Sunday, 28 April 2019

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956)



Cupid Finding Psyche by Sir Edward- Burne Jones (1865-1867)


Till We Have Faces is a book I’ve been avoiding for a while, mostly because I had the idea that it would be a stiff and ponderous read, but what a strangely captivating story it turned out to be!
Subtitled, A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis took the story of Cupid and Psyche originally written about 125 AD by Lucius Apuleius Platonicus (which you can read here) and retold, or re-interpreted it, from the point of view of Psyche’s older sister, Orual.
Lewis said of his book that it was, ‘...the straight tale of barbarism, the mind of an ugly woman, dark idolatry and pale enlightenment at war with each other...'

Orual is the ugly eldest daughter of Trom, the widowed King of Glome, an ancient barbaric kingdom, and Psyche is her beautiful younger half-sister. Orual is an unreliable narrator and presents everything in the light of her skewed perspective; her outer ugliness a reflection of what’s going inside her. She expresses a love for Psyche that she considers to be akin to maternal love but it is manipulative and devouring.


The Wedding of Psyche by Sir Edward- Burne Jones (1895)



When Psyche submits to leaving her home to be the ransom for all Glome, Orual vents her anger and hatred upon the gods. Becoming more bitter and twisted as she grows old, she covers up her outer ugliness with a veil.
For most of the book, Orual presents a compelling case, but we begin to see her unreliable nature as a narrator or interpreter of events as the book comes to an end. She had written her complaint in a book she authored but at the end of her life as she stands before the judge with her book in her hand, her veil is removed and she stands naked before countless gazers. She is then told to read her complaint aloud.

'I looked at the roll in my hand and saw at once that it was not the book I had written, it couldn’t be; it was far too small. And too old - a little, shabby, crumpled thing, nothing like my great book that I had worked on all day, day after day...
A great terror and loathing came over me. I said to myself, “Whatever they do to me, I will never read out this stuff. Give me back my Book.” But already I heard myself reading it.'

As Orual read aloud, her voice was strange to her but she knew that now she was hearing her real voice.

'I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?'

Orual was being ‘unmade.' She admitted that she had never had one selfless thought of her sister, Psyche. She confessed that she was a craver.
Orual ends her narrative with these beautiful words before she died:

'I ended my first book with the words No answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away...'

The myth of Cupid and Psyche takes on a new meaning with Lewis’s interpretation. How easy it is to be unreliable narrators and only view our lives as we ourselves see it outworking. This struck me so forcibly as someone who sometimes relies on a narrow view of circumstances.
Till We Have Faces has a strangely beautiful twist that echoes a little of the Book of Job in the Old Testament -  to my mind, anyhow.
It is a wonderfully layered, deep book that reverberates in your soul but is surprisingly easy to read.
I have this selection of books in one volume (see below) by the author and it's the copy I read.
For the book on its own see this edition in print.





Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Review of The Art of Poetry: Classical Academic Press




My daughter turned 14 years of age earlier this year and as with many students in the high school years, her days are very full. Besides her lessons at home, she is studying the cello at a level which requires about 6 hours of practice per week and she swims in a competition squad for 8 hours a week. From what I've observed, many other home educated children are in similar circumstances with a variety of similar or other commitments.

So why include the study Poetry? What use is it? Isn't it one of those 'enrichment' subjects that aren't really necessary; just a fancy add on and reserved for those kids who are into that type of thing? 

Something to consider:

'…your days are long and crammed with obligation and information and technology. You are at risk for thinking that this is knowledge. Poetic knowledge insists that beauty and truth can’t be separated. It reminds us that the rational alone will not take us to full knowledge and that we should be astonished by what is true.'

The Art of Poetry is a Poetry Curriculum but what it also does admirably is to give a beautifully articulated defence for the need of poetry in our lives, no matter what our age.

‘Poetry acknowledges something deep within our nature...’


This curriculum was written for students in the 7th to 10th Grade and includes an anthology of 39 poems from well-known and lesser known poets.
There are 16 Chapters each having a short anthology of poems with a variety of discussions questions, followed by an activity section and quiz at the end of the chapter. The activity section has a wide scope of options for students. My daughter loves drawing and enjoyed some of the more creative ideas for mixing poetry with art. Students who prefer writing, reciting, or acting, will also find plenty of ideas here.

There are three main sections in the text:

1) Elements of Poetry - eight chapters discussing Images, Metaphor, Symbols, Word, Sound, Rhythm, Shape, and Tone.

2) The Formal History of Poetry - seven chapters covering  the History of Form, Verse Forms, Shaping Forms, A Case Study in Form, Open Verse, A Case Study in Open Verse, and Narrative Poems.

3) Application - a section on growing your interest in poetry with suggestions such as starting a poetry group, finding mentors, and a range of other ideas.

Three Apendices include short biographies of the poets covered in The Art of Poetry; planning ideas, a glossary of terms, bibliography, timeline, and quizzes.

A few timetable options are suggested: an intense month long unit; spreading the curriculum out over the year - two sections per month; or expanding it out over several years.


‘Poetry fundamentally changes our relationship to language - we can no longer see words
 as merely serviceable vehicles.’

The complete curriculum for The Art of Poetry includes a Student Text, a Teacher’s Edition, and a set of 7 DVD’s with over 15 hours of material.
The DVD’s aren’t essential but I found them helpful and Miss 14 enjoyed the discussions between Christine Perrin and her four students. The students were of a similar age to my girl, and the banter between them added a nice dynamic.

At the beginning of each chapter, the author reads from sections of the text and then has a group discussion. At the end of this, she chooses one or two of the activities and demonstrates it.
One of our favourites was a free writing exercise. I thought I knew what this meant but as the author talked through it and then went ahead and modelled it, I realised I didn’t! For five minutes we wrote about images from one of the four seasons - no planning, just writing anything that came to our minds during that time, without stopping. I was pleasantly surprised with both of our efforts. This is a great exercise for those who tend to overthink things or get mental blocks when faced with a blank page.

Other activities included:

An exercise in Ekphrasis - a poem written in response to a visual piece of art. Moozle observed Pieter Bruegel's work, The Land of Cockaigne, and wrote this in response to it:



From the section on Metaphors:

‘Draw a picture of the bird of hope as you imagine it from Dickinson’s poem...
Will you ever see a bird now without considering the way in which its miraculous wings defy gravity and lift into the air? This is how poetry begins to live with us each day and in the scenes we encounter.’

Moozle chose to draw a blue wren, a tiny, beautiful, Australian native bird, as a metaphor for hope:




'Poetry remind us that the metaphor is the basic way of knowing the unknown and that we often describe one thing in terms of another. Poetry gives us images to cherish and to invigorate 
our daily experience.'


If you were planning to use the course with a group or needed some guidance in how to teach poetry in general, the DVD's would be a good resource. Or if like me you're using the curriculum with only one student, seeing other kids getting involved in a poetry discussion helps facilitate your own. 
The Teacher’s Edition includes the text from the Student Edition along with suggestions for discussion questions, answers to discussion questions for the poems, and answers to quizzes. It is arranged in such a way that you could use the Teacher’s Edition for the Student as the discussion answer guides are found tucked away at the end of the chapters.
The answers to the quizzes are sometimes on the opposite page so you could either cover them up or give the questions orally.
The Student Edition has the same content as the Teacher’s Edition minus the answer keys.


'Educating the imagination is an important aspect of studying poems.'


Pros

* A good variety of poems are studied
* The chapter introductions are just beautifully written (the quotations in this post were taken from the text)
* There is an emphasis on reciting and memorisation
* The activities have a mixture of analytical and creative suggestions
* The course is taught by a poet who obviously loves her subject
* It is very adaptable and could also be used for Mother Culture!

Cons

* There is so much content in this curriculum that it could overwhelm at first sight. In fact, the author specifically says in her introduction not to let it do this.

* Depending on the student, they may not be ready for the more analytical aspects of the curriculum.
If a student hasn't had much exposure to poetry before, I'd concentrate more on appreciating the various poems the author presents, reading them aloud, and covering the section 'The Elements of Poetry.'

The author reminds us that poetry can communicate before it is understood. Keeping that in mind takes the pressure off so that we can enjoy studying aspects of poetry and return to a lesson later on to look at it in a more analytical way. 
Appendix C has a simplified plan on Page 252 that summarize some practices to help initiate you into the world of poetry. 

For those following a Charlotte Mason method of education, I'm using this in Year 9 of Ambleside Online.


'…Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; 
for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.'

 T.S. Eliot


Classical Academic Press kindly provided me with a free copy of The Art of Poetry Curriculum for review purposes and what I wrote above is my honest opinion.
They are also offering a 20% discount for the Art of Poetry Program (discount won’t apply to individual texts). Discount code “AOP2019” can be applied at checkout for the 20% off. 
The discount will run through until the 31st May 2019.



For further information:

Art of Poetry samples at Classical Academic Press

http://artofpoetry.us/





Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Sun on the Stubble by Colin Thiele




Sun on the Stubble is an Australian classic first published in 1961 and later adapted for television and was written by a prolific Australian author, Colin Thiele (1920-2006). We've read a number of his books, mainly for the younger set, and I'd heard of this book but didn't get to read it until my eldest was in her teens. I recognised the title when I stumbled upon it at an op shop,and thought I should at least give it a try seeing it was a sort of iconic Aussie book. I was surprised to find that it was so different from his other books, some of which are quite sad, and by the fifth page I started laughing at regular intervals and continued to do so until the end of the book 183 pages later.
I knew I'd just have to read this book aloud, which I did, but with great difficulty. When I'd finished the kids told their dad he had to read it aloud to them also. So he did but he had trouble too and everyone got frustrated because he'd read ahead and start laughing.

Bruno Gunther is the main character in the story, the youngest child of German immigrants, along with three other sons, two daughters, and Grandad, who settled in a farming community in South Australia after fleeing Germany.
The book opens as Bruno is leaving his beloved home to attend school in the city and his thoughts are on all he is leaving behind.

It was the end of a boyhood. The beginning of an exile. After twelve years in the warmth of home he was being thrust out, torn up by the roots, sent off to school in Adelaide. In his anguish the scenes of his boyhood swept through his mind's eye, leapt and swayed and flickered like the changing patterns of sunlight on the stubble...

Bruno's father is big, tough and blundering; his mother tiny and timid but fierce when it came to protecting her youngest child in particular; his older brothers are approaching manhood and are full of bravado and fun; his sisters are feminine, and the older girl is desperate to have bathroom amenities added to the home; his Grandad clever, devious at times, humorous and a beloved member of the family.

Dad was a big man - six feet tall and an axe handle across the shoulders. Each of his hands was like a leg of mutton. In an emergency, Dad was always reliable. He was strong and quick, even if no one could possibly describe him as cool.

A big tear started suddenly in Bruno's eye and he dabbed it hastily with the towel. Dear old Mum! He knew she was near tears herself, but she had a great love in her small body - more than Dad would ever know - and Bruno felt it suddenly like a warm and living thing.

Sun on the Stubble is a hilarious, loving, and often poignant portrayal of a young man growing up in post World War II rural Australia. Colin Thiele managed to write a very humorous story interspersed with gems showing facets of the love between a mother and her child.

Most of my children would say it was the best book we'd ever read aloud to them. It's definitely the funniest. It's suitable for family reading although I'd suggest a quick preview as I skipped a few sections when I first read it aloud as some of my children were quite young at the time. It's easy to do this without ruining the story.

The book pictured above is an Omnibus Edition and includes three other stories set in rural South Australia written by the author.
This is an updated post of my original from about six years ago. This book is too good to miss!



Sunday, 7 April 2019

A Charlotte Mason Education; Our Week #2

This is one of my intermittent posts giving a summary of some of what we've covered in a week. Here are some selections from last week, which was our third week of Ambleside Online Year 9.
My first post is here and details a few other areas plus some books that we're using. Last week we started Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice using the Naxos audio CD pictured below. We've used a few different audio productions for Shakespeare's plays including Arkangel, New Cambridge, and Folio, in addition to Naxos and we've probably enjoyed the Naxos versions best. Their narrators/actors are excellent!





The Oxford School Shakespeare guides are great for high school and often have ideas that can be used for narration. A couple from The Merchant of Venice are:
'The trial of Antonio is a very important event in Venice. Give it full 'media coverage' - newspaper, radio etc. Describe three of Portia's suitors and her attitudes towards them.'

I use these guides myself as we listen to the audio and my children have followed along using the free versions found here. They are often re-published and easy to find secondhand. I usually buy them for a dollar or two from op shops or Lifeline book sales.






Portia by John Everett Millais (1886)


'The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown...'


Portia's speech from The Merchant of Venice: Act IV, Scene 1


Weekly Readings for Year 9


Cold Case Christianity - We've been watching some videos by J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective via RightNow Media but I found some online that are free. I haven't watched the free videos but the ones we've viewed at RightNow are very good. He's also written a number of books for both adults and children.


I've been using some of the Key to Algebra books for Moozle just for a diversion from her regular maths text. We've previously used Key to Percents & Fractions; Decimals, and will probably also use Key to Geometry. They are very good for cementing understanding and filling in gaps when you have a student who doesn't love maths.
Unfortunately, I've had to order them from the USA. Christianbook.com is the cheapest place I've found. RainbowResource also has them but postage (to Australia) is expensive.






Free Reading

Saint Ronan's Well by Sir Walter Scott

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (re-read)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen - this is the second time Moozle's  read this book and she's appreciated it a lot more this time around.


Working on some art skills:



Out comes the picture book! Moozle & her brother collaborated yet again to make a smashing apple pie using the recipe from this well-loved book: How to Make an Apple Pie & See the World by Marjorie Priceman.





Sourcing Books & Supplies in Australia

Sometimes I use World of Books for secondhand items. They're a bit limited regarding homeschool material but good for classics, Shakespeare guides, and better known titles. They also have free postage.
On occasion, eBay has had what I was after. I've bought Windsor & Newton watercolours from The Art Shop Skipton. It's a UK supplier but I had no problems with orders and when I looked they were cheaper than buying the paints here in Australia. That may not always be the case though.

https://www.bookfinder.com/ is a good place to compare book prices.