Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Top Books of 2020

 This year I have read between fifty and sixty books. They fall into several groups

-children's books. Some of these, I have read aloud to my children and others have been prereads before using with a children's book club that I run; using for book recommendations or prior to reading aloud with my children. 

-adult fiction. This has been dominated by Agatha Christie, this year, as my younger daughter has discovered her books and likes to have someone to discuss them with. Reading them isn't a hardship!

-Christian books which I have read to learn more about the faith or for  encouragement.

- adult non-fiction. This is a bit of a ragbag.

I grade the books that I read from 1 to 5. Looking through, no books have received a one this year. This is probably because there have been books which I haven't bothered to finish. Anyway, onto the best.

Children's Books

I enjoy reading children's books and this year, some have been particularly worthwhile.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a classic set in a fictional time in history. What or who are the wolves? It has an encouragingly happy ending. Ideal for children aged about 9-11.

Stella by Starlight is a book that deserves to become a classic. This is set in North Carolina in the 1930s in a black family. It details the struggles of the men of the community to register to vote against a background of Klu Klux Klan activity. 

Next term's read with the book club is Out of the Smoke which I reviewed earlier.

A friend recommended On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. I'm not usually a big fantasy fan but this is written particularly well and my youngest has been very keen for us to start the next volume. 

The faithful spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot to kill Hitler was ,again, read at the instigation of a friend. This is a reflective comic book aimed at older children. There is so much to think about in this book: theology, history, pacifism, loyalty to country and when to stand up and be counted. I don't agree with Bonhoeffer in everything, certainly not theologically, but this is a book that I am booking forward to reading and discussing with my children.

Adult Fiction

Agatha Christie has been fun and the best of the year was And then there were none although it is definitely creepy. 

I guess that I need to read some more fiction, next year. Suggestions are gratefully received!

Christian Books

This year, I have reread some of Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. I don't know how many times that I have read these but they are straightforward, helpful commentaries on the text which don't strain the meaning.

A Passion for the Impossible:the life of Lilias Trotter is the biography of a wealthy Victorian artist and friend of John Ruskin who gave up all her hope of becoming a famous artist to go as a missionary to Algeria. 

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: a Devout Muslim encounters Christianity 

This is the raw testimony of a a Muslim lad to starts to work through the truth of the information that he has always believed about Christianity and then the foundation for his Islamic beliefs. A thoughtful book showing the beliefs that many Muslims have about Christianity, Nabeel's love for his family and the cost that he paid to follow the Lord Jesus.

Adult Non-Fiction

Tyneham: a Lost Heritage

I picked up this book which had belonged to my Mother in law and wasn't sure whether it would be worth reading. It is Dorset local history and I wasn't sure that it would grip someone not born in the county but it was definitely a keeper. Tyneham is a village which was taken over by the military in the Second World War and never returned. Lilian Bond tells the story of growing up in the manor at the turn of the twentieth century and a world which has gone forever and a place which has changed beyond recognition. 

I have written short comments about the books which I have read in this year's book list. As always, I have some books on the go

  • Wonder  by R.J. Palacio
  • Prisoner's of Geography: Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about Global politics
  • More than Conquerors: an interpretation of the book of Revelation
  • Spurgeon's Devotional Bible- My husband and I have been reading this together for a couple of years and, God willing, will finish this tomorrow. This might be heresy but I prefer this to Spurgeon's Morning and Evening as the comments follow the text more closely.

Please feel free to recommend books for me for next year! 

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Monday, 14 December 2020

Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain

 So much of British history is around the characters and actions our monarchs but knowing who was who and the order in which they reigned isn't always straightforward. Personally, I find the order during the Middle Ages particularly confusing.

Anne and Paul Fryer have just produced a pocket sized book, Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain which has an evocative, amusing illustration and short summary of each monarch in chronological order, from Ã†thelstan to Elizabeth II. This is an ideal book to have around to let children read and also as a reference; a quick guide for when no one is quite sure about who King Stephen was or can't remember the details of the Henrys.

This book would also fit well with the tea towel with the corresponding illustrations of the monarchs which the Fryers have also produced. Having both the book and the tea towel in the kitchen might spark some interesting conversations.

This book would make an ideal stocking filler for an older KS2 or any KS3 child and would be a useful resource for the parents too.

Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain can be purchased from Lulu or Amazon. The Kings and Queens tea towel is available from the History of Great Britain website.

If you are looking for a longer history of Great Britain for children, then look up Anne and Paul's first book, The Great History of Britain, which is an ideal introduction to British history for younger children.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Out of the Smoke

Children's historical fiction about London is always a hit, in this house, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read Out of the Smoke which is due to be published tomorrow, 31st October.

Out of the Smoke is aimed at older children and set in the underbelly of Victorian London. 

Billy is an eleven year old climbing boy, one of the children used to clean chimneys by pulling himself up the chimney and using a brush from inside the flue. Strange to our thinking but it was thought that this gave better results than using brushes although, this method of chimney cleaning came at a heavy cost to the children involved. Billy had six years of experience as a climbing boy when the story starts and was proving useful as he had stopped growing. doubtless, partly due to chronic malnutrition. 

The dangers of climbing weren't the only problem that Billy faced. He lived in South London in a world of gangs, violence, drunkenness and neglect. His problems become worse and he has to flee his own area and face the dangers of gang warfare. 

I don't want to put in any plot spoilers except to say that Lord Shaftesbury, his Christian motivation and his work in eradicating child sweeps does come into the book.

Out of the Smoke has a clear Christian message: a message that is as relevant today, and to today's gang members, as it was to Billy's comrades. Billy has to learn that he can't help himself and that his own schemes don't work before he will listen to the simple Gospel message brought by the Earl.

I enjoyed reading Out of the Smoke and hope to use it with a book group for tweens, in the New Year. It would appeal to children from age about 10.  It has just the right mix of adventure, action and danger to appeal to tweenagers/early teens. Families with avid readers often look for books to give to younger children. There is a fair amount of violence and injury in the book. I am sure that it downplays the reality of the situation, however, it should be pre-read before giving to younger children, particularly, if they are sensitive. 

Highly recommended for readers from about age 10.

Out of the Smoke is published by Wakeman Trust and is available from the Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop and Amazon. There are some accompanying resources on Matthew Wainwright's website plus the first chapter if you would like a taster.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a pdf review copy of Out of the Smoke. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Wulfgar and the Dragon

Wulfgar and the Dragon is the second book in the Wulfgar the Saxon trilogy by Christina Eastwood. I reviewed the first book, Wulfgar and the Vikings earlier in the year. Both are children's historical fiction set in southern England in the ninth century. 

In this new volume, there are rumours of damage to crops and animals by a strange beast. Wulfgar and his mentor, Morcant, set off to investigate. Their findings lead to decisions around loyalty. What is the explanation for the strange beast? Has Wulfgar made the right decision about his findings and what will be the consequence?

This book would help bring a study of the Saxons alive. It is written from a clear Christian worldview and brings up issues such as honesty, loyalty, older Christians doing wrong, a troubled conscience and a changed life. 

The book is said to be for 9-12 year olds and this is fair. Keen readers will finish this book quickly and I think that it would also be suitable for slightly younger readers providing they aren't particularly sensitive. There are some injuries in the book and animals are killed but this isn't over dramatised. 

CS Lewis said 

children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest. 

When Wulfgar and the Vikings  arrived, my husband immediately asked if he could read it as he had so appreciated the first volume. I certainly found it a splendid book. My eleven year old was also fascinated with the idea of a book including dragons. So, this book is recommended by us.

Wulfgar and the Dragon is available from Ritchie Christian Media and also from Amazon. This new book is complete in itself but like any trilogy, it makes most sense the read the first book, Wulfgar and the Vikings first. I hope that when all three volumes are available, there will be an option to buy the trilogy as one volume.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of Wulfgar and the Vikings. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Home Educating in September

The first few days of September can be particularly challenging for home educators. Often, this is a time when we can feel not really ready for the new academic year and social media is full of pictures of children in smart new uniforms with shiny shoes. It is easy to feel inadequate. That applies to me, in my twelfth year of home education, and even more to those just starting out.

As home educators, this is a time to remember why we home educate. It probably has very little to do with the presence or absence of shiny new uniforms! Writing down those reasons and revisiting them can help with focus.

In addition, there is no reason why our new terms shouldn't start well. A not back to school breakfast, picnic, poetry tea or even short break makes the new term feel more positive. Don't forget that there are some major advantages, the parks suddenly empty and the cost of a holiday falls. A special breakfast is quite possible as there is no rushing to get to school on time.

Ultimately, though for those of us who are Christian home educators, we serve the Lord and rely on His strength, not our own puny wisdom. This verse has been very special to me during our years of home education.

My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 

2 Corinthians 12v9 

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Saturday, 1 August 2020

A Marathon not a Sprint

In my twelfth year of home education, I am not really an old timer. There are plenty of families around who have been home educating for well over twenty years but still, over my limited experience, I am convinced that home education is a marathon not a sprint.

It is easy to feel that we need to sprint. When people are asking advice about chapter books for their five year old or how to do GCSEs aged ten, it can sap fragile confidence like the thin ice on a lake, exposing the depths of fear and uncertainty. Then we can feel that a sprint is imperative. Yet, those regular phonics sessions or daily maths do make a difference- just not in the short term. It can be very difficult to see that one day's, or even week's or month's, work has pushed progress forward. Yet slowly, over the years with daily practice, progress is made even in challenging subjects. The child who couldn't remember the months of the year manages to recite them correctly once, then maybe after a gap, again. Yes, they might not be the first child to do this but this is progress for them and it all adds up, slowly. 

At the end of a year, sometimes, it can feel that not much has changed yet all those 11 o'clocks doing maths will have changed something. We learn perseverance and so do our children.

Other years, more progress is made. Those fractions which have been a minefield for a couple of years suddenly fall into place. The neurons have connected. I sometimes think that this is more to do with maturity than my work and it may be.

At this season, when everyone has a view on home schooling because they have just over a term's experience with what the school sent home, remember that a term is very little in the grand scheme of things. We have to carry on and be faithful to our calling to educate our children at home to God's glory.

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Friday, 10 July 2020

Middle Ages History resources

We have just finished a year studying the Middle Ages. This is our second visit to the Middle Ages as we also spent a year learning about this time period five years ago. (For anyone who  wonders we do a four year history cycle but spent an extra year learning about Ancient civilisations).

My younger two, who are home educated would be in years 6 and 8 if they were in school. These are the resources that we have used this year and below, I will put a list of resources that we used previously.

  • Story of the Middle Ages by Christine Miller. This is updated from older books by HA Guerber. We used this book as a read aloud in morning time. Reading one chapter per day, it lasted from September to the beginning of June. We liked this book. The chapters are short and it covers French history as well and English. The major downside of this book is that it is American and not small so postage would be an issue. We have a print copy from days when exchange rates were more favourable but Nothing New Press sell an ebook which would probably be my choice if I were buying it again.
  • Story of the World volume 2: The Middle Ages by Susan Wise Bauer. I used this with my son who is 11. This book is well written and popular with the children. It also gives a balance of World history as opposed to just Western European and American history. It comes from a liberal Christian stable and Reformed Christians might would to add a bit to her explanation of the Reformation. 
  • Galore Park History for Common Entrance: Medieval Realms Britain 1066-1485. My 13 year old used this book. This book includes many written exercises including those where sources need to be compared. In fact, we sometimes selected exercises when a chapter seemed to be ending with three essays! The book is well presented although we did add videos to this. I just googled the relevant time/character plus KS3 which generally brought up short videos. I pre-watched these. The other issue with this book is that it doesn't begin particularly early in the Middle Ages so was out of synch with our other reading for a fair while. Sometimes the content was rather thin and more research was really necessary.
  • Veritas Self Paced: Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation. I used this, with my youngest, as they have a special free access for lockdown for a couple of months. We had used this before with his older sister. This is engaging but expensive. As we had almost finished the year, it was  fun but not something that we decided to continue. This is definitely worth considering at the start of a year and they often have offers which make the cost a bit less.
  • Sketches from Church History by SM Houghton is my go to church history for older children. It works well in morning time.
  • Secrets of the Castle is a series of five videos about modern day reconstruction of a castle in France using traditional building techniques. 
  • Richard III: the King in the Car Park is a documentary about the discovery of the body of Richard III. This had us talking for days. There is a Richard III Society which feels strongly about Richard III and his reputation and they spearheaded the dig for his body. This documentary is more suitable for older children who can cope with skeletons and discussion of battle injuries.
  • |The Sprig of Broom by  Barbara Willard. This is part of the Mantlemas series and is historical fiction about the end to the Middle Ages/beginning of the Tudor period. This ties in well with learning about Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth. Again, this is more suitable for older children. 
Activities and resources which we used to study the Middle Ages when the children were in years 1 and 3.
  • Veritas Self Paced. 
  • I wrote about the books that we used here. In retrospect, I think that the David Macaulay books, Castle and Cathedral, would probably work better at a slightly older age. I pulled them out again recently.
  • Medieval feast. We took inspiration from the book by Aliki, A Medieval Feast. This involved cooking, dressing up, art and music.
  • Trips out. A castle and abbey are the obvious field trips for the Middle Ages and if you live within reach of Battle, visiting the site of the 1066 Battle between Harrod and William, is definitely worth doing. 
Anyway, we have enjoyed our investigation of the Middle Ages. There is so much more that we could have done but hope that these ideas may be useful for others.

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