At long last, I finished my master’s degree in Christian education in December. Much as I’m thrilled to be done, I loved the external pressure of hard book lists and required reading deadlines. Don’t get me wrong. I love to read on my own. But…I probably wouldn’t pick up some of the heftier, weightier things just for my own pleasure reading, and if I did, I’d never finish them so quickly! So, I’ve decided now that I’m done I need to make sure I keep reading at a clipping pace. The best part is–now I get to pick the books I’m going to read!
I’m trying to strike a good balance between well-written fiction (that will educate my imagination) and well-written non-fiction (that will educate my mind and habits).
Here’s what I read in the last four months. (I kept forgetting to post this at each month-end, so I kept adding to it!).
For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
I’ve been reading and hearing (via audio lectures) a lot lately about restful learning and schole. We wholeheartedly do classical Christian education, but I’ve also been curious about how Charlotte Mason fits into the classical and Christian picture. This book by Francis Schaeffer’s daughter was highly recommended on Amazon reviews as a good introduction to Charlotte Mason’s philosophies. It was a good read. I didn’t agree with every single thing, but it was very helpful, and I recommend it.
This book was recommended as a practical follow-up to Macaulay’s book. In fact, the book itself states that this was the reason for its writing. It really did clarify some of Charlotte Mason’s suggestions and give good ideas for application today in the homeschool or classroom. I recommend this book as well. We’re even implementing some of these suggestions in our homeschool this semester.
I’ll freely admit to loving well-written children’s fiction. I agree with C.S. Lewis when he said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” However, another perk to reading children’s fiction is that I get to preview books that I never read as a child before my own children read them. That way, 1) I’m able to discuss the books with them, and 2) I get to weed out inappropriate books. In this case, I had never read these books as a child, but I’m glad I read them first. My 8-year-old is a strong reader. (He just finished The Lord of the Rings books.) So I tend to give him books well above his typical age category. However, I think he’d better appreciate this series when he’s a couple years older. I think the quantum physics aspect would be a little bit confusing for him still, and he might not really get what’s happening (not that getting quantum physics is the point of these books at all). Plus, I will not hand him Many Waters to read. Not now. Not when he’s ten. Not when he’s fourteen. The themes are pretty explicitly sexual. There’s no actual sex, but a good portion of the story is carried along by the issue of virginity/non-virginity and seduction (both by fallen angels and a “loose” woman), and the author also notes how the teenage male protagonists are rather distracted by naked breasts (they have been transported to pre-Flood times where the characters, both male and female, wear only loincloths). It’s just not appropriate reading for a young person. The other three books (I have not yet read An Acceptable Time) are perfectly fine for upper elementary aged children or above. There are definitely some Christian themes and a good dose of moral imagination, but I would say that L’engle (a Christian) has some interesting theology that would merit a parents’ reading first so as to discuss these books with their child.
Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah MacKenzie
A lot of people are talking about this book. When I first started it, I wasn’t sure if the material would be new or helpful to me. Sometimes what is novel to one religious tradition isn’t to another. However, the further in I got, the more I resonated with Sarah’s ideas. I think we must be a lot alike. (Blog post ahead on why I no longer feel the least bit guilty not doing paper-glue-glitter-stamp-marker-cut crafts with my kids in our homeschool. Thank.you.very.much!!) One of the things Sarah says is that in addition to taking your children’s learning-styles into account, you have to take your own learning style and personality into account also rather than feeling stuck to a curriculum or comparing yourself to other homeschoolers. She also talks about the true meaning of curriculum. In addition to spiritual encouragement, she gives lots of practical, freeing tips on how to homeschool from rest. Read it. It’s short and to the point.
A Guide to Teaching Classically by Jennifer Dow
I read this right after hearing Andrew Kern, at the Great Homeschool Convention, speak about Socratic teaching and how to use it to read/teach a good book. Very informative. If you’re teaching classically (or trying to), read this as a good introduction to the three classical modes of teaching (Socratic teaching, mimetic teaching, and narration). I anticipate rereading this short (free) book and using it as a jumping-off point to further educating myself in mastering these modes.
I received this book as a gift from the author, and I’m so glad I did. This book is a fascinating look at and comparison of the marriages of John and Molly Wesley, George and Elizabeth Whitefield, and Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. She examines their marital lives through the years, their respective theologies of marriage and family, and their respective theologies of the priority of ministry.
Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free by Amy Lynn Andrews
This was another short read. I’m a pretty well-organized person, and I have a good weekly schedule going on Google calendar. In addition to Amy’s helpful tips on scheduling, though, this book focused on setting, balancing, and accomplishing priorities. “What kind of _____ do I want to be?” That’s what should fill my day. Written by Christian homeschool mom. I did use the free printables as I read, found on TellYourTime.com.
From the Mixed -up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This was a fun afternoon read–another that I never read as a child. If you don’t know the plot, a brother and sister run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week (in 1967). As for appropriateness for my kids, I’m honestly not thrilled with the idea that the kids run away from home. I’ll admit to preferring the more “old-fashioned” portrayals of family life where family members set an example of living in harmony.There was one instance of “gosh” (that I noticed) and a short discussion of marijuana by the kids. The kids also steal a newspaper (they do feel guilty afterward) and eat a candy bar that doesn’t belong to them (that’s where the marijuana discussion comes in–whether the candy bar might be filled with marijuana and they might become “dope addicts” by eating it). This book has definite merits (among others, it gives kids an interest in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in Michelangelo), and I think it could be handled appropriately with parental supervision and discussion (particularly “should” questions: Should the characters have ____?), but it’s not one I’d hand them readily as a completely independent read–at least not until they were well-versed in asking themselves the “should” questions. The book essentially teaches that personal satisfaction for achievement or effort or learning should mean more to you than outward praise from others, which is a good lesson, but, again, I’m not sure younger kids, at least, would see this message on their own. Konigsburg is a good enough writer that the message isn’t completely obvious to the reader.
Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass
This book was excellent! I kept quoting it to Scott. It provided a wonderful, balanced perspective on both classical education and Charlotte Mason and her educational philosophy. This was a subject I considered writing my master’s thesis on because I was curious about the level of comparison and compatibility between these two methods, but Karen Glass did all the work instead–and great work at that. I wrote so many quotations from this book into my commonplace journal because I kept being struck by Glass’s thoughts and research. Her distinction between synthesis and analysis was particularly good, as was her discussion of the Trivium and its real relation to classical education. I can’t say enough good things about this book. I would recommend this to classical (or Charlotte Mason) newbies as an easy-to-read primer…before tackling Norms and Nobility (a not-so-easy standard) by David Hicks, who wrote the forward to this book. Also, in case anyone is wondering, Consider This is thoroughly biblical throughout. A couple of favorite quotations (hard to choose only two): “Virtues do not lend themselves to hashtags, but to compassionate action motivated by truth and wisdom.” Also, “If we imagine that classical education means only one thing–the seven liberal arts–it is because we have not listened as carefully to what the teachers of the past have to say as Charlotte Mason did…The circle of classical ideals–the pursuit of virtue, humility, and a synthetic approach to knowledge whereby affections become actions–is a bracelet that still ies by the wayside and may be claimed by any willing teacher.”
The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason by Laurie Bestvater
After reading Consider This, I was ready to dive right into The Living Page. It didn’t disappoint. Bestvater gives so many practical pointers and even example pictures of the various notebooks used by Charlotte Mason in her education–both well-known notebooks and lesser-known ones. She also helpfully clarifies the meaning of the Book of Centuries. I read this shortly after listening to Andrew Kern discuss commonplacing and his highlighting system, so I especially enjoyed Bestvater’s discussion of the commonplace notebook. We don’t do all of these notebooks, nor do we plan to, in our homeschool, but the discussion was enlightening nonetheless, and I do plan to incorporate some of Bestvater’s ideas into our school. I want to be a Keeper, and I want my children to be Keepers! As Bestvater puts it, “A Keeper is a learner awake” (66). If you, too, want to be a Keeper, this book is one to grab.
Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman
My husband has had this book on his shelf for years, but I discovered it through a friend. In our church, all the children sit in the worship service. My friend has six kids (ages newborn to ten) in the pew with her each Sunday, and there’s never a ruckus. Our children are old enough now to sit still and take notes, but several in our church wanted to know her secret to keeping that many children (especially such little ones) so still. This book was her “secret.” Robbie Castleman is a pastor’s wife who raised her children in the worship service and shares her wisdom. Other than Castleman’s discussion of attire for worship and her discussion of the use of contemporary music for teens (you can find our disagreements with her arguments in those areas elsewhere on this blog), I loved this easy, parent-friendly read. She makes a great case for parenting in the pew.
Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
Doesn’t that title just make you want to read this? The Goldstones discuss how they formed a parent-child book club, and they go in-depth on some of the children’s books that they “deconstruct” (including their first-ever book club selection, Mr. Popper’s Penguins). In their defense, I wouldn’t say that they deconstruct or analyze a book to death (so as to chop it up) so much as they discuss mimetically for a deeper understanding of the book and the author’s intent. Now I want to start a book club! The different parts of a book and what they “deconstruct” were not new to me, but a few of the books were, and how they went about it was. I love the idea of parents and children discussing and contemplating a book together and, hence, making it a part of themselves. They give some great selections to use in a book club and hold your hand through how to discuss them by retelling scenarios from their past book clubs. They even have a chapter on how to discuss poetry with children (and parents) in a book club setting (or any setting). So helpful! They think it does matter what children read. A favorite quotation: “We’ve heard from parents again and again how difficult it has been to get children who have read nothing but pap to focus when the books assigned in class get more complicated. You wouldn’t believe someone who said it didn’t matter what your child ate as long as they ate something, and then fed them candy all day. Reading is no different.” I seem to have heard someone or other say that about music too…somewhere…
Heidi by Johanna Spyri, edited by Ranelda Hunsicker
I never read this as a child, though I saw the Shirley Temple movie version countless times. The book was enchanting. I chose this edition because Veritas Press recommended it as one of the few current publications of Heidi that includes the Christian content. Apparently, even versions marked “unabridged” delete the Christian content. After reading this, I cannot imagine how much would be left wanting without the bold affirmation of the sovereignty of God, trusting His timing and His will–pretty much the whole purpose of the character Grandmamma is to teach Heidi that lesson–the hymns that Heidi takes such delight in reading to the old Grandmother as Grandmother waits for her faith to become sight, and the Alm-Uncle’s (Grandfather’s) turning back to God (and, thus, renewing His relationship with the townspeople) through the story of the Prodigal Son that Heidi reads him from her special book. This book was a birthday present for my daughter. I stole it while she finished up another book, but now I can’t wait for her to read it.
Medallion by Dawn L. Watkins
This book is one of my son’s favorites, but he willingly surrendered it to me for a couple of days so that I could read it. I usually pre-read my kids’ books if I haven’t read them before. However, in this case it so happens that I know Dawn L. Watkins, and knowing the author personally, I knew it would be okay for Caleb to read. This book was written 30 years before I met Dawn, but I wasn’t wrong. It was great! It’s written in a classic style and set in fictional lands in times long ago (swords and armor type stuff). Also, though it’s modern Christian fiction, it’s nothing akin a bad Sunday School lesson like so many modern Christian books. I don’t read a lot of modern fiction, let alone modern Christian fiction, but this is quite worthy of reading. You kids will love it, and you will too!
Shield by Dawn L. Watkins
Shield is a prequel to Medallion and every bit as good as the first. I enjoyed seeing the history of the lands and the characters unfold. There was dramatic irony, since I knew the fate of these lands and peoples, but also suspense, since I didn’t know what would happen to some of the specific characters or in the specific situations. I also have it on good authority that another book in this series is in the works. We’re all looking forward to it now!
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
I checked this one out from the library because, as I indicated, I don’t put much stock in modern Christian fiction in general (so I didn’t want to spend my money in vain, in case–I’m cheap). As N.D. Wilson’s dad, Doug Wilson, said in Repairing the Ruins, “Poets and writers shape the minds of generations–whether for good or ill. But here we [Christians] prove ourselves to be virtually without letters. We, the people of the Word, ought to be masters of words; Christians ought to be preeminent in wordsmithing. We are not. In this hour of crisis, we produce and sell mountains of smarmy goo and oceans of treacle. We wouldn’t know a great book if it ran naked through the CBA convention.” However, this was good (no exclamation point, but good nonetheless–not “smarmy goo” or “treacle,” certainly, though I’ve seen much of that in Christian fiction in my teen years). It’s no Narnia, but the story has a classic feel and isn’t preachy. In fact, it’s isn’t overtly Christian at all, which is probably why Random House picked it up for publication instead of a Christian publisher. But, as I’ve said in other places, an author’s worldview impacts a book whether or not it discusses Christianity specifically. I’d let my kids read this. There are a few scary moments (nothing worse than they’ve already read in the Lord of the Rings), and the dad in the story has a beer (once mentioned) and an occasional smoke (once mentioned), for those who want to know that before giving it to their kids (our kids know what we think about those two issues). You could tell this was meant to be the first in a series. There was closure, but not full closure, to the story. Now that I know these books are okay, I plan to read the next one on vacation (still from my library’s Kindle selection, though).