Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Begin with the Beautiful: To Light a Fire on the Earth

by Robert Barron with John L. Allen Jr.

This book is written by John Allen but Bishop Barron's name appears first as an author partly because (I'm sure) his name sells books and also because his articles, books, interviews, and YouTube videos are quoted so extensively that the number of his words in the book potentially easily rival that of Allen. It's a little odd, though, because so much of the book is Allen saying something along the lines of "Bishop Barron believes..." followed by a summary of the bishop's beliefs and then some long quotes.

Every quote, and there were a lot of them, was in italics. It was a little annoying to read so much in italics. Because they were indented on the right and the left, I don't think the italics were necessary.

The book begins with a brief biography of Bishop Barron. Then it explains how the bishop prefers to begin conversations about the Catholic faith - with beauty, goodness, and truth. There's a chapter on evangelization in general, and then a handful of chapters addressing areas in which Catholics often struggle to explain and defend the faith including the relationship between faith and science, the sex-abuse scandal, and the relationship between religion and violence. Finally, the book ends with two chapters on Robert Barron as a bishop and his ministry, Word on Fire.

Bishop Barron is one of the bright spots of the New Evangelization. In the years since this phrase first started circulating, there have been a lot of books and tweets and articles about it, but it's hard to point to any results. Bishop Barron seems to be drawing notice, not just from Catholics, but from many of other faiths, including those who proclaim no faith at all. His thoughts on how to draw people to the Catholic church, how to teach what the church believes, and how to interact with people who are antagonistic toward the church are insightful and thought-provoking.
American Catholics today generally don't have to worry about Protestant bigots swooping down with pitchforks and torches to destroy their parishes, but they do have to cope with an elite snobbery that says religion is backward, benighted, superstitious, and dangerous because of the primitive hatreds and prejudices it unleashes. They have to live in a culture that tries to force them, in a thousand ways, to separate their minds from their hearts--telling them that if they insist, for sentimental or psychological reasons, on clinging to a religious faith, it can't have anything to do with the way they see the world, or with their lives as professionals and as citizens.
Allen provides background on Bishop Barron's life, but also the development of his thoughts on evangelization. He's been on YouTube nearly as long as there's been a YouTube, embracing new avenues for reaching not just Catholics who want to learn more about their faith, but all sorts of people who can explore new ideas from the safety of their homes. He draws them in with conversations about popular movies and books, but he has particular ideas about how to being a conversation about the Catholic faith. It's not about teaching them the rules or telling them they're wrong in how they life or what they think. Instead, Bishop Barron begins with beauty. Then goodness and truth. There are lots of examples in the book of what beauty, goodness, and truth look like in the Catholic faith and in conversations with people who don't know Catholics very well.

The point that resonated with me was the idea that we can't begin a conversation by telling someone he or she is wrong.
Barron believes that Catholicism's rules make sense only to someone who's already been enchanted by the faith and the Church, and being hit over the heat with rules at the beginning isn't a very reliable pathway to enchantment.
I've seen this sort of engagement (or failure to do so) in our own community.

One way to successfully attract people to a faithful life is to live that kind of life, a saintly life. Bishop Barron speaks often of how attractive and inspiring are the lives of people like St. Teresa of Kolkata.
In that sense, Barron believes, the saints and the martyrs illustrate what morality is all about. It's not a matter of checking boxes to make sure you're following the rules but rather one of becoming the kind of person whose own life is fully ordered to the good, and thus has the power to change the world. In other words, it's by looking at the saints that one understands why morality matters, and what it's intended to produce. 
I think this idea of living a life fully ordered to the good shifts the focus of evangelization from the actions of others to those of ourselves. A life of sacrificial giving and loving reveals our faith in a way credentials and books and verbal arguments never can.

I don't know the best way to evangelize, but Bishop Barron's strategies and recommendations make sense to me. I'm thinking seriously about assigning this book to my children in high school for Apologetics.
Evangelization isn't about a concept or an idea, but about a friendship with Christ that you have, and that you want someone else to have too. 

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own. The links above are not affiliate links, but the book is also available at Amazon (affiliate link).

Monday, February 19, 2018

First Son Is 14!

A few months ago, First Son turned fourteen years old. We celebrated with a Star Wars movie marathon with a dozen of his friends - Episode IV, V, VI, and VII. Conveniently enough, his birthday fell just before The Last Jedi was released, so we had reviewed all the pertinent movies just in time.

I made the rookie mistake of putting the unopened snacks for the whole party on a table in the living room. The boys opened them up and finished nearly all of them off before lunch. I managed to race in to save just one bag! We served a taco bar for lunch and spaghetti for dinner which thankfully assuaged most of their hunger so they didn't quite eat us out of house and home.

He wanted a donut cake with donuts from his favorite donut shop, which even had some gluten-free varieties for one of his friends.

We decided we're not going to host any more movie marathons for his friends; they eat far too much.

First Son very generously decided to forego any birthday presents at his party; he asked his friends to make a donation in his honor to a local charity instead.

On his birthday proper, Kansas Dad made him a pancake as big as his head. It's getting harder!

Favorite movies: Thor Ragnarok (really any recent Marvel movie)any Star Wars movie, Moana (He loves the evil crab.)

He received a movie theater gift card for his birthday and already has plans to take a friend to see the new Blank Panther movie as soon as he can.

First Son loves all things Star Wars. He dressed as Kylo Ren for Halloween, though he didn't go trick-or-treating this year. Instead, he and some friends got together for candy-poker. He ate most of his winnings, though. He is eerily like Kylo Ren in the costume, especially when he talks because his voice is spot-on.

He's also obsessed with the Marvel superhero movies. I think he's seen them all now. (Not that I'm necessarily recommending them to everyone out there with kids; they are definitely not "family-friendly.")

Favorite video games: Pokemon video gamesLego video games (except for Lego Friends; because you can't destroy stuff in Lego Friends), Super Mario video games, Donkey Kong video games

He enjoys video games and is saving up for a Nintendo Switch. He also wants to be able to make YouTube videos of his gaming to share with his friends, so he's investing in some equipment and practicing his video-voice.

He and some of his friends have recently discovered Pokemon, so that's been a fun new past-time. Sometimes they even get together and have tournaments, but usually he plays with his brother.

Favorite board games: Munchkin (warning: not for all families), King of Tokyo, Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, chess

He's so tremendously good at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit that we have to handicap him. If he gets a wedge, his turn is over. Opponents get two questions before we hand over the dice.

Last year, he and the other kids shared their Star Wars Disney Infinity collection at one of the local library branches.  He wrote out all the cards, a paragraph describing the collection, and arranged everything in the display case.

It's hard to get a serious picture of the boy even when he's showing off injuries.

He's a strong and steady hiker, willing to follow Kansas Dad's lead over hill and badland. We want to get him a backpack and backpacker's sleeping bag so he and Kansas Dad can really get out into the wilderness. None of those campgrounds for them!

Badlands National Park
This boy can eat! I know that's true of all teenage boys, but it feels like he's just pouring it straight into his legs or something. As of his birthday, he was just shy of six feet tall. His inseam is longer than his dad's and his shoes are a lot bigger. We have to take him for new pants every couple of months.

Favorite foods: sushi, pierogi, ham and potato chowder, chicken enchiladas

Really he likes everything he's ever eaten except yogurt and cheesy lentils. He even eats the zoodles and tuna casserole with enjoyment. Not salads so much, though. Those are just endured.

Favorite candy: big Reese's (greater peanut butter to chocolate ratio), chewy or gummy candies

Every Wednesday, our parish hosts a dinner for the middle school and high school students before their religion classes. We always eat as a family before he goes, so he helps himself to second dinner there. If he can convince his friends they're not hungry, he eats their dinners, too.

The fruits of picture study
He went through a brief phase of practicing ventriloquism skills with his T-rex puppet (an amazing puppet; he received it years and years ago). He and a friend are memorizing the Who's on First routine and he's enjoyed the old Abbott and Costello movies. We found a CD at the library of comedy radio routines (including some Abbott and Costello) and I think they listen to it often going back and forth to taekwondo class.

First Son is in eighth grade now. He's thinking about being an engineer, a cartoon artist, or an engineer-cartoon artist. His favorite cartoons are Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Pearls Before Swine.

His favorite lessons: math (Life of Fred beginning algebra) and science (currently a twentieth-century science course including quantum mechanics, electricity, and computers)

His least favorite lessons: composition and Latin (the bane of schoolboys for centuries)

His favorite books: What If? (which we finally bought for him for his birthday and were delighted to discover the inside of the dust jacket and cover are full of illustrations), Harry Potter series, Thing Explainer, Narnia series

He is a red belt in taekwondo and has no plans to quit before he's got a black belt. A few months after his birthday, he tested for his black tip which means he's only one test away from a black belt. One test and a lot of practicing.

Every Sunday, he volunteers in the church nursery so parents of young children can adult our adult faith formation or RCIA classes. The kids adore him; he's big and silly and non-threatening, because he never tries to pick them up.

He's already talking about driving which is frightening to me on so many levels!

May God bless First Son in his fifteenth year!

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you click on a link, put something in your cart, and complete the purchase within Amazon's designated window, I receive a small commission.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Memories of Christmas: A Child's Christmas in Wales

by Dylan Thomas
illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This book has been on my list for a few years as something I might read aloud to the kids during Advent and Christmas. It's a short book and one we should be able easily to finish with time to read a second book as well.

Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet, writes about the Christmases he remembers as a boy, all jumbled up together in his mind. It's rambling and delightful, overflowing with irreverence and warmth and family. Though the text is prose, it's lyrical with sentences like:
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.
The first memory is that of a fire, swiftly doused by the fire brigade.
And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them.
She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said: "Would you like anything to read?"
Because, of course, the greatest reward in the world is a book to read!

The list of presents reveals the universality of gifts, both those "Useful" and "Useless." There's an essential illustration of the "crocheted nose bag" in the version I checked out of the library.

There are lots of references to smoking and drinking which didn't bother us because we read lots of old books that mention such things.

I have a paperback copy of this book (picked up at a library book sale), illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. That copy was put away with our Christmas things before I had time to read it, so I check out one from the library illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (linked above). I love the Schart Hyman illustrations; they suit the nostalgic tone perfectly. I also checked out the edition illustrated by Chris Raschka, but didn't care for it at all.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Science in Real Lives: Chain Reaction

by Karen Fox

This is one of the main textbooks for First Son's eighth grade science course, designed mostly based on the Mater Amabilis™ ™ Level 4 recommendations, one of which is this book. For those who are members of the Mater Amabilis facebook group (and you should be!), you can find our plans in the files, called "Level 4 Science."

The chapters cover:
  1. Marie Curie, radioactivity
  2. Ernest Rutherford, the nucleus
  3. Enrico Fermi, chain reactions
  4. Ernest O. Lawrence and J. Robert Oppenheimer, "big science" - enormous machines, bombs, and the budgets that made them
  5. Maria Goeppert-Mayer, why some elements are radioactive
  6. Andrei Sakharov, hydrogen bomb
I appreciated the inclusion of two female scientists in a field that is heavily male. I want my children to know that God has given both men and women talents and interests that range from physics to music to baking, and that the important decision we must all make is how to direct those talents for his work on earth. Being a woman in a male-dominated field is difficult, sometimes in the ways Maria Goeppert-Mayer experienced it, but God didn't make women less intelligent than men.

Along with an explanation of their scientific studies and achievements are anecdotes and personal information that illustrate the human foibles and virtues you would find in any field.  For example, the chapter on Enrico Fermi tells how when he couldn't afford to heat his home adequately, he would sit on his hands and turn the pages of his book with his tongue. Once, he and his friends set off a stink bomb during a lecture and narrowly avoided being expelled.

The chapter on Maria Goeppert-Mayer includes her experience as an immigrant to the United States (after marrying an American) and hosting fleeing countrymen from the war in Europe as well as the sexism she faced as a female scientist in quantum mechanics. Andrei Sakharov lived in the oppressive Soviet Union, struggled openly for human rights, and was even exiled to Siberia for his views.

First Son read one chapter a week, spread over two separate days. I asked for a written narration each day and received his usual singe paragraph. While he wasn't verbose, I think the chapters lend themselves well to a narration. A more interested student, or one who tends to read faster, could probably easily read a chapter in a single session and finish the book in just three weeks. If you would like a biographical essay for a composition or English paper, any of the scientists introduced in this book would make an excellent choice.

Throughout the book, the scientific questions asked and the steady progress in finding answers (and more questions) are part of the story, woven into the lives so that a reader will encounter them almost like a mystery. It makes an excellent introduction to quantum mechanics.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Second Son's Secret and Not-so-Secret Thoughts: Me Journal Review

created by Wee Society

Second Son is in first grade this year and, as I mentioned earlier this week, I like to choose a journal to complete together for one of our lessons. Somehow I stumbled on this one while wandering Amazon and decided to try it rather than my original plan to order the same one I'd used with First Son.

It was spectacularly successful. Second Son loved every page of this journal and the older kids were clamoring for their own copies.

First of all, the quality of the book is excellent: well-bound hardcover, thick pages, and bright bold colors on every page. The prompts are varied, covering the standard (trace your hand, name, age, etc.) and the unusual like "If I had a castle this would be my flag" and "This is me doing my signature dance move."

There were a few pages where the prompts led to an answer in words, which I would generally write for Second Son, but there were a lot that resulted in pictures. Because Second Son's drawings are a little unorthodox still, I would generally label them for future reference. Some of the more unusual and interesting results:
Number of steps from his bed to the front door: 18 (he counted)
The name of his band, if he had one: Fulcrum 
The room of his dreams: a full size bed, a flat screen TV, a Wii U, a swimming pool, and a vending machine.
What he would pack to go to outer space: water, all the Harry Potter books, electric shaver to cut my hair, food (bread, cheese, Doritos), toothpaste, toothbrush, favorite Lego box, Mousy Mouse (his stuffed animal kangaroo rat), and his Kindle
Number of jumping jacks he can do before he gets tired: 100 (and he did X-jacks!) 
We were also delighted to discover the inside of the book jacket has room for all sorts of "super secret" things and the cover of the book itself has room for personalization.

We did realize it was nice to have a book weight like this one to hold the book open as Second Son drew his pictures. He used his beeswax crayons for his drawings, but I think the pages are thick enough even for thin markers.

This was easily Second Son's favorite lesson. I had planned to compete just two or three pages a day, but we usually did two of three spreads (his interpretation). Working once a week, we finished it this month. He immediately carried it off to show to all his friends and family, excepts for the secrets on the inside of the dust jacket.

Hopefully he'll eventually let me have it back to save with his school memories!

I purchased this book new on Amazon and have received nothing for this review, but the links above are affiliate links.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reading Around the World in Picture Books 2014-2015: Africa

These are the picture books we read when Reading Around the World with a focus on the continent of Africa. Oh so long ago, my children were in fifth grade, second grade, kindergarten, and diapers. My fifth grader usually did not sit with us while we read these books, but he was around and they hung out with our library books for the full month we had them.

** I've used these two asterisks to mark the books we enjoyed most of all.

The Storytellers by Ted Lewin (Morocco) tells of Abdul and his grandfather in the market in Fez, Morocco, lavishly illustrated by Lewin. (His illustrations always make me want to travel.) (library copy)

The Butter Man by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli (Morocco), is a story of hunger told within a loving family. It's authentic and touching. Though young children may be distressed to hear of a hungry child, it's good to introduce these themes to children over time so they understand our obligations to care for all people. (library copy)

** Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Australia and Morocco) - Baker shows a family in Australia on the left and, turning pages the other way, a family in Morocco on the right. The illustrations are beautiful and I love how she attempts to show the similarities and differences between the families in an understanding way. (library copy)

Ali, Child of the Desert by Jonathan London, illustrated by Ted Lewin (Morocco), is the story of a young boy who is separated from this father in a sandstorm while traveling in a caravan. He is offered hospitality and invaluable aid by a Berber and his grandson. (library copy)

Bintou's Braids by Sylviane A. Diouf, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (West Africa), is told in the voice of young Bintou who desperately wants braids for her short fuzzy hair. At the baptism of her baby brother, she sees all the other women and their beautiful braids, and wanders off sadly only to discover boys in need of help. Her quick thinking earns her some beautifully decorated hair of her own. This is a sweet book for young girls with all kinds of hair. (library copy)

** Tug of War by John Burningham (Nigeria) is a retelling of a Nigerian folktale of wisdom and strength, and inspiring lots of laughter. (library copy)

** The Hatseller and the Monkeys retold and illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite (West Africa) - Many may be more familiar with this tale as it is shown in Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business, but I love this West African version. The illustrations are delightful. (library copy)

** I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Pende Diakite, illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite (Mali) is a book written by the illustrator's daughter, hoping desperately to lose her tooth while she's visiting extended family in Africa so the African tooth fairy will bring her a chicken. It's a nearly perfect book for showing children in America what family life and love looks like in Mali. (library copy)

My Baby by Jeanette Winter (Mali) tells of a woman making a bogolan, a cloth painted with mud, for her baby, depicting the natural world in the painting. (library copy)

** Rain School by James Rumford (Chad), written by a man who taught school in Chad when a member of the Peace Corps, tells of a school built by the community at the beginning of the year that is broken down by the seasonal rains after nine months. It's a celebration of education, beautifully illustrated. (library copy)

** My Name Is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock (Sudan and the United States), is the story of a young boy who immigrates to the United States to escape the war in Sudan that killed his father. Bewildered by his new surroundings, he finds it impossible to explain to his new classmates how to properly pronounce his name...until he discovers a creative solution. Catherine Stock's illustrations are wonderful, as always. The themes of the book are a big deeper and harsher than most picture books, but I think the value is worth the risk. Read ahead and decide for your own family. (library copy)

** The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa by Christina Kessler, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins (Ethiopia), is the story of Almaz, a girl who wants to keep bees and collect the best honey. Turned away by the male beekeepers of her village, she is encouraged by the young Orthodox priest. It's a brilliant book of problem-solving and perseverance. (library copy)

The Perfect Orange: A Tale from Ethiopia by Frank P. Araujo, illustrations by Xiao Jun Li (Ethiopia), is a tale of a young girl who travels to her ruler to share with him a perfect orange. Her generosity is rewarded while the greed of another is thwarted. (library copy)

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack (Kenya and Somalia), is the story of an orphan who shows himself to be adept at caring for camels and in so doing finds a place for himself in the world. (library copy)

** Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Liberia), is a fun tale describing how arms, legs, a head, and a boy joined together. (library copy)

** Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Liberia), is the hilarious story of a chicken who outwits a crocodile. (library copy)

** Koi and the Kola Nuts: A Tale from Liberia by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Liberia), is a tale of wisdom and goodness, wonderfully illustrated. (library copy)

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (West Africa), is based on a true story of a young boy who takes out a loan to buy a hen, the beginning of a flourishing egg business. It's text-heavy for younger children, but a fascinating introduction to micro-loans for older elementary students. I also ask my children to read this book in third grade when they do a little financial literacy study. (library copy)

The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Julia Cairns (Ghana), is a brilliantly illustrated origin tale of kente cloth, common in many African nations. (library copy)

** The Village that Vanished by Ann Grifalconi, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (unspecified country or area), features a young girl who courageously leads all the people of her village across a hidden bridge to escape marauders searching for people to sell as slaves. The text is a bit long but it's worthwhile for those ready for it as it portrays some of the fear and tragedy of slavery in a successful escape from it altogether. Nelson's realistic illustrations are presented uninterrupted by the text, which appears on white space next to them. (library copy)

** Once Upon a Time written and illustrated by Niki Daly (South Africa), is the sweet story of a young girl who struggles to read but flourishes in the imaginary escapades with her Auntie Anna. With perseverance and practice under the supporting gaze of her Auntie, she succeeds in achieving fluency. The setting of this book gives glimpses into life in Africa while connecting us with the familiar school setting. (Even though we homeschool!) (library copy)

Mama Wangari (Kenya) is an inspiring woman who deserves a place in any picture book study of Africa. She attended college in Kansas which gives us an even more personal connection here on the Range. There are quite a few books featuring her life and work. In addition to reading a few picture books, we watched this video (more than once).

** Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, is probably my favorite, if you can only read one, though young children may tire of the amount of text. The colorful illustrations will delight children of all ages. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is a more lyrical book with less details. The illustrations fill the pages with vibrant color. Even I enjoy looking through this book again and again. Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter, is less detailed story with more gaps. The illustrations are not as lavish as those of Nelson, simpler but suited to the setting. (all library copies)

*The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore with collages by Susan L. Roth (Eritrea), tells the true story of a scientist who guided the people of a village to improve their lives by planting mangrove trees. Ecology, botany, creativity, generosity, and perseverance...all presented in poetic repetitive text for younger listeners and more detailed text for older readers. The collages contrast the bright clothes of the villagers against the browns of the land before it's transformation. (library copy)

** The Most Important Gift of All by David Conway, illustrated by Karin Littlewood (unspecified, but I think Kenya),  is a beautifully illustrated book about a little girl who goes in search of love to give to her new baby brother. It's African, but her family is as lovely a family as you'd want to meet anywhere. (library copy)

** My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tolowa M. Mollel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Tanzania), is one of my favorite picture books and also appears in our third grade literacy study. It's about family and perseverance, prudence and joy. Read it! (library copy)

First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch (Kenya) is an encounter between a Maasai boy and a Kikyua boy, from two cultures who employ land differently and yet find common ground. It is an decent story for the presentation of overcoming differences, but the illustrations are merely adequate. (library copy)

** Ah, then we read the Elizabeti books, just wonderful books! Elizabeti's Doll, Mama Elizabeti, and Elizabeti's School by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale (Tanzania), all feature Elizabeti and are definitely among our favorite pictures books! (We own Elizabeti's Doll and checked the other two out from the library)

** The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, pictures by Elizabeth Zunon (Malawi), is based on the true inspiring story of a young boy in Africa who builds a windmill from scraps to power a light bulb using only his ingenuity and a book from the library after he's been forced to leave school. I love the illustrations for this book, a combination of collage and paintings. For those who want to learn more, the middle grade book of the same name is also excellent. (library copy)

** How the Guinea Foul Got Her Spots retold and illustrated by Barbara Knutson (a Swahili tale) - another favorite picture book. (library copy)

Jamela's DressHappy Birthday, Jamela, and Where's Jamela?, all by Niki Daly (South Africa) share the life of Jamela in a sweet fun way, especially for little girls. She gets into exactly the kind of trouble an American girl might find, but always manages to come out on top. There are other Jamela books as well, but these are the ones our library had. (library copies)

** Where Are You Going, Manyomi? by Catherine Stock (Zimbabwe) is one of my absolute favorite books! You can find the book online here. (owned, from a member at

** Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (Zimbabwe, mostly) is like a fairy tale in which the more generous daughter receives her just reward. My daughter loved this book so much, she insisted we buy our copy, albeit a much loved and repaired one from a library book sale. (owned)

Gugu's House by Catherine Stock (Zimbabwe) is another Catherine Stock book, this one sharing the beautiful painting and sculpture of Gugu, Kukamba's grandmother, as well as a story of recovery. It's based on an inspiring woman in Zimbabwe. (library copy)

The Herd Boy by Niki Daly (South Africa) tells the story of a day in the life of a young goat herder. We see his world and his bravery, and his dream of being president. (library copy)

Under the Baobab Tree by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (unspecified, but maybe southern Africa) is mostly the musings of a brother and sister as they walk through the African countryside for a gathering "under the baobab tree." We see a bit of what sometimes happens under the tree and therefore glimpses into the lives of the Africans who live near-by. In the end, they are gathering to worship God. (library copy)

We also read a book of poetry called Off to the Sweet Shores of Africa and Other Talking Drum Rhymes by Uzo Unobagha, illustrated by Julia Cairns. The poet was born and raised in Africa and the illustrator lived in Botswana for nine years. It's a lovely book we've enjoyed many times.

I'm sure there are many new picture books set in African countries. When I was first putting this list together, I copied a list of all the countries in Africa and then searched our library catalog for each country's name. That's how I found most of these books. Do that yourself and you'll find not only potentially lovely new picture books, but a wealth of picture books set in Africa you can check out of your library for only the cost of your taxes, which you've already paid!

The links above are all affiliate links to Amazon, which means if you click on one, put something in your cart, and order it within a specified length of time (whatever Amazon decides), I receive a small commission. You can also find these books by searching by title on Amazon or at your library.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Thoughts of a First Grade Second Daughter: Life, According to Me

For each child, I've found a little journal to complete together in first grade. Originally, I thought it would work well because the child would be just learning to write and the journal would encourage development of the skill, but none of my children were proficient at handwriting in first grade (and at least the first two can write adequately when they so desire). In the end, it was a journal for which the child answered and the parent wrote. It still turned out to be a fabulous way to add a little silliness and fun to our lessons, to learn some of the thoughts floating around in a first grader's head, and to record some memories.

Because this review got lost at the bottom of my draft posts, it's a little behind it's time. Life, According to Me is the journal I selected for Second Daughter who finished first grade in 2016. The pages are cute with fun colors and styles. Each page has a different prompt for the child like:
  • My favorite thing to wear is...
  • When I wake in the morning I...
  • One thing I am excited about for the future is...
When Second Daughter was interested and amenable, she gave fascinating and entertaining answers.
Here is what the first day of school was like for me..."The first day of school was like a thousand years ago. I can't remember. I can't possibly remember it." (in April)
If I had a million dollars, I would..."use $54 to buy another Frosty and $100 to buy more stuffed animals, $50 to everyone in my family and all my relations. Then I would give all the rest to the poor."
The most famous person I've met is..."the Cat.Chat family and I shook Moses's hand."
Something most people don't know about me is..."my favorite color is blue and I'm good at making LEGO speeders." [Now everyone knows.]
Each page also had two spaces for the child to write notes, showing "to" and "from." We were never really sure what to do with those. Sometimes Second Daughter would dictate a note to herself or others, but most of the time we left those blank.

I think it's a nice record of who Second Daughter was in first grade and some of her thoughts, but overall it would have worked better for my 9 year old (who really wanted to use it).

I liked First Daughter's book better for the first grade project than this one. She used All About Me! which I was delighted to find once at a library book sale. I actually remember filling out the same book when I was a girl. It's tricky to buy these kinds of things used online, though, since you might end up with a book that's already been completed.

First Son used My Book About Me which he loved. It involves a lot less thoughtfulness and significantly more silliness than Life, According to Me and would definitely be a better choice for a boy.

Friday, February 2, 2018

January 2018 Book Reports

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - I read this book many years ago, while in high school, and decided I didn't like Charles Dickens. Now I know better, having rediscovered Dickens and enjoying his books immensely. I thought it appropriate to return to this book to see if maturity improved it. It did, though it is not my favorite Dickens novel. It's quite long with most of the "action" taking place in just a few chapters near the end. It did give me a chance to ponder how education separates us from those we love, though Pip's separation begins not with education but with embarrassment and covetousness. One thing I don't like about the Audible books is how much more difficult it is than in print or even an e-book to mark passages. I tried with the bookmarking, but it's just not the same. So I don't have nice passages for a post or for my commonplace book. I did, however, get to listen to the book when I didn't have time to read it. (purchased Audible audiobook, though I think it's quite inexpensive if you have the Kindle version)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, translated by H. T. Willetts - link to my post (purchased used copy)

The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries (The Great Courses) by Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson - I'm sure I picked this out during one of the many Great Courses sales Audible has. I listened to it recently when I wanted something short between novels. This course is six lectures of about thirty minutes each, during which the professor chats about mysteries of the universe particularly focused on quantum physics and astronomy. Though he wasn't always entirely respectful of a belief in God (or any higher power), the lectures themselves were interesting. I haven't had any real physics since high school, so much of the material was new to me. I learned more about quarks, anti-matter, and black holes than I knew before and was pleased. (purchased during an Audible sale)

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells - The actual science of Dr. Moreau is impossible, but the prospects for blending the human and the animal are more possible than ever with modern science. The tendency of scientists to continue along a line of inquiry without contemplating the consequences in a moral sense is also present. While the book is a kind of horror adventure story, the depictions of animals a little like humans and humans a little like animals hover in the thoughts much longer. (found on my shelves, maybe from a book sale?)

Hide the Children: A Story of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux by Brother Roberto, C.S.C. - link to my post (purchased new)

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner - link to my post (received from a member at

The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski - This is a fantasy book of short stories by a Polish author. It's for mature audiences and involves plenty of magic, but I thought it was fun. (library copy)

Report from Calabria by A Priest - 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.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Windy, but not Windy Enough

Last week, on a blustery day, First Son was complaining about his required nature study drawing, claiming it was too windy to be able to draw anything. (After, of course, all the rest of us managed to sketch something in our journals.)

At one point, he comes back into the house* and insist it's so windy, he "literally" flew through the air because the wind picked him up when he jumped. (I sent him back outside.)

Second Daughter and Second Son overheard and immediately rushed for their shoes. Second Son told me he'd probably be back in a few hours after walking home from where the wind dropped him because he's so much lighter than First Son that he'll go tremendously far when he jumps.

Sadly, he and Second Daughter were both disappointed in the strength of the wind.

* We had visited a river earlier in the day, but because he couldn't find anything there to draw, First Son had to complete the journal entry after we returned home.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Beauty, Prayer, and Silence: Report from Calabria

by A Priest

This book is written as a series of letters from an American priest (who chooses to remain anonymous, as Carthusian writers do during their lives) to his friends and family while living in a Carthusian monastery in southern Italy for four months. Carthusians live in a community, but each resides in his own house. Even most meals are served through the wall to be eaten in solitude. Many liturgical prayers are prayed at the same time, but each monk remains in his cell, praying alone. As difficult as it is for most of us to understand the vocation to a religious order, ones such as the Carthusians seem even more extreme. There is a film, Into Great Silence, that shares more of the Carthusian life, but I've only seen parts of it.

The letters describe the lives of the Carthusians from an outsider's point of view, but also from the point of view of someone who is living with the monks, praying as they pray, and trying to immerse himself in their solitude. He is able to connect their prayers to our lives in a meaningful way.

He believes there are three "products" of a Carthusian monastery: praise, intercessory prayer, and union with God. Speaking of the second, intercessory prayer, he wrote:
Certainly there are physical evils that must be combated, but at root the world is wounded spiritually, and prayer is the medicine that can heal spiritual wounds. Reflection on this has shaped my prayer somewhat here. For example, some friends of mine have a son who is serving with the Marines in Afghanistan, and I am praying daily for his safety. But I am also praying for something else: his heart and soul, which must experience tremendous emotions given what he and his comrades are going through. Many soldiers return from combat with terrible physical damage, but even those who are spared this must be wounded in other way, and no surgeon can deal with that--God's healing grace can. That is one reason why communities dedicated to prayer are so vital to the life of the Church. Otherwise, as Pope Francis keeps saying, we end up just being another nongovernmental organization striving to deal with people's material welfare.
As he prays and interacts with the monks, the author ponders the life of solitude, the benefits of it for individuals, for the monastery, for the Church, and for the world. He quotes a Carthusian monk:
The purpose of this life is to silence the outer voices so that you can hear the inner ones; then you can begin to uproot those that draw you away from loving God and others, and encourage the good thoughts to grow. 
He talks about learning silence as it if were a language.
The gift of silence here is precisely an invitation not to think and not to do--and that is not easy, at least not for me. It is a language I must struggle to learn.
It is really a matter of learning God's language, of attending to his still, small voice.
My favorite letter was the last one. He writes:
"Stat crux dum volvitur orbis" -- The Cross stands firm as the world turns. This is the motto of the Carthusian order, a reminder that while some may consider these men to be "halfway to heaven", they see themselves as plunged into the heart of the earth, with all its joys and sorrows. In their solitary prayer, in their struggles with loneliness, in their mellow chant that pierces the stillness of the night, they proclaim a message, eloquent in its silence, that the Cross of Jesus is the axis upon which all creation turns.
After the priest's letters, there are appendices of some of St. Bruno's words (the founder of the order), the text of a letter written by Pope St. John Paul II to the order, and a homily of Pope Benedict XVI on one of his visits to Calabria. There is also an extensive list of further reading and resources that seems thoughtfully collected.

This is a book of beauty, thoughtfulness, and the heart of prayer. Because our family has a devotion to St. Bruno, I intend to read it aloud to our children. I hope it will give them a greater insight into the Carthusian order and the diversity of the practices of our Catholic faith. I checked this book out from our library, but I would like to have one of our own.

I checked this book out from our library to read it and have not received anything to write this post. Links above are affiliate links to Amazon.