Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shakespeare on the Range: Romeo and Juliet

Last year, we reached Passage 12 in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.

Just to give an idea of Shakespeare on the Range, here's what our study looked like for this play.

First, First Son and First Daughter read retellings of the play. They read independently and narrated them to me.

First Son (7th grade) read from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. We have the version illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. I like this version. The illustrations are fine, the pages are nice, and it smells properly of old book. I think I bought ours used on Cathswap.

First Daughter (4th grade) read from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit. We have the Wilder Publications version which is merely adequate. There's no Table of Contents, which can be annoying. I also bought this version used.

I read the chapter in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare aloud. Sometimes I have to change the wording a bit as I read to address the children directly rather than the parent, but it's usually not a problem. Then, over the course of a few weeks, we memorized the passage in the book. Only First Son and First Daughter have to memorize it, but the younger two often know all or most of it by the time we're done. We try to have Shakespeare twice a week. Once we review only the few most recent passages as well as the current one and one day a week we review all of our Shakespeare. (It takes about ten minutes to review the twelve passages plus a few bonus passages.)

After we had the passage memorized, we spent one day a week reading aloud an act of the play, continuing to review all our passages on the other day. First Son did not want to do this at all, mostly I think because it was Romeo and Juliet. I agreed to read Romeo's part so he wouldn't have to read it. We also decided to use their Star Wars and Disney Infinity characters to play the parts on our table. First Son even did their voices: Lego Batman played Capulet, for example. You haven't seen Romeo and Juliet until you've seen Princess Leia as Juliet and Jabba the Hut as the nurse. Just what I should have expected.

For our readings, I used Shakespeare Made Easy for my copy. It shows Shakespeare's text on one page with a modern translation on the facing page. I find this helpful in understanding the text more fully and following the action, but don't recommend it for students because sometimes the translations are a bit too graphic. I got my copy from

The kids both used the older version of Cambridge School Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. This is one series recommended in How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. It has the play's text on one side and literary, dramatic, and historical notes on the facing page. We didn't specifically read any of these as my children are young and I wanted them merely to enjoy the play (as long as they could follow the main plot). It also includes photographs from actual productions, which I liked. I found, however, that some of the text was a little too explicit for little eyes. I used a post-it note to cover the top of page 74 and another one to cover pretty much all of page 50. When we came to those pages, I told the kids I didn't want them to see those pages just yet. I requested both of these copies from

Finally, after finishing the play, we watched the movie version with Olivia Hussey, which was available at our library. Warning: Romeo and Juliet are naked in bed together and Romeo even gets up while we can see his backside.

I also always make our Masterpuppet Theater available for them once a new passage is memorized. It comes with a book of scenes as well as some creative additional puppets like Shakespeare himself, a robot, and a bear. Every time we get this out, the kids spend extra time playing with the puppets.

One thing I forgot to do was make a character map with the kids. I find these helpful to have in front of us while reading the play because we can quickly see who a character is and all the relationships he or she has with other characters.

With a few breaks and missed days in the spring (when we were also working on a homeschool play with our drama club), we spent twelve weeks studying Romeo and Juliet. Next up: Macbeth.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

March and April 2017 Book Reports

It's been a busy spring with a concerted effort to decrease my computer time. Hence a post on the books I read in March and April at the end of May.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery - link to my post (my daughter's copy, purchased used at a library book sale)

The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep with Dr. Kathleen S. Yep was one of First Son's books for his American history, recommended by RC History, the tale of a young Chinese boy's journey from his village to San Francisco through Angel Island. It's a nice complement to all the immigrant stories centered on Ellis Island and focusing on Chinese immigrants rather than those of Europe. First Son was in seventh grade when he read it, but it would be appropriate for younger children, too. (library copy)

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White is a children's classic I had never read. Knowing my daughter's great love for all things avian, I decided we had to read it. She was delighted by this story of a swan without a voice who learns to play the trumpet. Great for all ages and the audiobook contained some actual trumpeting (of the horn, not the birds) which added to the story. (Audible audiobook)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen centers on Fanny Price, raised by her uncle and surrounded by wealth but yet apart from it. I love reading Austen and yet am always amazed at how insightful her books are as young people discern who to marry. Fanny's strength of character withstand the arguments of those who should have had her best interests at heart but let wealth and charm delude them. It is perhaps at our peril that we disregard such concerns in our modern world. (Audible audiobook)

Good-bye Mr. Chips by James Hilton - link to my post (library copy)

Cosmas or the Love of God by Pierre de Calan, translated by Peter Hebblethwaite - link to post (interlibrary loan copy)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - link to my post (library copy, but I requested one from

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz - link to my post (library copy, but I requested one from

Ember Falls by S.D. Smith is the second in the series (after The Green Ember). In it, Heather and Picket face more danger and doubt. This is a darker book than the first and leaves the fate of the rabbits much in question, but there is still hope and a third book to follow. (Audible audiobook, though my daughter received a copy for Christmas)

Books in Progress (and date started)
  • Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol. 2 (sixth edition) (August 2014)
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (January 2017)
  • Prayer and the Will of God by Dom Hubert van Zeller (March 2017)
  • Joan of Arc by Mark Twain (April 2017, with my book club)

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These reports are my honest opinions.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Beowulf and Christ: The King's Thane (and other Beowulf books)

The King's Thane
by Charles Brady

This book is recommended in Connecting with History volume 2 (my affiliate link) in unit 5, the time when the tale of Beowulf was first written down. This book, brings the story forward a bit in time, to coincide with the first Bishop of York. The setting provides opportunities for conversations of faith and valor.

Beorn wants desperately to be a thane, but a deformed leg hinders his ambition. When a hero comes to battle Grendel, he accepts Beorn as his thane, teaching and training him. Father Paulinus is a missionary priest who has already converted the queen and some others, though Beorn and the king hesitate.

At one point, Beorn and Father Paulinus have just finished a meal at a freeman's cottage, one full of welcome, good food, and family. Asked what he saw there, Beorn answers:
"Richness," said Beorn. "But a far different sort of richness than gold can buy. The richness of black earth and fat tillage. Honest wealth and weal and health and -- yes, a kind of holiness as well, though it is true I know not much of holiness and so should not speak about such things."
Father Paulinus responds:
"What is the world's glory worth, after all? Kings live that Gorm and Elfwina may be, not they that kings may flourish. If it is anything, Bjarki's sword is to keep safe such as these twain and their small ones. It is true that the songs the scops sing do not get written about such as Gorm and Elfwina. No matter. They are what the songs say."
At the end is a note provided by the author. He addresses the change in venue for Beowulf's story:
As for the suggestion that a monk named Beorn wrote the Beowulf, well, someone wrote the Beowulf, most probably at a Northumbrian court, and quite possibly as early as the year 667 a.d., when my Beorn would have been only fifty-six years of age.
First Son (seventh grade) read this book independently but I think it could have been a good family read-aloud as well.

I did share more traditional forms of Beowulf as well. I read aloud Beowulf by James Rumford to all the children. There's courage and lofty language and just enough visuals of the monster to intrigue the children without scaring them. (My youngest is six.)

First Daughter (fourth grade) will read Michael Morpurgo's version of Beowulf. Lavishly illustrated by Michael Foreman, this version is full of phrases reminiscent of epic tales but accessible to younger readers. There's plenty of gore including an illustration of Grendel eating a man's leg as he dangles upside-down (just to be clear). The Christian elements of the original are highlighted (a shadow of a cross above the dying Beowulf, for example). This version is also recommended by Connecting with History.

First Son (seventh grade) read Beowulf the Warrior by Ian Serrailier which is recommended by Connecting with History. This version is more sophisticated than Morpurgo's book, but could still be read by a wide range in ages from late elementary and up. It retains the look and feel of an epic poem (rather than prose). It was my favorite of the versions we read this year.

The King's Thane and the Rumford and Morpurgo versions we read were from the library. I bought Beowulf the Warrior at a Bethlehem Books sale last summer.

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Unless otherwise stated, links to RC History for the Connecting with History program are not affiliate links, but if you'd like to make a purchase through my affiliate link, here it is!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sacrificing Everything for the Faith: Blessed Miguel Pro

by Ann Ball

This is one of the possible saint biographies named in the Mater Amabilis

™ Level 4 lesson plans (8th grade). It coordinates with the 20th Century history plans. Our children are already familiar with the story of this mischievous priest from the Glory Story.

Blessed Miguel Pro is one of many priests, religious, and lay Catholics persecuted and executed by Mexican revolutionaries. Unlike many of them, there are plenty of photographs of his execution in 1927. Photographs of the execution, the moment of impact of the bullets, of a soldier standing over Father Miguel's body to shoot him in the head, and a photography of a bloody Father Miguel in death are included in this book, so be aware if you intend to share this book with younger children. Though disturbing, I don't think they are too graphic for my 13 1/2 year old son. He'll be reading this book first term next year.

This book is not a literary biography or historical fiction. The author draws on interviews and letters to present a basic history of Miguel Pro from this childhood through his disrupted studies for the priesthood (when the seminaries in Mexico were closed) and, finally, his return to his Mexico in the midst of the persecution of Catholics and the Church. Throughout the book, little stories and examples of his personality are woven into the more basic narrative.

It is appropriate for my 8th grade son to begin wrestling with martyrdom in the modern world. Living in the security of 2017 Kansas, it is easy to think the martyrdom of saints like St. Paul and St. Ignatius of Antioch are only found in the ancient world. Bl. Miguel Pro is, however, one of many Catholics and Christians killed because of their faith (explicitly or implicitly) in the past century and into the current year. Bl. Miguel gives us an example of how to live faithfully, joyfully, and devotedly in a modern world seeking our destruction. He did not take arms against an unjust government, instead serving the persecuted through the sacraments and gifts of food and clothing.

This book seems to be reasonably well-researched, though not as a scholarly work. There are quite a few resources in the bibliography, but they are not specifically referenced in the text. It also doesn't seem like there are original sources (like the letters), though it's likely those would be difficult to research by an American traveling in Mexico at the current time. There is no translator mentioned for either the letters or the prayers and poems included in the appendices, so I assume the author translated them herself. Despite these minor shortcomings, this is a good book for a late middle school or high school student on Bl. Miguel Pro.

I purchased this book directly from the publisher and received nothing in return for this review.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Getting Dinner on the Table: One Pan and Done

by Molly Gilbert

I've enjoyed trying recipes from this book. There are lovely pictures for many of the recipes, which is almost a requirement for a decent cookbook.

The Quick Chicken Pot Pie was not as quick as I'd hoped - with lots of vegetables to cut. The cooking time for some of those vegetables either needs to be longer or I need to cut them smaller. The taste was great, though, and I loved the biscuits on top, even more than pastry. I think this is my favorite recipe so far.

The Curried Red Lentil soup appealed to me, but the rest of the family was indifferent or aghast. It has the benefit of being both tasty and healthy.

The Apricot-Glazed Drumsticks with Quinoa (shown on the cover) were very tasty. We appeased the children by doubling the drumsticks (which they gobbled up) but not the quinoa. We just put half the drumsticks in a different pan.

I really want to try the Thai Turkey with Carrot "Noodles" but haven't had the nerve to put them on the table in front of the kids yet. One of these days I'm going to give them a try.

At first I was surprised at the number of deserts in the book. Aren't most deserts made in a single pan? The brownie sundae, brownie mixed and baked in a cast-iron skillet, was amazing. Because we usually have bittersweet chocolate chips in the freezer, this is a great recipe for a weeknight when you need a desert fast!

I think I was expected a book of casseroles - toss everything in a big dish and throw it in the oven for an hour. Most of the recipes are a little more involved than that and don't actually include a complete meal. I'm not very good at being adventurous with vegetables, so we made do with canned green beans or frozen peas. I guess I should look for a cookbook that gives a complete meal for every recipe.

I was disappointed at the size of most of the recipes. We have four children, so a recipe that serves only four won't work for us unless I can easily double it. However, once I've doubled recipes from this book, they often don't fit in a single pan. The exception to this was the squash bowls with chickpeas. Again, I liked these, but Kansas Dad and I ate them for days and days before they were gone - definitely more than four servings. (The kids wouldn't eat those, either.)

Overall, I'm pleased with this book and will be continuing to try new recipes from it.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own. The links in this post are not affiliate links.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Adventuring Through the Orient: Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels

Mater Amabilis™™Level 3 recommends Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels, spread over the two years of the level, the Occident in Year 1 (sixth grade) and the Orient in Year 2 (seventh grade). I wrote about the Occident and how much I loved it last year. The Orient was just as riveting. In it, Halliburton continues his travels with a group of young people through Europe and Asia.

In the second chapter, exploring Halicarnassus, Halliburton writes:
How sad, how cruel, that this world should have been so completely destroyed; for was it not, perhaps, a better world than ours? We have radios and airplanes and motorcars, but Demetrius and Diomede, like most Greeks of that Golden Age in history, had the time and the desire to love beauty, and to understand beauty, and to live for beauty.
In the chapter on Timbucktoo, the author describes how he purchased slaves on a previous visit. He cared for them well and, in the end, paid the slave dealer to take them back. I'm not sure what would have been better and perhaps it wasn't possible, but it seems like he should have at least explained why he didn't set them free. The story is quite funny as the slaves act like the children they are and frequently take off their few clothes.

The chapter on Victoria Falls is particularly beautiful, as befits the Wonder.
Before us and below us screams a hurricane of bursting water. We are on the downstream rim of the chasm, the rim which faces the falls. The curtain of water, opposite, is only 250 feet away, but we can not see it. For in this narrow abyss in front of us, and for half a mile on either side, the Zambezi seems rather to explode than fall. The violent blasts of wind shoot the clouds of smoke far up into the sky. These clouds condense and fall again and rise again, in perpetual motion and never-ending fury. They beat upon us and blind us. The shock of so much power dashing downward at our feet is physically painful. We are half-drowned in spray. 
The book ends on the peak of Mount Fuji in Japan as the sun rises.
Lifted up into this holy realm, on the white crown of the magic peak, we too stand there, as moved, as lost in rapture, as the kneeling, praying pilgrims. And as we watch the miracle of the morning unfold, each of us, after his own fashion, gives thanks to the Master Hand that made the beauty and the wonder of the world. 
As last year, I assigned some mapwork in his Geography Coloring Book as it was appropriate. I bought this book a few years ago and we use it over and over again, coloring in new pages as we work through geography and other lessons.

Chapter 1 - Color Turkey and Greece on p 18.
Chapter 2 - Mark where Halicarnassus would have been on the map on p 30.
Chapter 3 - Color the island of Rhodes on p 30.
Chapter 4 - Color what you can of Egypt on p 30.
Chapter 5 - Nothing this week.
Chapter 6 - Nothing this week.
Chapter 7 - Color the part of Crete shown on p 30.
Chapter 8 - Mark Tibuctoo on p 37.
Chapter 9 - Mark Victoria Falls on p 37.
Chapter 10 - Color Saudi Arabia on p 31.
Chapter 11 - Color Jordan on p 30.
Chapter 12 - Color Israel on p 30.
Chapter 13 - Color Cyprus on p 30.
Chapter 14 - Color Lebanon on p 30.
Chapter 15 - Color Syria on p 30.
Chapter 16 - Nothing this week.
Chapter 17 - Color Iraq on p 31.
Chapter 18 - Color Kuwait on p 31
Chapter 19 - Color Iran on p 31.
Chapter 20 - Color India on p 32.
Chapter 21 - Color Pakistan on p 32.
Chapter 22 - Color Afghanistan on p 32.
Chapter 23 - Color Bhutan on p 32.
Chapter 24 - Color Nepal on p. 32. Also read The Top of the World by Steve Jenkins.
Chapter 25 - Color China on p 33.
Chapter 26 - Color Mongolia on p 33. 
Chapter 27 - Color Sri Lanka on p 32.
Chapter 28 - Color Cambodia on p 34.
Chapter 29 - Color North and South Korea on p 33.
Chapter 30 - Color Japan on p 33.

First Son's copy of the Geography Coloring Book is an older one, but First Daughter has the third edition and I checked that the page numbers are still accurate.

The Book of Marvels remains my favorite book of Level 3.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Timely Thrasher

Today, Second Daughter and I read about the Brown Thrasher in The Burgess Bird Book for Children. A few hours later, I watched a pair them outside the window, one of which was digging in the leaves and earth, throwing bits of debris all over.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Escape from Siberia: The Long Walk

by Slavomir Rawicz

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 4 (8th grade) geography. This was a new book to me, one I hadn't even heard of before.

It's the supposedly true story of an escape from a Siberian gulag by walking south through the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayan Mountains. Along the way, the escapees face thirst, hunger, injury, and despair. Not all of the companions survive the story.

It's quite likely this story is not exactly true. At one point, for example, he claims they saw Sasquatch. He also reports walking through the dessert without water for eight days but I imagine that is unlikely.

As a riveting tale of strength, courage, and the people of Tibet and Mongolia, however, it's amazing. First Son is going to love this book.

There is a brief respectful mention of a Roman Catholic priest in the gulag.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Justice and Truth: To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

This book is recommended for Level 4 (8th grade) by Mater Amabilis, which would be First Son's level next year. There's a note encouraging parents to read the text first to determine if it is appropriate. It is, of course, the story of the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman. As with far too many "classics," this is a book I never read but it has been on my list, so I requested it from the library.

Written from the point of view of young Scout, the book explores overt and subtle racism. I've decided First Son will read it, but I'm going to make a reading journal for him where I'll ask him to record his thoughts in response to questions I'll pose (probably not for every chapter). Set in the 1930s, many of the characters who are less racist are actually still quite racist by today's standards. Among other things I want to be able to tease this out a little with my son.

My reading of this book prompted a little discussion on the Mater Amabilis facebook page. Thinking about this book myself, I was concerned about the possibility of First Son (and later my girls) internalizing the idea of a woman who falsely accuses someone of rape. This topic is sensitive and there are certainly false accusations, but I'd like my children to give accusers the benefit of the doubt and let those in authority make determinations of fault. In addition, I wanted my girls to feel safe talking with me or someone else if they felt like someone was taking advantage of them. One of the very wise moms in the group pointed out that Tom (the accused) is really the one who isn't believed despite the evidence. We can use this part of the novel to talk about how those who are generally powerless slash out at others and how whether we believe someone can initially depend more on context and prejudices than facts and truth.

This is yet another book I look forward to sharing with First Son next year.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Heeding God's Call: Cosmas or the Love of God

by Pierre de Calan
translated by Peter Hebblethwaite

This novel explores the vocation of a potential novice at a monastery. Through multiple crises, he and his spiritual advisors wonder, "Is the consecrated life at this monastery his vocation?" Through the conversations and challenges, the reader is led to explore the meaning of vocation and how it might be discovered.

James Martin, SJ, writes in the introduction of the thoughts that rise in his mind as he reads this book:
The questions upon which the novel turns are: What is a vocation? Is a vocation something that you feel God is calling you to do? And, if you feel drawn to a particular vocation but discover that you cannot do it, does it follow that God is now asking you not to do it?
Whole lives--single, married, vowed, ordained--have been spent pondering those difficult questions. Does unhappiness in a religious community mean that one should leave? Or is fidelity and perseverance the answer? Likewise, does unhappiness in a job, in a friendship, or in a marriage mean that one should switch careers, sever a relationship, or even end a marriage?
 The narrator of the novel was the novice master when Cosmas approached the monastery. He writes with compassion and ambivalence about Cosmas's vocation. The book is in the form of letters to a non-Catholic who had visited the monastery.
A vocation is not open to empirical investigation. The Lord is relentless when he wants to enlist someone in his service; but his is also incredibly self-effacing. One cannot possibly understand the signs of a vocation unless one remembers that God, because he is love, woos souls with all the delicacy and shyness of a lover. Even those who, like myself, can say that they have never had the slightest doubt about their vocation, still feel overwhelmed and at a loss to explain exactly what this means. For here contradictory truths, inaccessible to ordinary human logic, come together: there is a sense of being led by someone stronger than oneself, and yet of remaining free; the feeling that the voice that calls us will never fall silent, that it will pursue us in season and out of season, and yet that it is within our power at any given moment not to heed it; the understanding that God has need of our cooperation to lead us wherever he desires.
One of the problems Cosmas encountered was realizing the imperfections of the other men in the monastery. This startling revelation is just as common for newly married couples and priests. A vocation is still lived by a man or a woman, sinfully but hopefully.
They have to learn that they will not find in monastic life and its Rule a ready-made peace and perfection, but that monastic life and the Rule are rather a road toward peace and perfection that each one has to take at his own pace. They have to learn to accept and to love their neighbor as he is, knowing that the help and example of other people will inevitably and to some extent be flawed and disappointing; and that everyone has to find his own original way forward, which will depend on his personal relationship with God rather than the imitation of someone else. 
It's common within a vocation to experience times of stress and struggle, but sometimes people are just as disturbed by times of quiet dullness. Yet the narrator affirms the value in small ordinary sacrifices.
The life of the community reflected the weather: nothing very outstanding happened; there was no particular mood to record. I was sometimes reminded of the sense of grayness and routine that Cosmas had found so dispiriting. And yet every day prayer and praise, acts of renunciation, humble tasks accomplished in obedience, repugnances mastered, clashes of mood or superficial irritations overcome by charity--all these rose up to the Lord. And God, who had called us to this life, no doubt found them good.
In the end, and this is revealed within the first few pages of the novel, Cosmas dies before he can complete his novitiate. Near the end of the novel, the Father Abbot is talking with the novice master about Cosmas and the continued uncertainty about his vocation.
"The vocation of a Bach or a Mozart seems to be beyond all question because of the wonderful music they produced. But in the sight of God, have they any more value than that of any other musician, without their talent and grace, who has heard an inner call and tried to answer it until death? Those who suffer from this gap between their aspirations and their attainments--and whom we cruelly call failures--are perhaps less deceived about their talent than we imagine. But in their eyes the sense of inadequacy, of getting nowhere, and their failures, do not relieve them of the responsibility to keep on trying, unweariedly through in vain..."
In this novel, the reader can find real men struggling to live a difficult vocation within a monastery, but the examples within the pages can be applied to those of us attempting to live our vocation, wherever we are. It was a pleasure to read.