Monday, 26 October 2020

Charlotte Mason Highschool: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)

The Outsiders is a coming of age sort of story which works really well, probably because the author wrote the book when she was just seventeen years old. It is told very simply and directly from the viewpoint of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old ‘Greaser.’ The author captures the main character’s  personality and concerns so well and so naturally.

Ponyboy lives with his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop. Their parents were killed in a car accident and twenty year old Darry has taken on the role of keeping the family together. He is bent on avoiding any situation that would give an opportunity for the authorities to send the younger boys off to boys’ homes. He has had to grow up fast and work hard and Ponyboy, not understanding his older brother’s situation, believes he doesn't care and sees everything he does as unnecessary interference in his life.

Something that really struck me about this book was the value placed on the role of parents. This isn’t something you’d normally encounter in a book dealing with the struggles of adolescence and it was quite refreshing.

‘Darry and Sodapop were my brothers and I loved both of them, even if Darry did scare me; but not even Soda could take Mom and Dad’s place.’

Johnny was the Greaser gang’s pet, everyone’s kid brother. His father was always beating him and his mother ignored him unless she was angry and then she just yelled.

He could stay out all night and nobody would notice. When Ponyboy complained about his older brother, Johnny said, ‘I ain’t got nobody,’ 

Ponyboy was startled out of his misery: got the whole gang. Dally didn’t slug you tonight ‘cause you’re the pet. I mean, golly, Johnny, you got the whole gang.’

‘It ain’t the same as having your own folks care about you,’ Johnny said simply. ‘It just ain’t the same.’

The Greasers were from the poorer side of town while their rival gang, the 'Socs,' were well-heeled and drove around in cars looking for Greasers to fight with. The two gangs were continually warring with each other but one night one of them was killed and everything changed for Ponyboy. Two gang members ended up on the run and suddenly it was no longer 'us' and 'them.' Ponyboy's former enemies are just like him - human.  

'Soda fought for fun, Steve for hatred, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity. Why do I fight? I thought, and couldn’t think of any real good reason. There isn’t any real good reason for fighting except self-defence.’

The Outsiders is a quick but memorable read suitable for around the age of 15 yrs and up. 

I first heard about the book when I hosted a ‘Mum Culture’ evening where a group of us discussed some of our most memorable reads. The gist of The Outsiders was mentioned, although the title had been forgotten and immediately someone else jumped in and said, “I loved that book!” and told everyone the title. So of course, I had to it check it out.

The ultimate test came when I gave it to my 15 year old daughter to read and she gave it her tick of approval also.

(I happened to notice that Ambleside Online has it as a free read in Year 11. I missed that in previous years so I don’t know if its been added lately or I just didn’t see it.)

Sunday, 18 October 2020

A Light in the Window by Jan Karon (1995)

A Light in the Window 
is the second book in Jan Karon’s beloved Mitford series. At Home in Mitford introduced Father Tim, Mitford’s rector and lifelong bachelor, and this book continues developing the characters and relationships that were introduced in there.

Father Tim’s relationship with his delightful neighbour, Cynthia, is getting more serious but there are some complications that arise, one of them being a wealthy and manipulative widow who has her eyes on the poor rector and seeks to beguile him with her gourmet cooking. An Irish cousin turns up unexpectedly, plants her uninvited self firmly in place, and proceeds to behave very strangely. Then there is Father Tim’s own personal struggles as he wrestles with his future and contemplates the words of C.S.Lewis, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

‘In all the years of his priesthood, he had pastored the need of others. Now, he found himself pastoring others to meet his own needs.’

Father Tim is in his early 60’s and had been diagnosed with diabetes in At Home With Mitford. His relationship with his neighbour is blossoming but he has difficulty with intimacy and there are frequent allusions to his relationship with his father, a cold and distant man.

‘He believed he had never married because he was married to his calling. The truth was, he had a complete lack of the equipment demanded for truly loving.’

There is much humour scattered through this book even as it deals with serious issues. I enjoyed reading about the interactions in a small country town, the way the author deals with the ordinariness of life, its ups and downs, its hopes and disappointments, and the daily living out of a life of faith.

An aspect of this book that I liked is that Cynthia sees past the exterior of a man who is a bit overweight and has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, to see someone who is worth getting to know. She bypasses Andrew Gregory, a suave, articulate man-about town and chooses the unlikely Father Tim instead. It takes a while for Father Tim to realise this!

‘Diabetes was the sorriest of infirmities to drag to a dinner party.’

‘What was he, after all, when you came down to it, but a country parson? Not tall and trim and debonair like Andrew Gregory, who owned a closetful of cashmere jackets, could speak Italian, French, and a bit of Russian, and drove a Mercedes the size of a German tank.’

I’m looking forward to slowly reading my way through this refreshing and gentle series of fourteen books.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Charlotte Mason Highschool - a 15 Year Old's Year

This is a review of what we've done this year. It's based on Ambleside Online Year 10 but with some adaptions for Australian content, personal interests, and substitutions I wanted to make - books I have and wanted to use or thought were important to include. I've linked to reviews or thoughts I've shared on some of the books.


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis - a great book for a teen reader; full of humour but deadly serious!

By Searching by Isobel Kuhn - autobiography of a missionary to China that concentrates on the struggles of faith in her youth. I like to include a Christian biography each year and also a book that is set or focussed on the Asia Pacific region. This book worked for both categories.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin - we took turns reading this aloud: 'How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts & Minds.'

How Should We Then Live by Francis A. Schaeffer. I've used this now with all seven of our children. It's a book I think is very important as it traces key moments in the history of Western culture and the thinking of the people behind those moments in order to shed light on modern times. Schaeffer draws on his study of theology, philosophy, history, sociology and the arts in this work.


The Great Democracies by Winston Churchill

A Short History of Australia by Ernest Scott - out of print but online here. We used this book last year, the relevant chapters for this year and will continue with it for the first part of Year 11.

Killer Angels by Michael Shaara - the American Civil War. This was a free read because we had the book and Hails wanted to read it.


Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey. We also watched The Young Victoria, the 2009 production which concentrated on the lead up to Victoria's coronation and her marriage to Albert. I read Queen Victoria by Lucy Worsley thinking I could possibly use that but it had too much information on the improprieties of some of the royals for a 15 year old. A pity as it also touched on many other important characters of the time such as Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone although there were chapters I could have assigned that would have worked but I felt we'd covered enough in the end.

L'Abri by Edith Schaeffer - a book I wanted to include at some point so I used it this year.

Science & Natural History

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - we started this last year and finished it in Term 1 of this year.  I read it aloud and it was engaging and an excellent book to discuss.

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif -  as per AO schedule

The Planets by Dava Sobel - a very literary guide to the planets. The author obviously loves her subject but she does wax very lyrical so I wasn't sure if Hails would enjoy it but she did and it inspired many written narrations. 

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman - a beautifully illustrated book about Maria Merian, an artist, adventurer and scientist in 17th century Europe.

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman -  I wasn't expecting Hails to like this but she has so far. We started it later than scheduled and will finish it in the next couple of months.

Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies - we finished this earlier in the year. 

The Wilderness by Amy Mack - a very short book (26 pages) Read aloud

Exploring Creation With Physical Science by Jay Wile - very good for experiments.

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot - I've been reading this series aloud for a couple of years. We've just started the next book, 'All Things Wise and Wonderful.' Hilarious and touching memoirs of a Yorkshire vet in the early to mid 1900's.


I wrote about our archaeological studies a la Charlotte Mason here. Our main book has been God, Graves & Scholars by C. W. Ceram. We also made use of the free Dig School resources that were offered during COVID.

We continued with 50 Architects You Should Know that we started two years ago and finished it earlier this year.


Eothen by Alexander Kingslake 

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson - we didn't finish this one (16 out of 29 Chapters). I bought the book at the end of our U.K. trip last year thinking it would be a great way to re-live some of the places we visited but in the end I was sick of the author's lewd, crude and obnoxious comments, not to mention his deplorable behaviour towards others on his travels through the U.K. in 1995. Very disappointing as we really liked his The Short History of Nearly Everything but he whined and complained in almost every chapter in this book and I had to edit so much on the fly I got fed up!! Not recommended and I'm not the only one who felt that way - I checked out Goodreads later. Apparently he must have lost the plot with this one.

We regularly use Seterra for map drills.

Australian Literature

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - I read this years ago and thought it was 'O.K.' but Hails really enjoyed it. I liked the movie a lot more so we'll watch that some time soon.

Pied Piper, Trustee From the Toolroom and No Highway by Nevil Shute. These books weren't set here but I included them as an introduction to Shute who made his home here. The books I've read that have an Aussie setting are a little too mature for a 15 yr old, I think.

All the Green Year by Don Charlwood - a coming of age Aussie story.

General Literature

We used all the suggestions in AO Year 10 except Uncle Tom's Cabin and added In This House of Brede, which she loved, Mary Barton, and Martin Chuzzlewit. I didn't require narrations from these.

Shakespeare's Henry V - the play and then we watched the Kenneth Branagh DVD

Short Stories - I chose four from the AO selections

Essays - selections from AO and from God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis


Plutarch - the Life of Alexander - this was one of the best lives we've read!

Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

One Blood by Ken Ham, Carl Wieland & Don Batten

How to Read a Book

The Deadliest Monster - liked this very much

Invitation to the Classics

Personal, Career, and Financial Security by Richard J. Maybury


How Not to Diet by Dr Michael Greger - whole foods, plant based

HIIT sessions with me

Swimming several times a week


Musicianship & AMEB Studies for the cello
Folksongs & Hymns

The Arts by Van Loon

Picture Study - I put together a Charlotte Mason style study on the Australian artist Tom Roberts.

Masterpiece Society - we've used their watercolour and acrylic courses and they are very good for teaching technique. (affiliate link)

Free Reads

Hails is a very fast and voracious reader and I can't keep up with her but her favourite books lately are: 
Anything and everything by P. G. Wodehouse
Agatha Christie re-reads
Regina Doman's fairy tale retellings (the first two only at the moment)
Books by John Flanagan (The Ranger's Apprentice etc.)
The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour
Witch Wood by John Buchan - one of the very few of this author's books she hadn't read before.

This year she read some more Dickens (who hasn't been her favourite author) and is in the process of reading War & Peace by Tolstoy.

I asked her to write about some of her favourite books and here is what she wrote: Ten Favourite Books of a 15 Year Old.

I've read and heard comments that using the Charlotte Mason method in highschool doesn't provide a rigorous enough education - it's too gentle, doesn't cover STEM subjects, won't prepare kids for university etc., etc. I really don't agree, if you provide a broad feast with enough of a challenge and plenty of living books to provide the mental sustenance a young person needs.