” said Glock.
“It’s what I am trying to prevent, isn’t it, fat-head?” answered Michael.

Some interesting links on the french foreign legion which was established in 1831 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe and, yes, is still operating today.

Whatever Happened to the French foreign Legion?

The Mysterious Lure of the French Foreign Legion 
If you want to enlist in the Legion!!

Linking to 2018 Back to the Classics: Beau Geste is my choice for a 20th Century Classic
and Carole's Books you Loved.