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 PaperBackSwap.com)

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


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)

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). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts (usually books). Thanks!

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks - another affiliate link. Links to RC History and PaperBackSwap.com are affiliate links. Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

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.


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). Every little bit helps - thanks! 

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.