Friday 29 December 2017

Reading Challenge 2017: the good, the bad and the ugly

This year, I have taken part in the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge. My original aim wasn't to complete the whole challenge but I altered this as it seemed that I was reading sufficiently fast. However, I won't finish the challenge although I have read more than the total number of books required. Anyway, this is my list for the year. After the basic list, is a list of the challenge categories with books by the relevant category.

The Good
-The challenge has pushed me to read genres that I wouldn't usually touch and I have particularly appreciated recommendations from friends. In this category, are some of the top books of the year:

  • Bronski House
  • William Wilberforce: Life of the Great anti-slave trade campaigner
  • Why the Reformation still matters (read with the Ossett Christian bookshop book club)
  • The loveliness of Christ
-I have read more than usual which is strange as this has been a particularly busy year. Having books in different places around the house and for different times of day has helped. 

The Bad
-There are a fair few books which won't get finished by the end of the year. These include
  • The Rare Jewel of Christian contentment
  • Watership Down
  • A Miscellany of British Church History
  • Home School Family Fitness
-The Challenge has pushed me to read shorter books. After a failure with one commentary due to greatly varying lengths of chapters not working with my timetable, I didn't attempt the second choice as it was going to  be too long to finish by the end of the year.

The Ugly
-I really didn't like having to read books from specific publishers.
-This is a bit embarrassing but I struggled with the Puritan title. Those lists of points where the last few seem to destroy an otherwise solid argument. 

Whilst this has been a useful challenge, I don't plan to repeat it in 2018. As time went on, I realised that it was difficult to fit in some important reading around the challenge. I need to read in the areas of
  • home education (my continuing professional development!)
  • caring for older people and dementia
  • books for older children so that I have preread for my book club. This often means that I have to read several books before I find something that will work. 
Following the Challenge, I would like to read a commentary (probably AW Pink on Hebrews), to read some theology (not sure yet but something reformed and recent would be good!) and another poetry anthology (probably Gerard Manley Hopkins). My husband has been telling me how much he likes the John Newton devotional, Jewels from John Newton so that will also go on the list.

Please let me know what you plan to read in 2018 and what you have enjoyed, this year.

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Wednesday 20 December 2017

Top Children's books of 2017

These are our top read alouds this year with my younger two, aged 8 and 11. Some books were read with both children and some with just one. A full list of books read, including read alouds and my own reading, is here

Scout: secret of the Swamp by Piet Prins. This Christian historical fiction work is set in the Netherlands in the Second World War and features a boy and his German shepherd dog.  Youngest Son now wants to own a German shepherd. 
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The Family with two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor. This is the true story of an Orthodox Jewish family in Poland between the wars. The time sequence is preparing for and up to the arranged marriage of the eldest daughter. There is plenty of detail about the closed community but also overtones of increasing anti-Semitism outside the ghetto. We visited the Jewish Museum, in London, soon after reading this book, which fitted amazingly well.
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My name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley, This is set in Queen Victoria's rather lonely childhood but has a fascinating, fictional twist at the end. It book appealed to my history loving daughter.
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My side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. This was a book club selection for my daughter but in honesty, my eight year old son much preferred it and now would like to keep his own bird of prey. This is award winning fiction about a boy who lives on his own in an isolated, rural read of New York State.

jacket, My Side of the Mountain

The Watchmaker's  Daughter by Jean Watson is a child's version of the life of Corrie ten Boon who hid many Jews in the Second World War, in the Netherlands. This is well written and has a fair amount of the detail found in the Hiding Place. Whilst it is suitable for children, I wouldn't want to  read it to a very young child.
Corrie Ten Boom

Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is modern children's science fiction. Each chapter has been avidly awaited by the children and some days, we read for a long time! Do be warned, if you attempt this books as a read aloud, it has 512 pages! We haven't talked much about why this book was written but there are interesting messages to discuss.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

What have your favourite children's books been this year?
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Friday 8 December 2017

December Inspiration

London feels chilly today. My children are hoping for snow! The photo is from a Park Run a couple of weeks ago when the frost was thick and my feet were cold.

It isn't always easy to get up when outside is dark. This article is a very practical list of 102 ways to start your homeschool morning out right.

The Institute of Engineering and Technology has a guide to making STEM toys using cheap and cheerful items. I know that one of my children is going to love these ideas.

Hedgehogs are becoming rare. For anyone who lives in a London borough and who has access to a garden, Wildlife London will provide hedgehog detective kits on a first come, first served basis. An ideal opportunity to be involved in some worthwhile research.

This year, I have been working on the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge. I don't think that I will complete every category but it has been a stimulating challenge which has expanded my reading. My progress is here-the list of books read is first followed by the categories in the Reading Challenge. This week, the list for the 2018 Challenge has come out.

Annie Kate has published a review of a book called The Fundamentals of Literature. I haven't read the book but she follows it with a summary of concepts in English literature from a Christian world view. If you want the name of an eight verse stanza or the difference between blank verse and free verse, this is your opportunity.

Do let me know about articles that you find useful. 

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Friday 1 December 2017

Tweens Book Club

My tweens book club has now been running for over two years. This is a quick overview which hopefully, may be helpful for anyone else thinking of running a book group.

The book club meets fortnightly at our local home education group. Group sessions last about half an hour. Currently, the group ranges from 10 to 13. Members of the group include a wide range of reading ability.

The aims of the group are to
  • encourage the group to read wholesome literature.
  • to read critically.
  • to introduce a wider range of books that the child might choose to read.
How the group works

The tweenagers meet separately for their book club. The group reads two books per term.
Criteria for the books are
  • well written 
  • acceptable from a Christian worldview
  • available in some format for less than £5.
  • not another in a series from which we have already read a book
I always pre-read the books and think this is vital. Roughly, 50% of the books that I preread are not suitable. Reasons for not choosing a book have included
  • racism
  • just didn't pull me into the story
  • too expensive or would take too long to arrive
The whole of the book club isn't devoted to the current book. We also have a time when the children recommend books to their friends and loan out books. When another child reads a recommended book, they and the child recommending both have a point. At the end of term, there are small rewards. Last term, these were bendy pencils. 

In terms of discussing the current book, I have found reading Deconstructing Penguins invaluable. Some books have lent themselves to more discussion than others. I try to keep a list of open ended questions:
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • How would you rewrite the ending?
  • What do you think is the point of this book?
  • What do you think of x character?
  • How has y changed?
The book club does not include asking the children to read aloud. In theory, I meant to start a new book by reading the first chapter aloud but so far this hasn't happened. Maybe, for the next book!

In addition, from time to time, I add an extra. These have included

  • each child taking turns to have three book recommendations from me. I used a form to ascertain the type of books that they had enjoyed/not enjoyed. If anyone wants to do this, please be warned that this involves a lot of prereading. I spent one summer reading children's books to recommend. This idea was stolen from A Modern Mrs Darcy although I did modify it a little.
  • being a judging panel for the Royal Society Young People's Science Prize.
  • a quick presentation about the background of a book.
  • a session of poetry. 

Books that we have read have included
  • Gentle Ben
  • Journey to the River Sea
  • Jungle Doctor to the Rescue
  • The boy who biked the World
  • Number the Stars
  • The Long Winter
  • One Great Purpose: Jim Elliot
  • My side of the Mountain
Useful sources for book club ideas 
  • Veritas booklists
  • Readaloud Revival
  • Sonlight booklists
  • Ambleside online free reading suggestions
  • Friends and family
I would love to know how other book clubs run and any book recommendations for my group. Thank you!

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