Monday, March 19, 2018

Eighth Grade History: The World Wars

by Paul Dowswell, Ruth Brocklehurst and Henry Brook
an Usborne book

Mater Amabilis™ gives some lesson plans for History in Level 4 (8th grade) in which a student studies national history for twelve weeks followed by four six-week terms chosen from six options. I picked this book for our twelve weeks on World War I and World War II because I already owned it. Mater Amabilis™ recommends Witness to History: World War I and Witness to History: World War II by Sean Connolly. My library didn't have a copy of either book, but I was able to request a copy of the World War II one from PaperBackSwap. I liked the aspect of the eyewitness accounts and used it in addition to the Usborne book.

You can see the lesson plans I developed for this book on my posts on World War I and World War II. I found they needed little alteration for First Son to complete them in roughly the 45 minute time period. I did combine a few readings in order to accommodate missed days and will probably alter them a bit more when we come around to these plans again for the other three in order to leave time for more thoughtful narrations, perhaps even a longer paper, or an exam.

I think I will also integrate our world war studies with The Century for Young People rather than touching on the wars in the first twelve weeks and then studying them in-depth in the second twelve weeks.

This Usborne book provides a thoughtful introduction to the world wars. The text is more fluid and connected than in many Usborne books which just have paragraphs here and there on the page around a general topic. Most topics here are covered in a two-page spread of mainly text with one or two photographs. Because the book is written from a British perspective, it covers the wars in an intimate and personal way throughout. It's respectful of the contribution of the United States in both wars without being overly patriotic. The only topic I added for the American angle was Japanese internment camps.

The breadth of The World Wars is excellent, covering action on every front, in the air, on the sea, and on land. They include sections on what life was like in Britain and in Germany as well. It does not neglect the Holocaust or other atrocities and is open about the British bombing of German cities in addition to the Blitz. As with many Usborne books, there are internet links for many of the topics. We didn't use those. I think our sketchy rural internet service struggled too much to connect with servers in England where most of the sites seemed to be hosted. I had gone through ahead of time to select a few subjects (often following the suggestions of Mater Amabilis™) and saved them on a Google sheet for First Son. Those are included in the lesson plans I have linked above.

There was plenty of time to explore a few topics in depth after reading the pages in the Usborne book as an introduction. It's probably a little light to use in eighth grade without supplementing, but I think directing my son to primary sources like the speeches and additional articles allowed us to personalize the study a little. For example, I included some chapters from a book by Eisenhower, who was born and raised in Kansas.

My father, who devours history books, noticed this book on my shelf and read the whole thing over a few days. He thought it provided a great amount of information in an approachable format. He even learned a few things.

The book is well published. First Son hauled it around for twelve weeks and he's none too careful of books, often leaving them lying around, but it's held up well with an intact binding. The pages are thick and glossy, too.

I purchased this book from a friend who sells Usborne books, but you can find it on Amazon (affiliate link above). You can also find it at RC History (affiliate link), where it's recommended for Volume 4. That's where I learned about the book, though I later decided not to teach twentieth century history at all to the kids until they were in eighth grade and then used the Level 4 plans instead.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Nature Study as a Life: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

by Joyce Sidman

I happened upon this book in a library search while searching for something else. Maria Sibylla Merian is not entirely unknown to me as we've read Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. This book, though, is a much more developed biography which incorporates aspects of the culture, industry, and geography of the European world during her lifetime in order to understand her better. It's a biography, but one so bursting with other kinds of information it could fit just about anywhere in a homeschool curriculum (science, nature study, art, poetry, photography, history, and geography, to name a few subjects).

The story of Maria Merian's life is told in twelve chapters, each named after a phase in a caterpillar and butterfly's life cycle, beginning and ending with Egg. They parallel the periods of growth and change experienced by Merian. Throughout the book are maps, photographs, reproductions of engravings and paintings (many by Merian) and quotes from Merian's writings. While it's possible her art was not entirely responsible for changes occurring in scientific studies at the time, Merian's life was remarkable. At a time and in a culture where women were excluded from professional lives by law, she persevered in artistic and business pursuits.

Her personal life was not ideal. She leaves her husband, eventually seeking sanctuary from him in a religious community until he abandons his attempt to convince her to return home with him. He then divorces her and leaves her to financially support their daughters. Undaunted, she not only succeeds in supporting them, but travels to South America to study insects and create a stunning book of her observations.
But her extraordinary skills set her apart. She had the curiosity of a true scientist, the patience it took to raise insects, and the superb artistic skill necessary to share her observations. In short, she was quietly engaged in some of the finest insect work of her time.
This lovely book is going on our read-aloud schedule for next year, when Second Son will be in second grade, the year I order caterpillars we can watch turn into butterflies. I think much of it will go over his head (he'll be eight) but he'll understand enough, and the others will learn a great deal. I hope, too, they feel a little more inspired when we're on our nature walks and pulling out the nature journals.

There is another book on Merian, published just a week earlier. Our library doesn't have a copy and it has fewer pages (according to Amazon), but it might also be interesting: Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer.

I checked this book out from the library to read it and received nothing for this review, but the links above are affiliate links to Amazon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

February 2018 Book Reports

The Chain Reaction: Pioneers of Nuclear Science by Karen Fox - link to my post (purchased used copy)

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas - link to my post (library copy)

The White Stag by Kate Seredy - I checked this book out of the library after reading The Good Master and wondering if I should purchase more by Seredy for our home library. This is a beautifully written mythologized story of Attila the Hun as told to the people he led to the promised land. I enjoyed it and would be happy for the kids to read it from the library, but I didn't feel the need to procure our own copy. (library copy)

To Light a Fire on the Earth by Robert Barron with John L. Allen Jr. - link to my post (Blogging for Books review copy)

The Complete Ramona books by Beverly Cleary - link to my post (purchased on Audible)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -  I thought I had read this when I was in high school, but if so I'd forgotten most of it. I was quite horrified by Heathcliff's actions in the book, particularly against his niece. It certainly was an audiobook that kept me interested, almost looking forward to my chores when I could listen, but I'm not sure I want to read or listen to it again. (purchased on Audible)

The Story of Inventions by Michael J. McHugh and Frank P. Bachman  - link to my post (purchased used, maybe at a book sale?)

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski -  This is another fantasy novel by a Polish author. Lots of violence, mature relations, magic, and quandaries about what is right and moral in an different world. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it for a bit of light reading. (library copy)

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell  - link to my post (purchased used copy, though Kansas Dad first listened to the audiobook from the library)

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery - I was a little sad when I started this book because I thought to myself, "Anne should be in medical school with Gilbert instead of teaching at some tiny little school in a tiny little town." That situation, of course, is consistent with the time when Anne lived and, today, a young woman who does go to medical school can be just as lovely as Anne and also be an excellent doctor. And there was the incident of twins who viciously attack a neighbor girl while Anne is babysitting them.Those kinds of considerations aside, I enjoyed this book in the Anne series tremendously. (the copy my dad bought me when I was oh-so-young)

A Town Like Alice by Nevile Shute - I read this book decades ago and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio version. I've never heard a Queensland accent, but the narrator's was far better than what I might have heard in my head. Jean Paget is an interesting heroine, who leads a group of hapless English women through the jungles of Malaya after the Japanese invasion (and whose horrible treatment at their hands seems quite gentle compared to what some women suffered after such an invasion). After the war, she learns of a vast inheritance and spends the rest of the book putting it to good use. It's odd that a woman with such obvious leadership skills and business acumen should refuse to try to learn anything, but other than that, she's quite a wonderful woman. Listening to the book made dinner prep downright enjoyable. (purchased on Audible)

Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton - link to my post (inadvertently purchased used abridged copy, read unabridged 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 PaperBackSwap.comare also affiliate links to their respective stores. Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Chesterton on Nothing and Everything: Tremendous Trifles

by G. K. Chesterton

This book was recommended as a good one for those new to Chesterton on the Mater Amabilis™ ™facebook page. It's a collection of essays Chesterton originally wrote for a newspaper and selected, for no identifiable reason, to publish as a group. There are lovely descriptions, grand-sounding declarations, and plenty of self-deprecating humor.

In "The Red Angel," Chesterton waxes eloquently on the importance of fairy tales.
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of the bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies, that these strong enemies of man have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and strong than strong fear. 
An afternoon in the country in "Some Policemen and a Moral" leads Chesterton to ponder the moral significance of unequal prosecution. While walking through a wood, he is suddenly seized with an impish desire to throw a knife a the trees. A few policeman respond and inform him it's illegal to do so. Instead of fining him, however, they send him on his way when they learn he's staying with a local lord. Chesterton considers what becomes of a society that lets the rich and powerful (and their friends) off when they do something wrong.
The power of wealth, and that power at its vilest, is increasing in the modern world. A very good and just people, without this temptation, might not need, perhaps, to make clear rules and systems to guard themselves against the power of our great financiers. But that is because a very just people would have shot them long ago, from mere native good feeling.
He considers voting in "A Glimpse of My Country:"
A man ought to vote with the whole of himself as he worships or gets married. A man ought to vote with his head and heart, his soul and stomach, his eye for faces and his ear for music; also (when sufficiently provoked) with his hands and feet. If he has ever seen a fine sunset, the crimson colour of it should creep into his vote. If he has ever heard splendid songs, they should be in his ears when he makes the mystical cross.
In "The Ballade of a Strange Town," Chesterton and a friend are traveling. After an impulsive jaunt on a train, they discover they've caught the wrong train to get back and are instead somewhere else entirely. After racing around frantically to right their mistake (all of which Chesterton enjoys immensely), he says:
"That is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. We are in the wrong world. When I thought that was the right town, it bored me; when I knew it was wrong, I was happy. So the false optimism, the modern happiness, tires us because it tells us we fit into this world. The true happiness is that we don't fit. We come from somewhere else. We have lost our way." 
I tried to buy a copy of this book. I enjoyed the first handful of essays and wanted to take my time with the rest. (Everyone knows three months' loan from the library is insufficient.) After much searching, I finally decided on the edition of Tremendous Trifles from the On series and picked up a used copy. I was shocked to realize after looking through it for the quotations I wanted to copy into my commonplace book that it only contains 21 of the 39 essays. As it says in the introduction:
Yet in a pretty devastating review, The Times Literary Supplement said that while some of the individual essays 'are often as provocative as they are charming,' their parts 'might be transposed almost indefinitely without detection.' That there is some truth in this charge means we need not be unduly concerned that this volume contains twenty-one essays from the original selection of thirty-nine.
And that's all it says, as if all the essays are interchangeable. I was quite concerned! An editor may want to make an argument for abridging the selection of essays, but it seems a little presumptuous to declare it isn't of any consequence at all. I read the unabridged version, even if it did mean returning it to the library after three months and requesting it again to finish it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Recognizing Opportunities that Lead to Success: Outliers

by Malcolm Gladwell

Kansas Dad read this book first. He encouraged me to read it and thought the kids would benefit from it as well, so I proposed it to my book club.

Malcolm Gladwell looks closely at success stories of modern society and dissects them to show how those who succeed do so by taking advantage of opportunities and an environment that enable success. While they must have certain characteristics like persistence, intelligence, and dedication, those characteristics alone are not enough.
People don't rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine.
One of the most interesting and informative chapters for the homeschooling parent, I think, is "The 10,000-Hour Rule" in which Mr. Gladwell argues persuasively that those who practice long and hard (and have the opportunity to do so) are the ones who have the opportunity to succeed. When looking at hockey and soccer teams, for example, he shows that the bigger boys (in this case), those born early in the year, disproportionately show an early "talent," are selected for traveling or all-star teams, and the increased practice time perpetuates their higher level of skills. Of course, they must still have talent and put in the effort and time to practice, but there are many with the talent who will never succeed because they never have the chance.

That same tendency to pick out the advanced skill-level applies to tracking in elementary schools. The younger kinds in early elementary grades are not as mature, not as ready for the reading and writing skills. They're put in the "lower" group, and never get out of it.

I think this first chapter is the one the children might find the most applicable in their lives. It's easy to give up or think we aren't talented enough in math or piano or Latin, but if you're willing and able to devote focus and practice time, you can succeed at nearly anything. Of course, that won't convince them if they hate math or piano or Latin, but that's another topic.

There are also interesting comparisons of achievements from students at top-tier schools like Harvard with other good schools. A motivated and talented student can achieve greatness from any good school.
The psychologist Barry Schwartz recently proposed that elite schools give up their complex admissions process and simply hold a lottery for everyone above the threshold. "Put people into two categories," Schwartz says. "Good enough and not good enough. The ones who are good enough get put into a hat. And those who are not good enough get rejected."
I don't work in an admissions department, but this makes sense to me. Most colleges probably want to balance a class in terms of socioeconomic level, gender, and geographic diversity, as well as academic interests, but there's no doubt in my mind that scores of students turned away from top-tier universities would be excellent students at those very schools and were rejected for no reason better than a lottery could provide.

There are some chapters at the end looking at education, specifically comparing expectations for how much time students will spend at school in different cultures, with those who score well on international assessments being those that school year-round and for long hours. Mr. Gladwell follows a student at a KIPP Academy, with long hours, Saturday classes, and summer classes, all in an concerted effort to counter the culture of a low-income family with that of a high achieving one, one that presents educational opportunities to children day-in and day-out. While I don't disagree that life should be one of curiosity and challenge, I think perhaps our society has veered from what is truly important if the only way to achieve "success" is to force our students to be in a classroom extensively and curtail relationships to the bare minimum in order to do well.

This was an interesting book to read and discuss at our book club. I am considering assigning it as a "life skills book," or something of that nature, in high school. (There are references to the strip clubs in which the Beatles played to stack up all the practice hours they needed to become superstars.)

Monday, February 26, 2018

A History of Inventions for Simple Machines: The Story of Inventions

by Michael J. McHugh and Frank P. Bachman

This book is listed as optional further reading for Mater Amabilis™  Level 3 Year 2 Science. First Son didn't read it, but I had found it at a library sale and picked it up. This year, I assigned it to First Daughter as she completed Simple Machines with Fantastic Physics at Wildflowers and Marbles. I thought it would be a good complement, adding some historical context and personal stories. I did not read it ahead of time, instead reading each chapter the weekend before she did.

In the chapter covering the invention of spinning machines, the authors showed remarkably little compassion for all the skilled workers employed in handwork who lost their livelihood when the spinning machine became more common.
In time, the spinners learned that he had a wonderful spinning machine with which one person could do as much work as a dozen people with spinning wheels. People at that time were not used to machines. It was the age of handwork; they had not yet learned that machines in the end create more employment and better wages. They only saw that the invention would lessen the number of spinners needed, and would deprive them of work.
Of course, it did! Those people either developed new skills or lost their income. I would have preferred a more nuanced discussion of how new technologies change the employment landscape and how inventors and employers should attempt to consider how to provide people with meaningful work that will enable people to care for their families.

The chapter on Eli Whitney was also a little disconcerting. He is criticized in the text for making his invention so expensive (which was perhaps not a good business decision) but it makes it seem like those who were breaking the law were justified in copying his invention. Sometimes that's true, but these are not people starving; they are generally plantation owners who used slaves to grow and harvest their cotton. From Sea to Shining Sea even suggests it was this invention that "saved" slavery from dying out, making it profitable. The whole chapter seemed to justify the kinds of actions we see many large agricultural companies making today which often harm the environment and the people who depend on it.

At the end of chapter eight, the authors again expounds on the economic benefits of enormous agricultural implements.
Chiefly because of the reaper, the amount of wheat produced in the world has increased by leaps and bounds. It now amounts to several billions of bushels a year. To handle this enormous crop, great elevators are built along railroads, at railroad centers, and at seaports. To grind this wheat, thousands of flour mills have been built, some of which are so large that a single mill grinds seventeen thousand barrels of flour in twenty-four hours. Even the making of reapers became a great industry. One harvester company alone gives regular employment to an army of twenty-five thousand men and women.
I think I've read too much Wendell Berry to feel comfortable with the authors' assessment. Vast debts and the collapse of the family farm don't seem to compensate for the benefits described. Of course, the industry continues to evolve; my cousin who runs a grain elevator knows it will simply close when he wants to retire because they don't fulfill the same purpose today.
Thank God that Cyrus McCormick had the freedom to "do the impossible!" The United States will remain strong as long as people have the opportunity to freely produce new goods and services.
There wasn't anything earlier in the chapter about previous would-be inventors of the reaper being prevented by a lack of freedom. It did say in England there wasn't as much demand for one because the fields were smaller and rougher (so a mechanical reaper wouldn't work as well) and labor was cheap and plentiful.

My daughter thought the Gutenberg chapter and those that followed, until closer to modern times, were more interesting. I agree, and thought they were more palatable to my personal taste.

The chapter on computers, of course, was woefully meager, as expected with a 1992 copyright. Computers are "so small that they can fit into a briefcase." As I read, there was a paragraph that warned that "ungodly men have been using the computer for evil purposes." I mentally prepared myself for a warning against pornography, but instead found grocery stores encouraging the use of credit cards and using UPC codes to track all our purchases. Privacy is certainly a concern, but I could name a few dangers more worrisome.

Overall, I was not impressed with this particular book. I do think a book on inventions would be a good complement for the fifth grade physics study and doubt there's another book that covers the history of inventions in a pleasant story. I know of a few biographies of inventors I might assign instead.

I'm open to other ideas, so share any books you've read that might work!

Links to Amazon and RC History are affiliate links.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Do You Remember Being Young?: Ramona Quimby Audio Collection

by Beverly Cleary
performed by Stockard Channing

We listened to this collection of books once a week when the two youngest and I drove First Daughter to her allergy shots. First Son stayed home but he'd already heard all the books before. I loved to hear them laughing while we listened.

This is probably my third or fourth time listening to these books after being a mother. I cannot recommend them highly enough, not just for the delight they bring to young children, but because they so perfectly describe the thoughts in the mind of a young child. So many times, as I listened to these books, I remembered all over again the thoughts going through the minds of my children as they do the things they do that just don't make sense. They do make sense, just sometimes in an unexpected way. Only it not unexpected for Beverly Cleary.

The other thing I love about the Ramona books is how Ramona interacts with the adults in her life. In book after book, Ramona's imagination leads her into trouble, anxiety, and sometimes despair. Eventually, her mother, her father, or her teacher will convince Ramona to confide her woes. The adult is understanding and compassionate and then promptly helps Ramona discover a solution or comforts her. Listening along with my young children, I was pleased to give them so many examples of trusted adults responding with kindness and wisdom.

As we listened, Second Daughter was inspired to read the books: The Complete Ramona Collection. Second Son picked up Ribsy but I don't know if he finished it.

Stockard Channing does a magnificent job being Ramona. In fact, in the early books, Kansas Dad thought her Ramona impersonation was too much like a loud obnoxious kid in the van so we switched to listening without him. It is annoying that you can't easily forward to books because they're not marked in the chapters. "Ellen" reviewed it on Audible and kindly provided the chapter locations for each of the books:
  • Ch 1: Beezus and Ramona
  • Ch 7: Ramona the Pest
  • Ch 15: Ramona the Brave
  • Ch 24: Ramona and Her Father
  • Ch 31: Ramona and Her Mother
  • Ch 38: Ramona Quimby, Age 8
  • Ch 47: Ramona Forever
  • Ch 57: Ramona's World
I purchased this complete audio collection from Audible with a credit. The links above are affiliate links to Amazon but this post contains my honest opinion.

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!

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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.