Wednesday, May 23, 2018

New Life Thanks to a Lion's Mane: The Story of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting
Books of Wonder edition, with very limited text changes
by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack

While familiar with the story of Doctor Dolittle, I don't think I read the book until a few years ago. I was dismayed at the report of an African prince who wanted to turn himself white. When originally published in 1920, this plot point was not seen as an indication that all Africans would prefer to be white or even that white was better. In the foreward, Patricia and Frederick McKissack explain their belief that Lofting:
created the Prince Bumpo episode to show children that sometimes people foolishly try to alter themselves to be more attractive to others.
The focus was never intended to be his color but rather on his unnecessary desire to change his appearance at all. Taking into account Lofting's original intention, the McKissacks changed the text:
After careful, considered study, we made changes that were limited to the following: reworking the episode in which the African prince, Bumpo, wishes to become white; deleting two offensive phrases elsewhere in the book; and changing the word country when referring to the continent of Africa.
Prince Bumpo no longer wants to change his skin color from brown to white. Instead, he wants to grow a lion's mane. After the hair growth potion works and Prince Bumpo releases Doctor Dolittle, the doctor feels badly:
It was the King, his father, who had us locked up. Bumpo's problem is he doesn't understand there is no need for him to become a lion to be strong and brave. I wonder if I ought to go back and tell him that. But then again, it might be better for him to learn it on his own.
Some people may be horrified at a change like this, but I thought this point was deleterious enough that I had decided never to read this book to my children. I had this beautifully illustrated version on our shelf but it sat neglected until First Daughter asked if she could read it. I agreed, but warned her about the prince and we talked a little about how erroneous it is to believe that any skin color (white or brown) is better than any other. She read it and reported to me there wasn't anything about a prince changing his skin color. What a surprise! I hadn't realized this edition was different than the original.

My children hear and read a lot in old books that we would find offensive today and usually we just talk about it and move on, but the idea that lighter skin color is preferable is a pervasive and insidious evil that demeans most of the children on earth. The slight changes in the text of The Story of Doctor Dolittle allow the silly and lighthearted story and the delightful doctor to avoid any taint from such a thought.

Mater Amabilis™ lists this book as a classic read aloud for Level 1B (first grade). I plan on reading this book aloud next year, when my youngest is already in second grade, and I expect it to be a great favorite.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Vietnam War for Level 4: 10,000 Days of Thunder

by Philip Caputo

In the last six weeks of our year (which I have condensed a little), First Son is studying Gandhi, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Afghanistan. Mater Amabilis™ provides some lesson plans for History in Level 4 (eighth grade) and suggested resources for these weeks, but I opted to use library books instead.

You can see our original plans in this post.

This book turned out to be an excellent choice. The author is a Vietnam veteran and a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. His powerful introduction impressed First Son:
The war began for me on March 8, 1965, when my battalion landed at the port city of Da Nang. I was rotated home on July 12, 1966, but that is not when the war ended for me, because wars have a way of going on and on in your mind and your soul long after you've left the battlefield.
He shares how the war ended for him, through poetry and vodka with a North Vietnamese veteran.

Each two-page spread in the book has text on the left-hand side and a full page carefully selected illustration on the right-hand side. Smaller photographs and "quick facts" boxes provided additional information that range from the historical to the quirky. One quick fact sure to appeal:
Infantrymen could not wear underwear while on patrol in Vietnam. The heat and humidity were so intense that wearing underwear caused the men to develop jungle rot--skin rashes that could get so severe the men would have to be hospitalized.
Though this is an overview of the war written for young adults, it introduces every topic relevant to the Vietnam War: history of French colonialism, rise of Communism in the north, events at home in America, and the reality of life in Vietnam for soldiers and citizens of all nations and propensities. Though the author's feelings about decisions made by politicians and generals in the war are obvious, so is his desire to help readers understand the different points of view. He seems to feel like the American public would have supported the war if they had been better informed by President Johnson. I don't know enough to disagree with him, but I did assign an essay by Wendell Berry (which you can find in the original plans) which provided a counterpoint.

Caputo manages to convey compassion for the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, and the soldiers caught between them. When describing some of the atrocities of the war, he explains they were committed on both sides but:
American atrocities were spontaneous and random acts in direct violation of U.S. military law and MACV directives. In contrast, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong had a written policy that sanctioned and encouraged these acts, including assassination, massacre, and torture.
Understandably, many of the photographs and descriptions in the text are of a graphic nature, but they are not unnecessarily so. The book was written in 2005 and includes information right up through the publication on the relations between Vietnam and the United States. I didn't feel like I needed to add anything to the study to cover the time between the war and the present day.

The end of the book includes an extensive bibliography, a list of web sites, and a detailed index. There is also a timeline at the front of the book.

I was satisfied with our original assignments and don't intend to change them for First Daughter. (Again, the original plans are here.) First Son also read Escape from Saigon, which is a very short easy read. I will probably provide other books during the six-week study for First Daughter, though perhaps not about Vietnam.

I checked this book out from our library. The links to Amazon above are affiliate links. I have received nothing for writing this post and these opinions are my own.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Our Homeschool: Poetry in 2017-2018

Poetry is a part of our culture studies loop: Three or four times a week, depending on our schedule, we loop through these subjects:
  • Shakespeare
  • Poetry
  • Shakespeare
  • Picture Study
You can read more about the loop scheduling here. (I've moved Fairy Tales to our read-aloud loop since writing that post.)

Shakespeare gets double-duty because it includes review of our memorized passages. (Here's an example of what Shakespeare looks like for us.)

During this poetry time, I pull a book of poetry off the shelf and I read a handful of poems. Generally I keep going for about ten minutes or as long as we are all interested. Then I put in the book mark and we pick it up again the next time Poetry rolls around. I do not discuss meter, rhythm, rhyme, or other such things unless someone asks a particular question. I do sometimes explain a word if it's one they might not know. Mostly, though, we enjoy poetry together. Here are the books we read over the 2017-2018 school year.

Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection selected by Michael Rosen has a carefully selected collection of two or three poems by prominent poets in roughly chronological order, but I was disappointed at the times only a portion of a poem was included without any indication that it was just a portion. I don't mind excerpts of poetry for younger audiences; I just like to know. There was a nice sentence of two to introduce each poet. We started it last school year but didn't finish, so I picked up where we left off at the beginning of the year. (There's a newer version available, but we read the old one from our library.)

The House of a Mouse by Aileen Fisher, illustrated by Joan Sandin - We've memorized many of Aileen Fisher's poems, so when I saw this book of poetry available I picked it up. It's a whole book of poems about mice. The youngest two especially enjoyed it. I was, as always, conflicted about poems about sweet little field mice because I pretty much hate them whenever they find their way into our house. But they are sweet little poems for little folks. (own, from

The Frogs and Toads All Sang by Arnold Lobel, color by Adrianne Lobel - This is a book of silly frog and toad poems. We read it in one sitting and the younger children especially enjoyed it. (library copy)

A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk: A forest of poems by Deborah Ruddell, illustrated by Joan Rankin - And another book of silly poems. These are certainly more amusing than edifying, but it was highly enjoyed. (library copy)

Walking the Bridge of Your Nose: Wordplay Poems and Rhymes selected by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chloe Cheese - And yet another book of silly poems. I read these aloud, but often found myself needing to show the words of the poem so the kids could see the puns and jokes. I think they were best appreciated when the kids read them aloud themselves. They definitely loved reading them aloud. It was fun for me to watch the younger ones as they figured out the jokes. (library copy)

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines is a book of poetry around the theme of peace. The poems were a bit uneven in quality, with some I liked very much and others I found forced or awkward. The kids' favorite was From a Story in the Paper about a snake that made friends with its intended food, a hamster. (library copy)

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is a whole collection of poems written in the style of William Carlos Williams's This Is Just to Say. Most of them are entertaining, but the best of them are written as if by fairy tale or Mother Goose rhyme characters. The kids had fun yelling out the character before I flipped the book to show the illustration. The illustrations are all pen and ink and purposefully ragged; not my favorite illustrations, but variety is good when reading aloud to four children. (library copy)

During Advent, we read from The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems, which we've been checking out from our library every December for a few years now. I just start where we stopped the year before. It has an expansive collection, though sometimes I think the page layouts are erratic. (library copy)

Overall, our poetry for the year leant much more to the humorous than in years past. This was a good balance for our single poet studies. As with the books above, I didn't make a real "study" out of any of these. We read one poem each day until the book was finished. I like the Poetry for Young People series because the selections are already edited with young people in mind. I might not always have chosen exactly the same poems, but I'm willing to make concessions when they've already done the work. My children appreciate illustrations on every page. There is also usually a brief introduction for each poem which I read aloud before the poem.

Walt Whitman (purchased used)

Langston Hughes  (library copy)

William Butler Yeats (purchased used)

This post contains my own opinions. I've indicated which books we own and which we checked out from the library. I received nothing for writing this post. The links above to Amazon and PaperBackSwap are all affiliate links.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Great War on the Homefront of Hungary: The Singing Tree

by Kate Seredy

This book is the sequel to The Good Master, which I read aloud to the children this past school year. Both books are mentioned for the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™.

In The Singing Tree, Jansci and Kate are three years older and face a time of uncertainty and anxiety as the Great War (World War I). Jansci's father (the Good Master) and Kate's father both enlist. Kate's father spends most of the war in a prison camp in Russia, though his trials there are not mentioned in the story. Jansci and his mother shelter a motley crew of vulnerable people from the village (a young mother and her infant, a wayward girl whose father enlists and mother is ill), a work crew of Russian prisoners, and a half-dozen nearly starving children from Germany, Hungary's ally. They manage the farm well, comfort each other, and struggle to understand the changes wrought by war in the land and the people.

The greater politics of the war play little part in the novel. It is instead focused on how all people are suffering and the goodness of even those we may be tempted to treat as enemies. Jansci and Kate learn the need to protect a Jewish couple in the village, renown locally for their generosity and guidance. There are a few scenes and sentences that seem condescending (even while complementary) against modern sensibilities, but not so much I fear would be troublesome for children to read.

The original copyright for the book is 1939 but it gives no indication the author sensed a greater war on the horizon. There is also a reference to a "holocaust" in France, which we probably wouldn't say today given the Holocaust still to come.

I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as The Good Master. I know First Daughter will happily read hundreds of extra books a year, though, so I intend to keep this on the shelf for her to read independently in eighth grade when she's in Level 4.

I purchased this book used on Cathswap. Links to Amazon in the post are affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Entertaining but not Enlightening: The Shadow and Bone Trilogy

Shadow and Bone (and subsequent books)
by Leigh Bardugo

This trilogy (including second book Siege and Storm and third book Ruins and Rising) traces the life and actions of Alina Starkov, who discovers an amazing innate power to summon light as a teenager. She enters a world of privilege and intrigue, a pawn of others, and must learn not only to manipulate her powers but to navigate confusing and frightening events, searching for a way to serve her country, stay alive, and still be herself (as she figures out who she is).

The abilities of the Grisha are not magic, but manipulation of the natural world, and called the Small Science. In the course of the novels, though, Alina encounters and participates in the world of black magic.
This was not the Small Science. This was magic, something ancient, the making at the heart of the world. It was terrifying, limitless. No wonder the Darkling hungered for more.
The books are written for teenagers, which means that while they contain some mature content, the language is fast-paced and not challenging. I read the first book at the end of a long day at airports and on airplanes. I was tired and anxious to be home and it was perfect; it kept my mind occupied and entertained but didn't require very much serious thought.

One of the main characters is a Rasputin-like advisor who tries to force Alina to do his bidding while presenting her to the peasants as a living saint. In the course of the book, she's seeking out black-magic-formed amplifiers created by one of the "saints," through stories passed down through the centuries. There's a lot of ambiguity, not so much in the plot line as in the background and environment, about religion and faith. Alina isn't particularly faith-filled at the beginning of the books and doesn't question her belief in the religion (which is ill-defined), but the events would seem to have given her great reasons to do so. The blending of religion and faith and the Small Science and magic may be disturbing for some parents.

I have grave concerns about the final events of the third novel. It's difficult to express myself fully without spoiling it entirely, but Alina takes an action I believe is immoral and only necessary because the author wanted it that way (not because the trilogy could not be resolved another way). Fighting a war as they do in a book like this often requires physical sacrifice, but the way it's portrayed in this particular book is troublesome. It's similar to the problem I had with the end of the Divergent series; I'd like books to give our teenagers examples of the kind of daily sacrifice that develops in a relationship not heedless sacrifice for the sake of some grand gesture.

For those who are concerned about such things, there is also a same-sex couple in the third book. It's not presented as a major plot point; they are just two of the main characters who are in a relationship which of course means it's a significant statement.

Seeing the books, First Son (who is 14) asked if he could read them. If he asks again before I return the second and third to the library, I'll let him, but I don't think I would seek them out. There are a few other books set in the "GrishaVerse" but I don't feel much desire to read them myself.

Kansas Dad received the first book of the trilogy as a gift. I checked the second and third out from the library. The links to Amazon are affiliate links. The opinions in the post are my own.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Americans at War in Asia: The Korean War (Level 4 Twentieth Century History)

by Brian Fitzgerald

Mater Amabilis™ ™suggests two different books on the Korean War for Level 4 history, neither of which my library had. Since this book would be read in only a week, I didn't want to purchase anything. I checked out all the books our library had that I thought might be reasonable and skimmed through them, mainly for length and reading level.

I selected the book last summer but only read it this week as I prepared for the week's lessons. Fitzgerald's book presents a fair and balanced description of the events of the war, from North Korea's invasion to the armistice in 1953. He connects the events in Korea with the end of World War II. Powerful quotes bring the hardships and fears of the war into focus, like the freezing cold weather:
Our vehicles wouldn't start. Batteries gave out. The grease on our rifles turned to glue and they wouldn't fire. Our rations would freeze solid. Men would carry cans of food around inside their clothes, under their armpits, trying to thaw them a little so they could be eaten.
Sidebars throughout the book give additional information on the United Nations, important people, and other events. Photographs appear on nearly every page depicting important political figures, American soldiers and South Korean soldiers and citizens, as well as North Korean and Chinese soldiers and medics.
The Korean War may not be as well-known as other struggles, but the sacrifices made by the men and women who fought and served in the war are certainly no less. They gave their lives to protect people they did not know in a land many of them had never heard of.
There's an extensive timeline at the end of the book, along with a glossary, source notes, a bibliography, and recommendations for further reading.

I can't claim this is the best book written on the Korean War for an eighth grade student to read, but I thought it was exactly the kind of book I wanted.

Like the biography of Gandhi First Son read for India, this book is short enough to be scheduled over just two days, leaving a third for other research on the Korean War or a look at the developments in the time since the war.  First Son is going to read just one article, but hopefully by the time First Daughter is in eighth grade (three years from now), there will be dramatic developments from recent years for her to investigate.

Updated plans (original plans here):

Lesson 1
MapTrek Modern World Map 41: The Korean War – review this map in your binder from earlier this year
Kingfisher History Encyclopedia p 444-445 – Narrate.
The Korean War (library) p 8-55 - Narrate.

Lesson 2
The Korean War (library) p 56-85.
Written narration on the Korean War, at least 3 paragraphs.

Lesson 3
Watch a video of President Kim of North Korea greeted by President Moon of South Korea in April 2018.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries.

I'd like to find additional sources for Lesson 3, but will look for something more substantial when planning for First Daughter in fall 2020. If I find something, it would be narrated.

I checked this book out of the library. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. The opinions in this post are my own.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Legacy of Nonviolence: Mahatma Gandhi (Level 4 Twentieth Century History)

by Michael Nicholson

I wrote last August about our plans for the last unit of twentieth century history on Asia, drawing from the Mater Amabilis™ lesson plans for History.

I chose this biography of Gandhi for our study of India from our library's selections. I have not read any other biographies. I simply checked out every book from our library catalog that looked like it might work and then skimmed parts of them looking for something that could be read in two or three sessions over the course of a week by an eighth grader. This one seemed about right.

I only read the biography as I prepared for this week's lessons, but I found it to be insightful and well-written.
Gandhi was born into a land of contrasts: of desert plains, vast rivers, dense jungles, and the highest mountains on Earth. The climate of India is hot in the plains and cool in the highlands, but the vastness of the country creates great variety. India's peoples were separated from each other not only by the sheer difficulty of travel from one region to another, but also by different habits, religions, and more than three hundred languages.
It covers the time Gandhi spent as a student in England and as a lawyer in South Africa in addition to his devotion to his home country of India. It is illustrated with photographs from Gandhi's lifetime and stills from the movie Gandhi. Many of the pages also contain quotes in the margins of those who knew and encountered Gandhi during his lifetime.
Mohandas Gandhi was the light of reason and the voice of love, tolerance, and peace in a century of violence. The little man in the loincloth left behind far more than his modest possessions. He left a legacy of nonviolent protest that has influenced thousands since his death.
We see in the daily news continuous evidence of conflict between those of different faiths and unrelenting poverty remaining in many places in the world. We see leaders who do not live out their faith or philosophy, who seek their own gain without regard for the powerless. Gandhi is a courageous example of a man who lived exactly as he preached, who devoted his entire life to the service of his people. He is the kind of man I want to put before my children and therefore, this brief glimpse of India is an excellent part of our twentieth century history study.

I opted to combine the readings into two days rather than three because we will need to finish school a week or two earlier than planned to accommodate unanticipated June activities. Even so, I think it might be interesting to combine the readings this way to allow a third lesson that looks at India and Pakistan since independence. I have a few years to find something before my daughter is in Level 4.

Updated plans (original plans here):

Lesson 1
Kingfisher History Encyclopedia p 366-367 and p 421
Mahatma Gandhi pp 5-29. Narrate.

Lesson 2
Mahatma Gandhi pp 30-60.
MapTrek Modern World Map 37: Independent for India
Read an eyewitness account of the assassination of Gandhi in1948 at Eyewitness to History
Listen to Jawaharlal Nehru’s extempore broadcast on All India Radio announcing the news of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948 and read the text of the speech he gave three days later, found in your Google Doc.
Notebook – Write a brief biography of Gandhi.
Add an event to your Book of Centuries.

Lesson 3 (omitted this year)
-something on India and Pakistan in the years since independence

Our library has the movie, Gandhi, which we may try to watch. It's hard to fit in videos that I don't want the little ones to see since they don't actually sleep before First Son is in bed and I'm not sure I want to juggle our lives around trying to fit this video in, though I imagine it would be a powerful complement to the biography.

I checked this book out of the library. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. The opinions in this post are my own.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

April 2018 Book Reports

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - link to my post. (received as a gift)

1917: Red Banners, White Mantle by Warren H. Carroll - link to my post. (purchased used)

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski - Another book in the Witcher series, a fantasy novel of elves, magic, monsters, and the end of the world. Fun, easy read. (library copy)

Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin - link to my post. (purchased used)

The Gospel of John (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) by Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV - link to my post. (used in a parish adult education class)

Divini Redemptoris (On Atheistic Communism) by Pope Pius XI - link to my post. (available free online)

The Face in the Flames: A Story of Saint Bridget of Sweden by Brother Roberto - link to my post. (purchased new)

Introduction to Catholicism: A Complete Course, General Editor: Rev. James Socias, The Didache Series, first edition - link to my post. (purchased used; here's a link to the second edition)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo - This is the first in a trilogy in the "Grishaverse," in which some people have inherent abilities in the Small Sciences, like magicians. I'll write about the whole trilogy next month sometime. (Kansas Dad received this book as a gift.)

Dracula by Bram Stoker - Kansas Dad was reading this for one of his fantasy and theology classes. I remembered I had it on Audible and decided to listen as he read so we could talk about it together. I spent a good part of the book wanting to yell at the characters, "Don't you know what's going on here? His name is Dracula for goodness's sake!" But of course that didn't make any sense because this book is the only reason anyone knows the name Dracula. The Audible book was wonderfully done. The different voices made it very easy to recognize who was speaking. With all the different diaries and letters and telegrams it would be challenging otherwise. (purchased on Audible, probably on sale)

Quite Early One Morning by Dylan Thomas - link to my post. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). Links to RC History and are also affiliate links to their respective stores. Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

From Darkness to Light: Quite Early One Morning

by Dylan Thomas

This is a collection of essays, stories, and transcripts of pieces Dylan Thomas created for the BBC. They range from memories of his childhood to an overview of Welsh poetry and poets. I'm not sure how it ended up on my list of books to read (it was added in 2013), but I was delighted to see A Child's Christmas in Wales in the table of contents, and a little surprised that it was slightly different than the one I read earlier this year. Apparently he edited it in different ways over the years.

Most of the essays contained lyrical prose, as to be expected from a poet. I often wondered what Thomas himself must have sounded like when reading these words for documentaries or radio shows, as many of them were. There are quite a few recordings available online.

Thomas was born just at the end of World War I, which placed him in the generation of young men who fought and died on the battlefields of World War II. These kinds of experiences appear throughout the book, but the most powerful was Return Journey. He seeks all over his hometown for his own self as a youth and finds everyone remembering young men as boys and all the lessons and playing and music-making and climbing and swimming and yelling that young boys do.
Park-keeper [the last of many to respond to his questions]: Oh yes, I knew him well. I think he was happy all the time. I've known him by the thousands.
Narrator: We had reached the last gate. Dusk drew around us and the town. I said: What has become of him now?
And the park-keeper answers, as the bell rings:
Much of the book concerns poetry and I found it enlightening to read Thomas's thoughts on poetry. I often enjoy reading poetry, but I appreciate learning from people who have thought about and struggled with and written poetry. When asked if he intended poetry to be useful to himself or others, Thomas responded both:
My poetry is, or should be, useful to me for one reason: it is the record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure of light, and what of the individual struggle is still to come benefits by the sight and knowledge of the faults and fewer merits in that concrete record. My poetry is, or should be, useful to others for its individual recording of that same struggle with which they are necessarily acquainted.
An essay On Poetry is a series of excerpts from a discussion on poetry with James Stephens. Thomas said:
Poetry, to a poet, is the most rewarding work in the world. A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him...
The essay is only two pages, but it's marvelous. Thomas also says, at the end of it:
What's more, a poet is a poet for such a very tiny bit of his life; for the rest, he is a human being, one of whose responsibilities is to know and feel, as much as he can, all that is moving around and within him, so that his poetry, when he comes to write it, can be his attempt at an expression of the summit of man's experience on this very peculiar and, in 1946, this apparently hell-bent earth.
 I'd read very little of Dylan Thomas's prose before this book, so I'm glad I read it. I enjoyed it, though I did find it most enjoyable when I read it slowly. Otherwise it was too easy to read the words without really paying attention to the meaning.

I checked this book out of the library to read it. All opinions in this post are my own. Any links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Level 4 Catechism: Introduction to Catholicism

General Editor: Rev. James Socias
The Didache Series
(We have the revised first edition. Here's the second edition.)

This book is recommended for Catechism in Level 4 (eighth grade) of Mater Amabilis™. It's also on the list for additional or alternate texts for Level 5 (beta plans available in the Mater Amabilis™ for High School Facebook group).

The suggested schedule is three times a week, reading and narrating each day. After a few weeks, I needed to shift our schedule a little and decreased it to twice a week. First Son read about half of the chapter each week, including the supplementary reading, which most of the time shared the life of a saint relevant to the theme of the chapter. The sections at the end of each chapter include study questions (which I intended to use in addition to narrations but eliminated when we dropped to scheduling only twice a week), some application suggestions, and a list of Catechism references on the chapter's theme. Some of these were more useful than others.

The very first page of every chapter attempted to provide a real-life example of the chapter's theme in a real-life situation, but most just seemed contrived.

The book touches on just about every aspect of the Catholic faith. Here's the table of contents (again, this is for the first edition; the second edition has at least one entirely new chapter):

  1. The Call to Holiness
  2. Prayer
  3. The Trinity
  4. The Church
  5. The Blessed Virgin Mary
  6. Revelation
  7. The Old Testament - This mainly covers the first five books. The remainder are summed up in one or two sentences at the end of the chapter.
  8. The New Testament
  9. The Sacraments
  10. Baptism
  11. Confirmation
  12. The Eucharist
  13. Penance
  14. Anointing of the Sick
  15. Matrimony
  16. Holy Orders
  17. Freedom
  18. The Moral Virtues
  19. The First Commandment
  20. The Second Commandment
  21. The Third Commandment
  22. The Fourth Commandment
  23. The Fifth Commandment
  24. The Sixth and Ninth Commandments
  25. The Seventh and Tenth Commandments
  26. The Eighth Commandment
  27. The Beatitudes

There are a few small mistakes and times when I thought to myself...."not quite right." For example, in the third chapter, the book describes adoptionsim and wrongly calls it Arianism. Kansas Dad noticed it right away when he overheard First Son's narration. Later, in chapter thirteen on Penance, within a discussion of the Prodigal Son, this paragraph appears:
God often permits man to sink deeper into sin like this, forcing man to face up to his dismal condition. Some people only return to God when they are faced with tragedy caused by repeated serious sin in their lives. An example would be a person who regularly abuses alcohol: One night he drives while drunk and kills an innocent person. The shock of having killed another person forces him to come to terms with the sin of getting drunk. 
I'm not an expert on carefully explaining what God permits in contrast to what we do against his desires, but I would never suggest that God "allows" the death of an innocent person to "shock" someone "to come to terms with...sin." If someone dies because I have sinned, that is very much against His will.

In the last chapter (chapter 27) on the Beatitudes, I read this weird sentence:
Those who are poor in spirit desire only the goods necessary to ensure a healthy standard of living in accordance with their particular state of life. 
How do we know what is excess? It goes on:
For the rest of us, the phrase indicates that there are different levels of need for goods. For example, those whose professions require that they present themselves as successful, such as lawyers or stockbrokers, have a greater need to show off personal wealth than those whose job doesn't have such an emphasis.
I'm not really sure what they mean here. It would make more sense to me to say that people need to be able to perform their jobs well and for some, that requires dressing in a particular professional way, whether that be suits or work boots and overalls. I was recently reading a papal encyclical that talked about the necessity of providing insurance for times of old age, illness, and unemployment, so some savings are appropriate, more if you are providing for a family. This statement makes it seem like lawyers and stockbrokers need to buy expensive homes and cars, but I can't tell if they mean it ironically. I think the phrase "show off" was ill chosen.

There were, however, some excellent parts where the book drew clear lines between the theoretical virtue or commandment in the chapter and the actions we are called to perform. It even described how to behave in particular circumstances that might be awkward or difficult. For example, the chapter on Anointing of the Sick included visiting the sick.
Some of us may find it difficult or depressing to visit those who are sick. We should remind ourselves, though, that caring for the suffering is not an option but a requirement. We may often feel awkward when trying to make conversation, yet we must keep in mind that our presence alone is a sign of support to someone who is ill. The best rule for conversation is to permit the sick person to lead the way. If he wishes to discuss his illness, then be willing to follow that lead. Many sick persons find it makes things easier if they are able to discuss their problem and their feelings during this time. Sometimes, the sick person may wish to say nothing, in which case we have to accept that our presence is all the support that is wanted.
Chapters 23 and 24 cover sensitive but important topics such as abortion, euthanasia, suicide, war, chastity, purity, and modesty. For the most part, I thought these were handled well, but if you were only going to pre-read a few chapters, these are probably the most important ones.

There is a list of sins against chastity in chapter 24. While none of these are incorrectly listed as sins, I would encourage families to expand on these limited definitions. For example, divorce is listed as a sin against chastity, but there are occasions in which a woman (or a man, I suppose) needs to separate herself and her children from a dangerous situation. In those instances, the sin is not one of divorce. These kinds of discussions are difficult and probably work best as natural conversations as instances are encountered in life or in the news. In my own family, I try to cultivate an environment of charity that presents the truth of the Gospel and the Church as how God has designed humans to live the most fulfilling life, but that sometimes people fail to follow his laws and then we must turn always to compassion and the sacrament of Reconciliation.

The saint for this chapter is St. Maria Goretti. At first I was concerned because she isn't a saint due to her fight for purity (no girl who is unable to fight off her attacker is a sinner), but because of her forgiveness of her attacker. The description does a good job of telling the story and including his story of redemption by her prayers and actions.

The virtue of chastity requires a delicate balance between those who many struggle more with scrupulosity and those who are more attuned to the culture. The chapter seems to be written more for the latter, but some homeschooled children may fall more into the former. It may be a good idea to arrange for a private and quiet discussion of this chapter rather than a straightforward narration.

As a side note, our parish eighth grade PSR class, using the new Sophia Institute books, covers many of these sensitive topics near the end of the year. It was comforting to know they were being addressed by someone other than us, so First Son would realize these are essential topics and that our parish is reiterating what he's heard from us, but at the same time, it was important to me that he heard them from us first. This book gave us the opportunity we needed to frame those discussions.

The list of sins against the seventh commandment (in chapter 25) could be updated to include both plagiarism and using or downloading electronic programs, games, movies, music, or resources without paying for them, both sins that are probably likely to be encountered by teenagers in our contemporary culture. I talked about these issues with First Son to explain why these are immoral and it led to a good discussion. (These issues may be addressed in the second edition.)

I appreciated how the book handled the application of the these commandments (the seventh and the tenth) in business.
Man has been made by God to be the author, center, and goal of all economic life. Business is not to have profit as its highest goal. Though profit must be a consideration if the business is to survive, the main goals of economic activity should be the support and development of individuals through work and service of human beings[.]
It also complemented nicely what First Son is learning about communism in his history readings.
True development of society concerns not just a more efficient economic system but the whole person. Societies should strive to increase each person's ability to respond to the call of God to save his soul. If a person is reduced to nothing but his "productivity," this call is being ignored. 
At the end of the year, I asked First Son what he thought of the book as a whole. He liked the chapters on the sacraments, saying they explained exactly what the sacraments were well. He also appreciated the lists of sins in some of the chapters because they helped him understand how the commandments and doctrines translated into real life.

It's not a particularly exciting book, but First Son found it to be clear and was able to narrate well the main concepts in the chapters. For us, I think it's a good general book that covers a lot of material in preparation for more in-depth explorations of the faith in the high school years. I think it could certainly be used in high school if it is not read in Level 4.

There were a few instances, pretty much all mentioned above, where I felt qualification was necessary. To be honest, I'm not sure a book other than the actual Catechism (which the beta Mater Amabilis™plans, available in the Facebook group, recommend for high school) would completely satisfy me. Between my own compunction for non-generalized truth and accuracy and Kansas Dad's theological knowledge (because he's a theology professor), we're annoyingly particular. I don't have plans to seek out anything different for the other kids because I think this is a good option.

I bought this book used from a mom in our local homeschool group. Links to Amazon above are affiliate links. These opinions are my own.