In her fascinating book Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries, Molly Caldwell Crosby describes encephalitis lethargica–a particular type of encephalitis that was epidemic around World War I and following–and examines how even now the disease is not fully understood or curable.

This type of encephalitis–which has emerged many times in history and continues to appear today–results in victims sleeping all the time (or too little) and having complete personality changes.  Over time, the disease results in parkinsons-like symptoms and, of the sufferers who don’t die immediately, most suffer lingering symptoms for life, generally including being institutionalized.  I was horrified to learn that people with the disease are still fully cognizant, so they know what is going on and are just trapped in their condition.

Worse still, scientists and researchers still don’t quite understand what causes the disease.  Because of how it operates and looks at a molecular level, experts believe this type of encephalitis tracks closely with the flu or with strep bacteria.  That is, patients get a case of the flu or strep throat (or some of the other diseases caused by strep) and the body’s immune system starts attacking the brain as a result.  The book includes a lot of sobering parallels between the conditions that allowed the epidemic in the 20s and today.

While you might think that a medical history book of this sort would be dry and slow, I found Asleep to be quite the contrary.  The author masterfully weaves in social and cultural developments that happened alongside the medical events, giving an overall picture of the times that is highly readable, engaging, and swiftly paced.

I found this book fascinating, and would highly recommend it if you’re interested in public health or history.


Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  A small percentage of any purchase you make from Amazon through these links brings a commission to A Spirited Mind.  Thank you!

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Transforming the Difficult Child

I read Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach after seeing it recommended as a resource for calm and effective parenting (particularly about getting kids through their homework without fuss, although the book is more comprehensive than just that!).  It took me a bit to get past the title.  I don’t refer to my children as “difficult,” nor do I find that title helpful even in kids who are difficult.  The authors use the term “intense” in a couple of places, and I wish they would have stuck with that in the title too.  In fact, I think the title could be off-putting to parents like me whose kids are basically great but sometimes have bad behavior.  That said, the authors note that their methods are applicable to all kids, not just “difficult” ones.

Once I got past the title, I found some helpful information.  Some of these ideas have been in other books I’ve read–putting energy into positive affirmation rather than giving attention only to negative behaviors, etc–but this book gave detailed examples that helped me think through how to implement the ideas with my elementary-aged kids.

I’ve put some of these ideas into practice and have seen positive results.  I’m not sure how completely I buy in to the whole system (I don’t know if I have time to do the complex daily tally of good and bad behaviors traded for points and privileges–it seems laborious), but at least the first half of the book was quite helpful.

If you’re interested in positive parenting techniques, Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach could be helpful for your consideration.  If you’ve read the book and tried the techniques, what did you think?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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The Bookmarked Life, #6

The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


Flu shots.  I’ve never really gone for flu shots, except in years when I was pregnant and for babies under 2 years old.  But reading The Great Influenza this year changed my mind.  In addition to including plenty of gory detail on just how violently dreadful and horrifying really bad flu epidemics can be (if you think the flu means body aches and mild fever, you are just skimming the surface), the book discussed the epidemiology of how flu strains develop.  I was struck by how even getting an earlier strain protected people (in that they had a better chance of living), and decided that even if we don’t wind up with an epidemic any time soon, being at least partially protected for emerging strains would benefit us.  And we have the aching arms to prove it.

…Furnishing my mind

My friend Julie is an amazingly talented musician who plays with several local symphonies and musical groups.  When she offered us comp tickets to the Carmel Symphony Orchestra we jumped on it!  The big kids really enjoyed the performance and behaved quite well.  Our seats were right up front so we could see the musicians’ faces and fingering in great detail.  I had forgotten how much I love this sort of thing, and I am already making plans for how we can go to other performances near us.  If you’re local, the Palladium is a great venue–beautiful and not expensive, plus easy parking–and the music is wonderful!

…Learning about

In the course of studying the War of 1812 over the last two weeks, we checked out a lot of interesting books.  I start with the assignments and extra resources sections in our Tapestry of Grace week plan, but then I go to the library website and type in a general topic to see what else they have on hand.  Who knew the War of 1812 was such a richly covered topic in children’s literature?  One book we checked out was all about a pirate who helped save Louisiana during the war.  It’s called Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America and we recommend it for kids who are interested in pirates or history.

…Living the Good Life

This weekend one of the book clubs I’m in is going on a retreat.  The whole group rented a house and we’re going to hang out and eat great food and talk about a bunch of books either set in or about Paris.  I’m taking Eliza since she’s still nursing, but I’m looking forward to getting away for a little bit!  I’m not even taking my computer (which feels scary, since usually I do a big work day on Saturday, but I need the break).  I think it will be fun and  hopefully a good way to connect and rejuvenate!


Randomly our homeschool co-op disbanded, so in my effort to rally some extra-curriculars for my crew we find ourselves not only taking cello and piano lessons, but also hosting a Lego engineering club and a ballet class!  I volunteered to host the ballet class since the teacher (who used to teach at the co-op) was looking for a venue and I had the idea from Lora Lynn at Vitafamiliae.  This week was the first ballet class and it seemed to be a hit!  We have, I think, ten girls meeting in our basement, and the teacher agreed to come to us since we have a well-lit, finished area for the class.  Hannah and Sarah ADORED having a dance class on the premises, plus the fun of having tons of little girls over.  Now I’m wondering how to rig up some sort of mirrored wall down there.


As I kept pacing around the basement trying to get the steps I need for my Fitbit Zip (which is ridiculously motivational for me, by the way–a worthwhile investment!) I kept thinking how it would be easier to hit step goals if I ran for fitness.  Then, in a blinding flash of the obvious, I thought, “I could just…run for fitness.”  After I read Born to Run I got the Couch to 5K app, but never got around to running with it.  I used to run long distances in college prior to tearing my ACL and having extensive knee surgery and a bone graft (long story involving skiing and how I don’t speak French).  Now they say that even with a partial miniscus like I have, you can run as long as you’re careful.  So I’ve been running in the early mornings.  In my basement.  Yes, just back and forth on the carpet.  It sounds weird, but it works because I don’t have to worry about it raining or being cold, or what happens if a kid or four wake up early.  I’m up to running about 2.5 miles now.  On the carpet.  I know, this is a punchline waiting to happen.  Maybe I should invest in a treadmill.  Anyway, I’m looking around for a 5K to sign up for.  Locals, any suggestions?


In addition to our scripture memory, we’re reviewing October’s Party by George Cooper and The Morns Are Meeker Than They Were by Emily Dickinson.  I love autumn.  In celebration, we have a pumpkin on either side of our front stoop (not carved, I just like them whole) and I bought three mums.  When I cut the netting off of the mums, lo they were enormous.  I’m talking like three feet across!  I’m not sure what to do with these specimens.  Right now one lives between our garage doors and the other two are stationed between our front porch posts.  Surely I could plant them?  Would they live through the winter?

…Seeking balance

Yesterday was kind of a whirlwind, what with school then flu shots then piano then ballet.  It reminded me of how much I am not interested in being the suburban mom-chauffeur that is kind of the default for many families.  One thing I have accepted is that for our family, at least for now, we can’t do any regular evening commitments.  We really just do so much better when we can eat dinner and get baths or showers and have bedtime worship and read aloud a chapter or two of our current family book then get the kids to bed at a reasonable time.  Every now and then it’s fun to do an evening out or meet up with friends, but I’m happy with the decision not to do any night activities this year.  It does help things to feel less frantic and frazzled, even when the only slow and quiet part of the day is at the very end of it!

…Building the habit

Another of my habits for this autumn (order, focus, grace, duty) is grace.  Grace is actually my word for the year.  Here are a few ways I’m working on the habit:

  • For myself – I’m always afraid that I’m cutting myself too much slack, but this year I’m trying to focus on ways that I’m actually doing well rather than on where I’m falling short.  Lots of nights I make a two column list of things that went well in the day and things I’m concerned about, in an effort to clear my head so I can sleep.  This helps me give myself grace for the things that are problems.
  • For my family – Thought patterns matter.  I’m working on catching myself when I fall into negative thought habits, especially with my family.  I’ve been working a lot at recognizing and verbalizing the things everyone does well.  As a mom of four, it can be so easy to just give the squeaky wheels the grease, but I’m finding that when I give everyone grace and recognize the positives, it helps everyone’s behavior more anyway.

…Listening to

How cool is this: there was a visiting pianist at the orchestra concert we went to last week, and for his encore he played an arrangement of Schubert’s Trout piece!  We had just listened to that in our composer study, thanks to Dovey’s recommendation in the comments on the last Bookmarked Life post!  The kids were falling all over the place at how they knew the piece!  It was a great moment.

What are you bookmarking this week?


Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but one is to Amazon, and it’s an affiliate link, just so you know! 

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During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

I don’t know what on earth is going on with me, but here’s the second acclaimed work of fiction I’ve read and disliked recently.  One of the book clubs I’m in is discussing During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, but otherwise I would not have finished it.

The story is told from the vantage point of four female cousins, growing up on a hardscrabble Ohio farm with their formerly Amish now alcoholic grandfather, flea-bitten grandmother, mothers and aunts, one uncle, and an abusive boy cousin.  There are random cameos by one dad and various boyfriends.  The story works backwards (sort of) from the girls being teenagers to smaller children, through one aunt’s bout with cancer, family tragedy, etc.

Did I just “etc” the phrases “bout with cancer” and “family tragedy?”  Yes.  I just felt meh about the whole thing.

Ultimately, the book didn’t grab me at all.  I didn’t think the writing was anything exceptional.  I didn’t think the characters were interesting or particularly well-developed.  I didn’t see any redeeming value in the characters to make me like them or particularly care what happened to them.  There wasn’t any change in the characters, family, or community even after the family tragedy.

I’m eager to go to the book club meeting and hear what the other members thought.  Perhaps I missed something, perhaps it was just a poor choice of timing, or perhaps the book was just not for me.

If you’ve read During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, did you like it?  I’m interested to hear your thoughts!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  Honestly, I can’t recommend that you buy During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, but if you click over to Amazon from one of my links and make some other purchase, I will still get a commission at no additional cost to you, which I greatly appreciate!


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The Reading Promise

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared is a memoir written by a recent college graduate about the years her father read aloud to her, night after night, for a reading streak that lasted until she went off to college.

While structured around the reading episodes, the book is more a story of how a single dad did his very best to keep his daughter safe, happy, and loved in the midst of difficult circumstances. His dedication to reading to her daily mirrored his dedication to raising her and being an involved parent.  The books mattered, of course–you see a few instances where the family uses phrases they adopted out of books (that’s one of the side effects I notice from our family’s reading aloud), and several stories tie the books to events going on in Alice’s life–but the relationship is the topic, more than the actual books.  In other words, I didn’t leave the book with a list of books to add to our stack.  Although there is a list at the back, it’s not structured with reviews or snippets so it would be hard to say “aha, I’d like to read that one for sure” if you aren’t already familiar with the title.

As a parent, I found The Reading Promise encouraging.  I loved how Alice clearly loves reading and language, and how her father used something he was passionate about (reading aloud–he’s a librarian) to connect with his daughter.

Reading aloud is a big part of our day and our family culture, but I always enjoy reading about how other families incorporate reading into their days.  This book is funny, well-written, and quick–a very enjoyable memoir with a hopeful message.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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Tell the Truth

Tell the Truth is a satisfyingly deep treatise on reclaiming our witness from two extremes (superficial easy-but-not-lasting evangelism on one side and complacent uninvolvement on the other) by deepening our understanding of the Gospel and seeking to make our mode of life one that is seasoned with grace and always drawing people back to root issues that proclaim Christ.

It took me a long time to read this book, because there was a lot to digest.  I took a lot of notes, and am still considering the themes.  I liked that the book is so centered on the actual Gospel, rather than emotional techniques or “just tell your story” approaches.  In thinking over conversations I’ve had with people about salvation, I can’t think of a single one where drive-by evangelism was effective.  God can use anything of course, but I liked that Metzger’s approach had more depth, and that he showed ways to respond to people’s real questions and conflicts.

Most helpful for me were Metzger’s ideas for how to make the Gospel a living part of our actual conversation, rather than some tacked on outline.  I’m really rolling a lot of these things around in my head, but I think that’s a good sign.

If you’re a Christian and are interested in a thoughtful and biblical approach to communicating the Gospel in a meaningful way, I’d recommend Tell the Truth.  If you’ve read it, what did you think?


Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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Teaching the Classics

After listening to the Adam Andrews interview on the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast (you should subscribe to these, parents, they are very motivational and geared for parents whose kids are in any kind of school, not just homeschool) I bought a used copy of the workbook portion of Teaching the Classics.  The book walks parents and teachers through how to discuss books with your kids at all different levels–from picture books to college level lit.

I found the framework very handy.  We don’t unpack every book we read (no need to kill everyone’s love for books with endless drilling) but we do discuss a fair number.  I liked how Andrews laid out a way to help kids build skills in literary analysis from very young ages, because all good stories have the same elements and knowing how to read with understanding is a very useful skill, even if you are just perusing novels on the beach.

Andrews’ approach is based on the Socratic Method, which is to say that it sparks discussion through questions that prompt thinking.  The book includes an exhaustive list of great questions for all levels that you could use on any book.  There are example applications, so you can see how the method could be applied to Peter Rabbit, or to Tolstoy.  The whole book was very helpful and instructive.

As an appendix, the book includes lists of great books by age.  If you’re a collector of such lists, you may not find too many surprises, but I’m always interested in good book lists and find them helpful for reminders and ideas.

One last aside: I found a used copy of the seminar book very inexpensively.  If you want to purchase it, you might look around on Amazon or ebay and watch for a while until you see a good price.  Alternatively, if you wanted to get the DVDs of the actual seminar and a new copy of the book, you can find those on Amazon or at the Center for Lit website.

If you want to discuss books with your kids, Teaching the Classics is a great resource, and I recommend it.


Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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The Bookmarked Life #5

The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


…When to give up on books.  Recently I listened to several hours of The Goldfinch on audio book while walking around my basement (more on that later).  When the audio book was due back to the library, I checked out the paper version and read another hundred pages or so.  It’s such a bleak and ugly book, y’all.  I simply couldn’t get past it.  And yet, having invested over 400 pages of listening/reading time into it, I felt like I couldn’t just give up.  But then I did.  Life is too short to read books just because.  And yet I’m writing about it, in vague hopes of feeling less futile about the whole thing.

…Furnishing my mind

Sometimes phrases from books we read work their way into our conversations.  For example, Hannah has taken to saying, “Oh bother!” when she’s annoyed.  Jack recently asked if I could fry his breakfast egg “like billy-oh.”  And if I had a dollar for every time one of us said “puttanesca SAUCE” in a British accent like the person who reads the audio version of Lemony Snicket books, we could go out for a puttanesca sauce dinner.

…Learning about

…How to play the cello.  Jack began lessons and–for some reason I did not anticipate this although I suppose it makes sense–I’m required to sit in on his lessons to take notes and so I can help him practice.  Indirectly then, I’m learning to play the cello too!  I’m thrilled by this!  Although I wonder if it would seem as simple were I playing on a full-sized cello and not Jack’s wee 1/4 size one!

…Living the Good Life

For our 11th anniversary Josh and I went out to a local foodie type restaurant.  We are not really foodies, but we enjoy going out to places where the food is super interesting and locally sourced.  This particular place (Recess, if you’re local and interested) has one fixed price menu per day and we thought it was interesting, although not as great as some other places we’ve tried.  Still, it was fun to get dressed up and talk about random things.


We finished our first six week term of school, so this week was a holiday for us.  My parents came to visit for a few days, then we had two play dates.  I managed to get some of my work done, we went on a field trip to a local living history museum, Josh and I got a date night, and although I did not get the upstairs hall closet sorted or figure out the status of everyone’s fall/winter clothes, it seemed like a good healthy break for us all.

Next week we start our second term and I’m completely psyched about the War of 1812!  We will probably spend more than one week on the Tapestry week plan because there are so many great resources.


I got a Fitbit Zip for my anniversary present (I also got roses, but the Fitbit is what I requested) and have been interested to see the data about my movements.  First of all, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the Fitbit does not register my crazy-nuts Jillian workouts.  There I am, after a 50 minute bout of ridiculous weights and cardio that has my muscles screaming and heart beating out of my chest, and my little device calmly reports that my “active minutes” are “zero” and my steps are in the low double digits.  Argh.  But if I think of the Fitbit as measuring the other 23 hours of my day, that helps.  And it’s absurdly motivational.  To the point where on lots of evenings after I get the kids to bed, I think “oh no, I’m low on steps” so I go pace around in the basement listening to audio books until I cross the 10,000 steps marker.  Maybe this will prove helpful in some way.  Or maybe it will just wear holes in the carpet.    


I’ve decided that rings of index cards are not for me.  When I memorize things with the kids we just read them out loud until we can recite the entire thing.  I’m switching to that method for my personal Bible memory too, because the index cards felt disjointed and I couldn’t ever remember what order to say the verses in.  Hopefully the straight reading method will help!

…Seeking balance

Most weeks I still feel like I’m barely keeping the wheels on between parenting, working, homeschooling, feeding everyone, and keeping the house basically tidy.  And yet, it’s all happening.  I’m spending good quality time with the family, the Health Department has not shut us down for the amount of fingerprints on the windows, and I’m meeting work deadlines.  This is a full season of life for us, certainly, but it’s a good one.

…Building the habit

Another of my four habits for this fall (order, focus, grace, duty) is focus.  I found that I was frittering away a lot of work time by toggling between my writing and email or social media.  I didn’t feel too bad about it because I wasn’t wasting huge chunks of time, but the bits and pieces here and there added up and broke my concentration.  With more work this fall plus homeschooling and other commitments, I don’t have a lot of extra time to fling around.  And the time I do have, I want to spend on building friendships and sharpening my mind, not scrolling through my Facebook feed.  So I’ve been experimenting with different ways to be more focused.

  • I try not to check my phone as much.  Very difficult.  I’m not hugely successful at this one, which bothers me.  I’m working on it.
  • I have limited my Facebook checking to once or twice a day, just to look for notifications and emails.  If I see something interesting RIGHT at the top of the page, I respond if necessary, but otherwise, I’m not scrolling.  If I haven’t liked your pictures or anecdotal hilarity lately it’s not because I don’t love you.
  • When I’m working, I’m experimenting with completely closing my web browser.  This is a little tough because clients are often trying to get in touch with me on email, but I tell myself that if I were in a two hour meeting and couldn’t check email they would understand.  Having my entire internet window shut keeps me from being able to toggle in and out of pages, which keeps me more focused and more productive.
  • I find it really hard to focus when several people are clamoring at me all at once. I want to be able to really focus on a child when he or she is asking me something or trying to hug me or showing me a Rock Of Particular Interest or whatever.  I’ve been moderately successful at doing that when I’m not late to go somewhere or when three other people aren’t clawing for my attention.  But I need a way to restore order without yelling “Oh-my-word-one-at-a-time-and-don’t-repeat-things-endlessly-or-sing-repetitive-songs-or-yodel-all-at-once!!!!!”  Ideas?

…Listening to

Our composer for our second term is Schubert.  If you’re familiar with him, what is your favorite of his compositions?

What are you bookmarking this week?


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2014′s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.


  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
  • The Art of Small Talk - A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations - This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)


  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.


  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise - Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!


  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

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Read Alouds September 2014

We finished off many books this month, mostly because we started school again in August and finished up our first term at the end of September. This list includes chapter books read aloud for school reading as well as those we read out loud for unrelated family enjoyment, and a few I read myself in order to discuss them with Jack and Hannah, who read them independently.

I’m glad we own a paper copy of The Story of Napoleon, but had I known it was available in audio form for $1.99 I might have purchased that version. The book, by H.E. Marshall (author of Our Island Story, another of our favorites), is a spirited, lively version of the major events of Napoleon’s life, reign, and downfall. This book is listed as an Upper Grammar assignment for Tapestry of Grace Year 3, but I decided to read it out loud instead of asking Hannah and Jack to read it independently, because I didn’t want Sarah to miss out. Plus, I’m leaning more toward doing our history and literature reading out loud and letting the kids free read outside of school assignments (currently, Jack is reading Tolkein and Hannah is reading so many things simultaneously I can’t keep track).  Anyway, if you’re looking for one book about Napoleon that is both informative and well-written, plus a living book not a dry history text, we’d recommend The Story of Napoleon.

If you liked Five Children and It (which of course you did, how could you not?) you will also like the reprise of the same family having adventures in The Phoenix and the Carpet, except this time instead of a Psammead they have adventures with…wait for it…a phoenix and a magic carpet.  We really love these siblings now, and had great fun with this book as a bedtime read-aloud.  I was wiser in my choice of a more sustainable voice for the Phoenix but the chapters in the book do run long.  A few times I got away with reading only a half chapter, but the last night we were all so intent on finding out what happens that I read 68 straight pages and that, my friends, was a lot.  Worth it though–this book is great fun and highly recommended.

We read Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
as part of our not-so- great artist study this term. We did learn a lot about Benjamin West’s childhood years from this book, although our attempts to study his paintings came to naught.  When I asked Hannah to tell me about Benjamin West in her end-of-term narration, she gave many details about his upbringing but concluded with “He became a great painter, and I’ve heard he was very good.”  Momfail for not pulling the picture study together, but I do think it was worthwhile to read the book, as we learned about Quakers and colonial life, and we found the story and illustrations engaging.

A Head Full of Notions
is a chapter book biography about Robert Fulton, who invented/perfected the steamboat. Of particular interest, the book highlights how Fulton was consumed with achieving fame, and always took all the credit for himself, even when other people helped him. The kids all noticed and remarked on these things, leading to good conversations.

If you like stories about little people, like the Borrowers and so forth, you will probably like Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White. The book imagines that Liliputians were brought back to England and escaped to a deserted island monument at a crumbled down old country house, where they are discovered by the last descendant of the ducal property owners, a little girl under the thumb of a dreadful governess and the guardianship of a despicable curate. I learned about this book in How the Heather Looks and found it very amusing, so I immediately gave it to Hannah, who is also a fan of the miniature people genre.

I found out about Magic & Mischief: Tales from Cornwall via How the Heather Looks, although that book referred to an older set of Cornish fairy tales on which Magic & Mischief is based.  I think the older version probably would be better.  The fairy tales in the book are interesting, but not in the literary way that, say, the Andrew Lang fairy tale books are.  Of most interest, to me anyway, were the old English words sprinkled in here and there in the book.  I think linguistic change is very interesting and I love to learn the origins of old words and phrases.  Hannah co-opted this book out of the library bag before I had a chance to get to it, and she thought it was ok but didn’t have anything particularly superlative to say about it.

Abel’s Island  was a fantastic family read-aloud.  Written and illustrated by William Steig (who wrote some of our favorite picture books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene, etc), this short chapter book would be a great choice if you’re just easing in to reading longer books aloud.  The story follows a spoiled young mouse who  is swept away to a remote island during a storm.  While on the island, Abel learns to take care of himself, finds out what his professional calling is, and figures out that he’s much stronger than he would have imagined.  We all loved this story and the pictures are great too.

We listened to most of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times on our long car trip in August, but finished it up in September.  Although Bauer’s volumes don’t exactly match our Tapestry of Grace years (TOG Year 3 covers the 1800s, SOTW3 covers 1600-1850), they are a great spine and so well told and memorable.  Of all of my (many) educational purchases over the years, buying all four volumes of Story of the World in audio form was probably one of my best decisions.

So, telling the story of a famous historical figure through the viewpoint of his or her pet is apparently a huge thing in kid literature. The latest of this genre that we’ve read aloud has been Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale.  The book is narrated by Lewis’s dog, Seaman (alternately referred to as Scannon in older books, because Lewis had such atrocious spelling that no one could figure out the animal’s name until recent scholarship decoded it), and each short chapter is based on an incident from Lewis’s actual diaries in which the dog is mentioned.  It is a pretty good device, and an engaging way to add depth if you’re studying Lewis and Clark.  Sarah particularly enjoyed this book.  The pictures are very nice as well.

Eli Whitney, Boy Mechanic was a school read-aloud, and I’m glad we found it.  The book is a great and engaging biography of Eli Whitney, focusing primarily on his childhood (with a few chapters at the end covering his invention of the cotton gin and interchangeable parts).  There are nice pencil drawings throughout, and the chapters are not terribly long, but always interesting.  Jack was especially interested each day to find out what new thing Eli was going to figure out (he built a violin, figured out how watches worked, and all sorts of other things).

Every time we got in the car and listened to the Tim Curry dramatized audio version of The Bad Beginning (from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events) the children debated whether or not to continue.  One of my kids is particularly impacted by the mood of music, and was almost brought to tears by the scary accompaniment and creepy voices of this story.  Still, we pressed on because we all wanted to hear how the story would turn out.  I will say that from my perspective the book was fun, because it uses great vocabulary (and explains the words well) and is funny.  The kids all requested that the subsequent books in the series be consumed in paper form rather than audio.

Of Courage Undaunted was supposed to be a school read-aloud.  After waiting for it week after week in the library hold line to no avail, I eventually purchased a copy.  I tried to read it aloud for several days but for some reason I just don’t think it lends itself to reading out loud.  The kids agreed.  So Sarah looked at the pictures and sounded out bits here and there, and Hannah and Jack read it to themselves.  That meant I had to read it too so that I could discuss it with them, and it was ok.  I didn’t love it.  I remember loving reading about Sacagawea as a child, but this book is more about the crew as a whole.  It gives good information, and I do really like the illustrations, but it just wasn’t particularly a favorite.

What have you been reading aloud (or along with) this month?


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