Hodge Podge: Literary Casserole Edition

FullSizeRender (1)One runs out of themes for Hodge Podge reviews. So think of this round-up as that sort of casserole you make when you haven’t been to the store in eight days and all you have is half of a leftover chicken breast, 3/4 cup of taco meat, a bag of frozen green beans, a can of chickpeas, a bowl of last night’s rice, a wizened onion, and sheer determination.

But I digress. And now, the books.

Beowulf – This is a re-read for me, but Hannah is reading the Seamus Heaney translation, and it’s so terrific. “He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it.” If you love words, this is for you. The illustrated edition is particularly fascinating.

Man’s Search for Meaning – I liked the personal memoir narrative of the first part, but got bored with the psychological treatise of the second part. Gist: regardless of your circumstances, you can choose your response.

The Valley of Vision – I read this book of prayers in small doses, and was not sure exactly what to do with it. I found some thought-provoking and/or helpful ways of thinking about/praying about things, but I’m not sure I’d re-read it.

Teaching From Rest – This was a re-read (link is to the original review), and is a great example of a book that hits you in exactly the right way the first time, is integrated into your life and way of thinking, and then doesn’t have a lot to add the second time around. It’s a good book, but maybe not one that requires re-reading.

Time to Write – If you are just starting out in writing, and have read absolutely nothing at all on writing or time management, you might find this book helpful. Sometimes I pick up books like this, thinking, “Help! Someone tell me how to [find time to write/make a living as a writer/be creative/etc]!” and then I read the book and think, “Oh, I guess I already do that.” I guess it’s as good a cure for imposter syndrome as any.

What have you been reading lately?

Note: The picture in this post has nothing to do with casserole or books. It’s just the corner of my desk: zinnias from the garden, a picture of my great-grandmother holding a chicken, and a print from Gracelaced that reminds me to watch my words.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Sarah’s Third Grade

DSC_0147The biggest shift for Sarah this year is in her doing almost all of her readings independently. Since she is the most independent of all of the kids (so far) that was not a huge leap for her, and she is handling third grade with aplomb.

I started with Ambleside Online Year 3, adding a couple of things and deleting others. Primarily, she’s covering the 1400s-1600s in history.

As with the other big kids, Sarah has a weekly checklist to remind her of her daily work (copywork, a written narration, math assignment, typing, French, piano, chores, etc) and she can choose one assignment per category from the list on the left-hand side of her checklist.

In our daily one-on-one time, we talk over her readings (Sarah gives detailed and interesting narrations, so even if I wasn’t pre-reading–which I am–I would know what was going on in all of her books to the letter!), do math lessons, and correct her written work.

IMG_6985Here are her books for the school year (books linked are things I added to AO or have already reviewed separately):

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • This Country of Ours
  • A Child’s History of the World
  • Our Island Story
  • Explorations
  • New Nations
  • The Discovery of New Worlds
  • The Awakening of Europe

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • Michaelangelo
  • Marco Polo
  • Bard of Avon
  • Good Queen Bess
  • Landing of the Pilgrims
  • Squanto
  • Unknown to History: the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • Children of the New Forest
  • The Jungle Book (books 1 and 2)
  • American Tall Tales
  • Tales from Shakespeare
  • The Heroes
  • *I would like to find a good retelling of Spencer’s Faerie Queene, but Amazon does not currently oblige.*

IMG_6986Poetry

  • William Blake, selections
  • Sara Teasdale, selections
  • Hilda Conkling, selections
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, selections

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

  • Pagoo (sea life)
  • Science Lab in a Supermarket
  • A Drop of Water
  • Secrets of the Woods

Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

Bible

  • Luke, John
  • Exodus, Leviticus
  • Psalms

Language

  • French – Duolingo
  • English – daily writing assignments and spelling, incidental grammar as it comes up, weekly dictation

IMG_6987Math

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things WorkApologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

And that’s Sarah’s third grade so far!

Note: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, but links to other websites are not affiliated. For more details on the AO booklist, please check the AO website

 

A fun pair of books for gifting & discussing

Don’t you love that moment when you’re reading a book and you notice a subtle nod to another book or author? I think that sort of thing is fun. That’s why I quite enjoyed Val McDermid’s retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, even though I didn’t overly care for Austen’s original the first time I read it.

Val McDermid's Northanger AbbeyThe key to enjoying a retelling, though, is having read the antecedent. So I would suggest that you breeze through Austen’s Northanger Abbey first. As I read McDermid’s book, I asked myself if I would have liked it as well without that background, and I decided not. I would have missed some of the funny and clever ways that McDermid called back to Austen while pulling the story into the modern day. In fact, reading McDermid’s Northanger Abbey created a bit of a halo effect for Austen’s, so in all I wound up thinking of the story more fondly than I might have had I only read one or the other alone.

As we’re coming up on Christmas, I thought this Jane Austen's Northanger Abbeypairing would make a great gift–I could see giving it to a variety of people from teen on up. As long as the person likes the classics and doesn’t feel attacked by poking a bit of fun at modern vapidity I think it would be a great present to foster discussion. Both books are available in several editions including the economical one penny options, so it’s not the sort of thing where you need to really weigh whether or not the books are investment literature (they aren’t, really, just fun–but those are good gifts too).

Do you have any favorite classic retellings? Have you ever done a book share/club/discussion/gift exchange with a classic and a retelling as a pair?

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How Dante Can Save Your Life

danteWhat a title, right? I love the premise of Rod Dreher’s book How Dante Can Save Your Life–it’s a personal memoir structured around a book (well, three books actually, but part of a set) that deeply changed the way the author sees the world.

Although Dante’s Divine Comedy (note: I have the Mandelbaum translation–there are many) may not strike you as hard as it did Dreher, most readers will identify with the transforming power of literature. My aunt who recommended the book to me was also taking a class on Dante at the time, so she enjoyed the memoir alongside a deep dive into the source material. I read Dante in college and didn’t really feel the need to re-read it, so you can certainly read the memoir as a stand-alone.

On the other hand, I might suggest that you not read Dreher’s book and assume that you now know about Dante. Although the book does contain information about Dante and clips from the Divine Comedy, it’s really a book about Dreher. And whether or not you like the book may come down to whether or not you wind up liking Dreher.

I didn’t, much.

I’m not sure what threw me off, but I wound up rooting for the antagonists in Dreher’s narrative. I wanted to like him–he’s a writer and a deep reader and a homeschool dad and his story is actually pretty interesting–but the tone of the book kept veering toward whining and the histrionic. I’m not sure if that’s just my reading of it or if the structure rubbed me the wrong way. Dreher opens each section with a segment from Dante that applies to the next step in his own narrative, and ends each section with an abrupt text box of vague application, here’s-how-YOU-can-change-YOUR-life type of prompts. That was an odd choice, and I think it asked too much of the book–like Dreher (or his editor, maybe–they felt tacked on) was making the book do too much at once and the structure couldn’t handle it.

I don’t want to pan How Dante Can Change Your Life, because the premise is great and the story is interesting. If you’re familiar with Dante and can get past the structural hiccups you might enjoy the book. My aunt, who is a great judge of books, really liked it. Even though I had issues with the book, I might still recommend it, especially to anyone considering writing memoir–different structures are always interesting to consider. If you do read it, I’d be interested to know your thoughts!

 
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Count of Monte Cristo–Fiction and Non-fiction

alexandre-dumas-the-count-of-monte-cristo-1405396754k4ng8My first mistake was trying to listen to The Count of Monte Cristo on 2x speed as an audio book.  That was a little nuts, especially with all of the French place names and characters, so at times the kids would ask in confusion, “What language is this story in?”  Plus the audio book was like 79 hours long or something.

Life is too short.

Since I read far faster than I listen, I got the hard copy book from the library.  To my chagrin, after about a month and a half of listening, it turned out I was only halfway through. I toyed with giving it up, but decided that after so much investment I was going to finish this book, by George.

OK, the book is a classic. It’s not poorly written, just insanely long, and incredibly indulgent. Imagine you’ve been wronged, and then you have all the money in the world and could spend a decade getting back at everyone. Would you do it? I, for one, would not (see Romans 12:19). But if you were to concoct a revenge fantasy, The Count of Monte Cristo would make a good handbook.

black countWhat really helped me understand the novel and push through to the end was reading Tom Reiss’s informative non-fiction work on Dumas’s father, The Black Count. It turns out that Dumas based the count on his own father’s story. The Black Count tells the story of the senior Dumas, including a fascinating history of race relations in France, the tricky political situations facing military officers in the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, and Dumas’s incredible and misunderstood career. I’m grateful to my friend Sheila at The Deliberate Reader (link is to her link-up post for this book so you can get other perspectives!) for recommending the books together!

I’m glad I read these books, although I wouldn’t say this was a favorite classic for me. If you’re planning to read The Count of Monte Cristo, I highly recommend that you read The Black Count first or concurrently. It will really deepen your understanding and help you get through the interminable bits of the novel.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

November Reading Roundup

I read fewer books this month due to my unplanned hospital stay when I was too sick to want to read (and if you know me, you know that is seriously unusual!), but I still managed to read my usual hodge-podge of genres, which I’m linking up to QuickLit.  Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought, and if you have any particularly excellent recommendations for us this month! And without further ado, this month’s roundup:

A memoir that’s kind of like a book review

middlemarchI was intrigued by Rebecca Mead’s unusually structured memoir, My Life in Middlemarch, because George Eliot’s Middlemarch is also one of my favorites (if you’re an Austen fan, you really should read it.  It’s similar, but far, far more satisfying).

As it turned out though, Mead’s premise–that a particular book can weave into your life experience–yielded lots of interesting information about the book, the setting, and the author, but bogged down in Mead’s own memoir sections.  I think overall I’d just recommend that you read Middlemarch itself and skip this memoir unless you absolutely want to know more about the book and have time to wade through the memoir bits.

I did love the reminder of the very end of Middlemarch:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Don’t you love that?

World War II history well suited to audio

train in winterWe began studying World War II just before our impromptu launch into holiday term (I planned ahead to take time off for maternity leave so we are on partial/half schedule through December) and as I’ve always been fascinated by that era, I was eager to read A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France.  I listened to the book on audio, and at first was allowing Hannah (age 9) to listen with me, especially due to the reader’s incredibly mellifluous voice.  She has the most elegant British accent and PERFECT French–as Hannah said, “I love to hear this lady speak!”  The gripping story begins with a very interesting history of the resistance movement in occupied France, and the various roles women played as the resistance became established.

However, once the book turned to descriptions of the convoy of women taken to the concentration camps, the unspeakable horrors they endured and how their commitment to each other allowed some to survive quickly became more detail than I wanted to expose the kids to for now.  The detail was entirely appropriate and important knowledge for adults, but take care if you have sensitive kids.  Even after decades of reading World War II history, I still learned a lot from this book and would recommend it.  

A parallel story of cultural change

Boston Girl cover[1]The Boston Girl reminds me a lot of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in that both books are told in retrospective style and feature heroines who come of age in tenements in a time of great change in America.  I enjoyed the changing perspectives and the way that attitudes and even the city of Boston changed as the main character grew up and made life choices.

If you enjoy books that combine a story with insight into cultural change and historical events, I think this is a pretty good one.

 

Part 2 of a funny memoir about growing up in small town America

she-got-up-off-couch-other-heroic-acts-haven-kimmel-hardcover-cover-artShe Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana follows Kimmel’s first memoir of growing up in small town America, A Girl Named Zippy.  In the second volume, which is also excellently and hilariously narrated by the author in the audio version, Zippy is a little older–10-13–and there are undercurrents in her growing understanding that all is not right in her world.  The main theme of the book, which begins with Zippy’s mom taking control of her life and going back to college, is her parents’ courage in finding happiness even though they seem locked in to dead-end situations.  The second book is not as funny as the first–although it’s still pretty funny–but Kimmel still nails the particular qualities of being a pre-teen in the 70s and somehow makes a very specific childhood seem universal.

An awesome fiction pick you will want to add to Christmas lists

ready-player-one-paperback-coverIf you need a Christmas present for a husband/brother/whoever guy who was a kid or teen in the 1980s, give him Ready Player One.  It’s the sort of novel that even guys who claim not to read novels will really, really enjoy.

And if you already like reading novels, whether or not you are a guy from the 80s, you’ll also like this book because it’s a crazy amazing quest-pop-culture-throwback-mystery-coming-of-age story that you will want to read from cover to cover in one sitting.

The book takes place in a close dystopian future.  In the midst of an extremely well-pitched story, it also examines questions like how we see other people and get to know their true selves, the interplay of virtual lives versus real lives, and the meaning of self in an increasingly technological world.

Most of all it’s a fantastic story.  I thought it was so fun even though my husband thinks I’m kind of culturally illiterate when it comes to the 80s.  Highly recommended.

A widely applicable leadership/business/life book

H3-Leadership-197x300If you’re saying, “well, I’m not a CEO so I will skip this book,” stop right there. The messages in H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. are almost universally applicable, because we are all leaders in one way or another in our lives.  The book takes the approach that no matter what your leadership role, there are habits that can serve you well in your walk of life.  From exhortations to build deep connections and stick to your principles, to thinking rightly about ambition and innovation, the habits described in H3 would make a strong foundation for just about any calling. I appreciated the author’s readable style and thought-provoking way of examining common concepts in new lights.

My main takeaways from the book were:

  • To think differently about ambition so that I can foster the positive sides of that trait without succumbing to the downfalls (I had let myself off the hook for ambition since I gave up the whole “Big Career” thing, but really I’m a very ambitious person, and Lomenick’s section on the topic gave me a lot to think about)
  • To make a point of scheduling a weekly coffee with another writer, artist, colleague, or friend to get inspiration
  • To find a way to answer “How are you?” with “I’m rested and rejuvenated” rather than “I’m really busy”
  • Whenever someone asks me how they can pray for me, to ask for wisdom.

I think the majority of people would benefit from at least a cursory read of H3 Leadership and its description of helpful habits, and I’d recommend it.

A decent history of the Romanov sisters

romanov sisters

I can’t put my finger on why The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandrawas a long-term bestseller.  I enjoy Russian history, and thought the book was fine, but not terribly ground-breaking or fundamentally different from other, similar narratives.  That said, my perspective could be flawed since I listened to the book in audio form and was mildly annoyed that the reader mispronounced words including Russian names, and also I listened to it primarily in the middle of the night while up feeding the baby in the dark.  Listening while sleep-deprived, in pain, and disoriented as I tried to nurse, pumped, and gave bottles may not have been the ideal circumstances for consuming a book of history.  However, I don’t regret the time and did enjoy the book enough to recommend it if you’re looking for something about the last Romanov tsar and his family.

Another SUPER helpful book for parenting spirited kids

spirited childI’ve written at length before about the challenges of parenting intense kids (and books to help with that), after which a friend recommended Raising Your Spirited Child. I love that the book focuses on the power of the labels we use to describe our kids, and also on the fact that as parents our responsibility is to help our kids learn to navigate life, whether they come into it calm and compliant or literally having stronger physical reactions to frustrations, emotions, and stimuli.  Since parents are often like their children (shocker!) I found personal insight into things like why I can’t sleep in hotels and want to DIE when I hear other people chewing and why I’m always throwing away socks with the wrong type of seams, and I realized once again that I have a lot of sanitized, adult versions of the strong reactions my intense kids have to their environments.  I feel like so often the answer to my parenting struggles is GRACE–for all of us.

The book has a lot of helpful concrete suggestions for living with your intense child in understanding, avoiding power struggles, really commiserating with your child, and helping the child learn to control his or her own intensity.  I highly recommend it.

Your turn

You made it!  Let me know your thoughts on these books, or give us a tip for great books you read this month!  Finally, be sure to check QuickLit for more book roundup posts.

 

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October Reading Roundup

Rather than doing individual posts for each book I read, I’ve decided to do a few longer articles about particularly thought-provoking books, and then one monthly roundup of the rest.  I’m linking up to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy, where you can find lots of similar posts to inspire your To Read list.

Erich Maria Remarque - All Quiet On The Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front is billed as “the greatest war novel of all time” and it may be so.  It’s certainly an exceptional addition to World War I literature, and broadened my understanding significantly.  I read it as we were studying World War I in our homeschool, and after I had read The Long Shadow, which is a very readable history of the ways World War I impacted the rest of the 20th century (highly recommended).

One of the major strengths in the novel is its portrayal of the changes wrought when young men in the most idealistic phase of life are dropped into horrific realities of war.  I’m sure that this happened throughout history, but it’s particularly striking in this novel.  World War I was, of course, a really horrifying war–trench warfare plus the first widespread use of more destructive modern weaponry–but the seeming futility of the way it was conducted also had a tremendous impact on the young men at the front.

a girl named zippyOne of the book clubs I’m in read A Girl Named Zippy last month and otherwise I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. The title and description didn’t really grab me.  However, one of the bonuses of book clubs is that they sometimes make you read books you wouldn’t choose on your own and sometimes you’re glad about it.  I listened to this one on audio–read by the author–and it was really great in that format.  The author’s voice is perfect and her delivery is excellent.  The book is funny, poignant, and contains great story-telling.

Jewel_Bret_LottAfter reading Before We Get Started and Letters & Life, Bret Lott’s exceptional books on writing, I was inspired to read Jewel, his best known novel.  I enjoyed the story, which is a sweeping saga of a woman from Mississippi and how she transcends her background to care for her youngest child, who has Downs Syndrome.  Lott writes with great sensitivity and nuance describing family relationships and the tension Jewel feels as a woman greatly constrained by her time period and sub-culture, but also driven to do her best by her daughter and navigate a way to love her husband well without being drowned in the conventions of her time and place.

I really enjoyed the character development in Jewel and would recommend it.

BOOK OF SPECULATION_MECH_01.inddThe Book of Speculation has a great premise and strong writing, but fails to explore the issues it raises in very great depth.  The book could have been much stronger if it had delved into things like how you can break the cycle of persistent personality types and tendencies, why relationships perpetuate the same tragedies over generations and what to do about it, and how people cope with being different in their social groups.  That sounds like a list of self-help book topics, but believe it or not you really can address big issues like that in fiction–and often it’s the best way to address them.  Rather than digging in to those topics, though, The Book of Speculation stays pretty surface.  People tend to label those they dislike or find different, and in the past this family was labeled as cursed. So, the book says, I guess they are!  So they destroy some stuff and move away and voila!  Problem solved!  Except that’s not actually how life works.  It’s how made-for-TV Halloween movies work.  After the solid story-telling and great premise, I was ultimately pretty disappointed with how this book failed to deliver.  It’s still a good story, but falls a bit flat.

The_End_of_the_Sentence_by_Maria_Dahvana_Headley_and_Kat_HowardMy other book club chose The End of the Sentence as a slightly off-beat Octobery choice. The book plays with the traditional fairy tale genre–that is, the original versions not the Disney-fied takes.  Setting a fantastical fairy tale/ghost story in small town Oregon was an interesting choice, and although you can basically see where the story is going from the start it does move really quickly.  You can easily read this whole novella in under two hours. As I write this, I haven’t been to the book club yet, so I’m not sure how much we will have to discuss. But since book clubs are good for discussion AND for pushing you to read things you might not otherwise pick up, I’m sure we’ll think of something.  I wouldn’t say The End of the Sentence is a must-read by any stretch, but if you need something quick and the genre thing appeals to you, you’d probably enjoy it.

RelentlessCoverfinalThis month I used my friend Darcy Wiley’s Biblestudy on the book of Judges, Relentless, for my personal study and discussion in a Hello Mornings group.  Tackling a book like Judges in a six-week study is a big task, but Darcy did a great job of combining background and insight with thoughtful invitations to make personal applications.  At several points in the study I was struck by much deeper perspectives on the events I had read about many times before, and I found I was also challenged in good ways to really apply this book of Scripture.  Since if you grew up in the church you probably interacted with Judges primarily through flannelgraph, an opportunity to dig deeper may be just the thing.  The study is affordable and easy to use digitally (although I printed my copy out of personal preference) and I’d highly recommend it.

art and the bibleFrancis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible discusses how Christians should consume, evaluate, and produce art. I think at the time it was first published, this book probably seemed more ground-breaking. Nowadays I feel like Christians have a better understanding of how faith and art can co-exist, and many also understand that Christians should lead in art, not just produce derivative “junk for Jesus.”

I got some good points from the book, both as a consumer of art and as a writer.  However, if you don’t have time to read widely in this genre I might recommend Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions or Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water instead.

Schaeffer’s book is short and to-the-point, and certainly worth your time if you are interested in the topic of faith and art.

Year of WondersGeraldine Brooks’ novel Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague is well reviewed generally, but it wasn’t my favorite. I’m not sure if it’s because I read a lot of historical fiction–especially historical fiction set in England–or just my mood, but I was sort of annoyed throughout the book by anachronistic attitudes in the main characters.  I just didn’t buy the way the characters reacted to situations, thought, or interacted.  And the secondary characters were often flat and even less compelling than the main cast. Because I didn’t believe in them, I didn’t really wind up caring all that much about any of the characters, which makes a book about the plague hard to like.  With so much rich material, I expected this to be a better book.  So perhaps it was more of a missed expectations problem, but even so the characterization issues probably wouldn’t have been overcome.

northanger-abbey-cover2To be honest, Northanger Abbey is not my favorite Jane Austen novel.  You can sort of tell this was an early attempt–the story contains a lot of Austen’s trademark aspects, but the story felt a bit forced and it lacked the polish and wit of her later works.  One of the book clubs I’m in read this for our November meeting and I don’t regret devoting the time to it, but if you only have time for one or two Austen pieces, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

What have y’all been reading this month?  If you have any particularly stand-out recommendations–or warnings to run away–I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check out other review round-ups at Quick Lit.

 

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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.

How the Heather Looks

How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books is my most favorite book of 2014 so far.  I absolutely adored it, and am grateful to my friend Heather of Blackberry Rambles for the recommendation.

The book chronicles a fabulous trip undertaken by an American family of four in the 1950s, in which they traveled around the UK finding locations of all of their favorite children’s literature.  I have LONG wanted to try something similar, visiting all of the spots I’ve read about all of my life, and it was pure pleasure to read about someone who had actually done so!  The book was very well written and researched, and helpful in reminding me of books I read in childhood but haven’t remembered to read to my own kids, plus many more I never read (sadly, many of which are out of print).  Apparently–although I’m not sure how you’d find this statistic–How the Heather Looks is the book most stolen by retiring librarians!  I can’t countenance theft, but I can understand why they do it.  I’d love to own a copy of this book myself.

I felt like Bodger was a kindred spirit, especially after I read how she had used actual maps to figure out if the Borrowers could have engaged in commerce with Lilliputians.  As much of my childhood imagination play revolved around little people of various sorts that I read about in books, it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to map out.

Bodger’s children were 9 and nearly 3 at the time of their trip. She notes that at the outset people asked why they would undertake such a journey when their little girl was so young.  But the book really captures the joy that Lucie (the preschooler) and the whole family had as they explored the settings of their favorite books.  I could see turning to this book again and again for historical and setting context and book recommendations, and as a thoroughly enjoyable travel memoir.

After reading the book I googled Bodger and found, to my horror, that shortly after returning from the trip Lucie was diagnosed with a brain tumor, from which she died at the age of six.  During that time Bodger’s husband was diagnosed with schitzophrenia and left them, and thereafter her son was also diagnosed with schitzophrenia and ran away and got caught in the drug culture of the 1960s and was never part of her life again.  Bodger went on to start programs for at risk women and children using literature as therapy, wrote for the New York Times Book Review, and led initiatives for storytelling and literature for the rest of her life.  I was aghast to hear about how the family shattered, but felt so glad for Bodger that she had this document of a happy time, rather than just memories of illness and death and loss.  The book and my subsequent reading about the author struck me with a deepened sense of how important it is to cultivate joyful memories, and to really document those moments because they may be fleeting.  

In spite of the dark aftermath–which is not referenced or even foreshadowed in the book–I would wholeheartedly recommend How the Heather Looks to anyone who loves children’s literature (particularly of the British variety) or travel memoirs.

 

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The Three Musketeers

I like to read classics I’ve missed so far, so I was glad when one of my book clubs chose Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.  It’s a surprising book.

First, I was surprised by how long it was.  At some points I got weary of the musketeers (there are really four of them, but whatever) being so swashbuckly and immoderate and overly romantical, but that’s kind of the point, I suppose.

Second, I was surprised at how uncommonly and inhumanly vicious the main female character was.  I mean, whoa, Milady is just crazy evil.  It made me curious about Dumas’ background.  But again, in the scope of the book as an over-the-top romanticism/chivalry/excess story, her intense diabolical nature sort of fits.

The part of me that loves structure really wishes there was a third reason I found the book surprising, but, I’m sad to report, there is not.

In any case, I did enjoy the book, and appreciate the literary merits including the way Dumas used excess and crafted sets of rules the characters abided by.  I can easily understand why the book is a classic and I came away with lots of things to talk about in book club.

If you’ve read The Three Musketeers (note that it’s free on Kindle!), what did you think of it?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.