Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

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Lewis, Elizabeth Foreman (1932). Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze is a must read for any literature based history unit on the Eastern Hemisphere. As the fortieth anniversary’s book jacket describes, “Elizabeth Foreman Lewis has vividly portrayed the turmoil of Chinese life during the 1920’s”- and she has. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1932, and translated into more than a dozen languages, this book is a perfect example of how to make learning history fun.

It is the story of a changing period in the city of Chungking as seen through they eyes of a teenage boy experiencing adventures with bandits, fire, flood, and uprisings. This book keeps moving. Through page turning historical fiction readers learn about the Chinese fears of angering spirits, and of western ideas. They learn about social classes, customs, lifestyles, foot binding- even Marxist philosophy and drug abuse. As is common in Asian children’s literature there is an emphasis on the values of humility and diligence. Following the story are additional historical notes to fill in any gaps,

Young Fu is a likeable protagonist, as is the coppersmith, Tang, to whom he is apprenticed. Fourteen when the story begins, and eighteen when it’s finished, this book is perfect for fifth through eighth graders. Young Fu’s heart is one of integrity and kindness, and young readers (and listeners) will be blessed that while he makes his share of foolish mistakes, he always learns from them.

The Great and Terrible Quest

DSC_0003Lovett, Margaret (1967) The Great and Terrible Quest. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

For years this was my daughter’s favorite book, and sadly I was too busy with my own reading list to get to it. The Great and Terrible Quest is the story of a ten year old orphan’s adventures as he sets out to assist a wounded knight. Suffering from amnesia, his companion is plagued by knowing something of utmost importance must be done, but not knowing what that something is. Young Trad determines to protect and help him, and along the way learns about love, determination, and courage.

I love certain passages in this book especially. Huon’s adage, “What must be done, could be done” (p. 120, among other places), and the following reminiscent of Proverbs 17:22, among them:

“Trad came to believe that the times when Huon gave himself up wholly to those deep roars of mirth were like medicine, each one helping to strengthen and steady his mind,” (p.85).

And when Trad comes to the realization that  not everyone is good, Huon’s understanding and wisdom:

“His blue eyes were dark with a knowledge and grief Trad had only begun to glimpse, but steady too with courage and determination. ‘Yet you helped me, child, and the Wise Woman helped us both'” (p.73).

Trad and Huon are examples of compassion- a Christ-like character quality if ever there was one. Also, perseverance – not giving up in spite of obstacles. This is also a book about self-sacrifice. Trad, Huon, Marlo, and the Wise Woman all willingly risk their own safety, and give of their own meager possessions, to protect and help others. Finally, and not in the least, The Great and Terrible Quest is the triumphant story of a king restored, and good defeating evil: a story that shows that hidden among a despairing land are servants who persist in their hope of the true king’s return. While this book is technically not classified as Christian fiction, you’d be hard pressed to find one with a more Christian message.

For reasons unknown, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston did not reprint this masterpiece, and for a long time it was somewhat difficult to find. Rediscovered by Sonlight, it was reprinted with permission by the heir to the Margaret Lovett estate in 2008 by Avyx Inc. And I, for one, am really glad it was.

Thanks, Mike!

Farris, Michael P. (2003). The Spiritual Power of a Mother. Nashville: Broadman and Holman.

With the gracious permission of Mike Farris, current President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom and former President of HSLDA and Patrick Henry College, I am sharing his list, “The Top Twenty Advantages of Homeschooling“. It can be found in chapter four of The Spiritual Power of a Mother, pp.33-35, which I described to you last week as being one of my favorite books for homeschooling moms.

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“The Top Twenty Advantages of Homeschooling”

20. Your kids never tell you that their teacher is smarter than you are.

19. If you can’t find matching socks for your child first thing in the morning, who cares?

18. You never have to cancel school for snow days.

17. Your kids have good reason to think they might get spanked in school but no reason to think they might get shot.

16. If the principal gives the teacher a bad evaluation, she can stick her icy feet against his legs at night.

15. You can post the Ten Commandments on your schoolroom wall without getting sued.

14. You never have to drive your child’s forgotten lunch to school.

13. Your child will never go to their twentieth high school reunion, meet an old flame, and recklessly abandon his marriage.

12. You get to change more than diapers. You get to change their minds.

11. Your child never brings the flu home from school.

10. It’s better to be a little concerned about socialization rather than really concerned about socialism.

9. When your children talk about New Age issues, they are referring to their birthday party.

8. Since becoming a homeschooling mom, you now have the legal right to throw a blunt kitchen object (slightly grazing, but not bruising, your husband’s forehead) if he ever asks, “Why is dinner late?”

7. You never have to face the dilemma of whether to take your child’s side or the teacher’s side in a dispute at school.

6. If your child gets drugs at school it’s probably Tylenol.

5. The teacher gets to kiss the principal in the faculty lounge and no one gossips.

4. Your kids recognize that this list is numerically in reverse order.

3. Your honor student can actually read the bumper sticker that you have on your car.

2. If your child claims that the dog ate his homework, you can ask the dog.

1. Some day your children will consider you to be a miracle-working expert and will turn to you for advice.

Thanks, Mike!

For Homeschooling Moms

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There are  hundreds of books about homeschooling, but only a handful that I turn to time and time again for encouragement. Today I’d like to share with you not literature, but non-fiction: writings that not only remind me personally why I’ve chosen this journey, but also that I’m one of thousands in the trenches of training up children for the glory of God. If you aren’t familiar with these titles, keep your eyes on the lookout at your next homeschooling conference, or treat yourself wherever you buy Christian books.

The Spiritual Power of a Mother

Farris, Michael P. (2003). The Spiritual Power of a Mother. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

Subtitled “Encouragement for the Homeschooling Mom” this collection of essays and speeches by homeschooling pioneer Mike Farris reminds moms of the powerful potential they have to influence their kids. Founder of both HSLDA and Patrick Henry College, Farris describes the sacrificial love of mothers, our responsibility to teach our children about God, and His faithfulness to finish the work he began in them. With chapter titles such as “The Dangerous Myth of the Perfect Homeschool Mom” and “The Hard Days”, he elevates the sacrifices his wife has made as he honestly describes their family’s own homeschooling journey. This book stays on my nightstand, because I can reread a pick-me-up essay in about five minutes, even if I am comatose from a long day of motherhood. And if I just need to smile I reread his “Top Twenty Advantages of Homeschooling” in chapter four.

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Home Sweet Homeschool

Maakestad, Sue. (2004). Home Sweet Homeschool: A Survivor’s Guide to Giving Your Kids a Quality Education. Grand Rapids: Revell.

With a Masters in Education I never for a minute questioned my ability to teach my kids at home- but I know the majority of homeschooling  moms are assailed with the world’s darts of “What makes you think you’re qualified to teach your kids?” With humor and intelligence, Maakestad shares the truth about just how competent you really are based on common sense, excellent examples from research, and most importantly, the Word of God. Each chapter ends with Scripture nuggets applied to the homeschooling experience, nuggets such as the following:

“Never forget to make use of your great homeschool advantages. Our kids have been given to us so we can present them back their heavenly Father. His image is stamped upon them, and it’s up to us at home to teach them from his Word about their godly heritage and calling- to birth in them a love of him and show them the more excellent way.”                                                                                                                                                                               (p.102)

And then she shares the following Scripture from Matthew 22:20:

And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,                                                                         and to God the things that are God’s.”

Sue Maakestad’s ability to defend the benefits of homeschooling using largely secular research is excellent. Her humor as she describes her own family’s experiences is a blessing, and her counsel wise. She’s the homeschooling friend you wish you could sit down with for a cup of tea or coffee and glean from her intelligent perspective.  And you can: just by opening her book.

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When You Rise Up

Sproul, R.C. Jr. (2004). When You Rise Up. New Jersey: P & R Publishing.

Don’t pick up this book if you’d rather not be homeschooling, because once you do there will be no going back.

In When You Rise Up  R.C. Sproul challenges homeschooling parents to think about the reasons they are homeschooling, and implores them to recognize that the ultimate goal should not be high academic achievement, well-behaved children, or anything else, but of turning their hearts toward God. He  even goes so far to say that it isn’t enough to know why we are choosing to instruct our children at home, but that we need to understand the motivation behind the very subjects we choose to teach. As parents we are “to talk to them about God and how he relates to everything” (p.75) and teach our children who God is, what He has done, and what He requires (p.92). This is the book to pick up if you ever find yourself second guessing your decision to educate your children yourself.

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Passionate Housewives Desperate for God

Chancey, Jennie and McDonald, Stacy. (2007-2009). Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. San Antonio: Vision Forum.

Okay the title is kind of corny, as is the book’s cover. But if, like many homeschooling moms, you are juggling a household of young children, this is a book you want to find. Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald are veteran homeschooling moms, both to very large families. Together they collaborated on a book dispelling the contemporary myths about homemakers, and they did a tremendous job showing feminism for what it really is. The preface alone, encourages using Scripture, what a godly “keeper at home” looks like- and it is beautifully done. Chancey and McDonald know what it’s like to be up all night with little ones, week after week. They know what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to go against the tide of culture, and to struggle with perfectionism. They have learned to embrace their sacred calling and can help young mothers do the same.

So fix yourself something warm to sip, open a book, and be encouraged. God is faithful. He will fulfill His purposes and plans, when you put your trust in Him.

Words by Heart

Sebestyen, Ouida (1979). Words by Heart. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

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Words by Heart is a strongly written story about forgiveness, set in the racially tense South, in the early 1900s. Twelve year old Lena’s father chooses to move his family into a white community ,where she would have more opportunities than if they remained in their African American neighborhood in Scatterbrook. In the story Lena first becomes aware that she isn’t accepted based on the color of her skin.

Lena’s father is the person she most loves and admires. He is one of the most Christ-like characters to ever grace the pages of a work of fiction, children’s or otherwise. Not only does he continually forgive his enemies, but he chooses to do what is right even when he is afraid, and points his daughter to walk in love when nothing could be more contrary to human nature.

Words by Heart is a heavy story, which is likely the reason it hasn’t found much popularity in children’s literature. It is a shamefully realistic picture of what our country was like at the turn of the century. There is little to lighten it up: the subject matter, the fear of its characters, and some language (Lena’s father’s employer does a fair amount of swearing), make it most suitable for young adult readers. Just the same, it is a book families passionate about both faith and stories shouldn’t miss: a book that teaches more about loving your enemies than this one would be hard to find.

 

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Ouida Sebestyen’s first novel (incidentally, published when she was fifty-five years old) was awarded an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, was the winner of the IRA Children’s Book Award, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble

Dalgliesh, Alice (1952). The Bears on Hemlock Mountain. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

Dalgliesh, Alice (1954). The Courage of Sarah Noble. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

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Rarely are two of my favorite books for an age level by the same author, but Newbery honor books The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh are the exception.

In The Bears on Hemlock Mountain eight year old Jonathan isn’t so sure about going over the hill to fetch an iron pot from his aunt, as it is early spring:

 

“Me?” said Jonathan. “All alone? They say there are bears on Hemlock Mountain.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” said his mother. “Many’s the time I’ve been over Hemlock Mountain and not a bear did I see.”

.                                                                                               (Dalgliesh, p. 15)

 

And I’m sure you can guess what happens…

This book is just plain fun to read. Based on a Pennsylvania “tall tale”, it depicts early American culture with humor and charm, and rewards both ingenuity and bravery. With unforgettable rhythm, Jonathan and his mother keep up their courage by telling themselves, “THERE are NO BEARS ON HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN, NO BEARS, NO BEARS AT ALL”, over and over, until young listeners are reciting this along with the story. Simple, and full of faith, I never tire of reading this to my kids.

The Courage of Sarah Noble is based on the true account of an eight year old girl who came with her father into the Connecticut wilderness in 1707. Far from her mother and her large family of brothers and sisters, Sarah must face fears of wild animals, Indians, and being separated from those she loves. In just fifty-five pages Alice Dalgliesh shows young readers that “To be afraid and to be brave is the best courage of all,” (Dalgliesh, p.36).

I love how this third person narrative shows not only a child’s perspective, but a loving father’s as well. And I especially appreciate the way it shows the love of a Christian home by contrast of another:

 

“Soon we shall have a fine house like Mistress Robinson’s.”

“No,” said Sarah. “Like our own.”

“And why not like Mistress Robinsons?”

“Because there is no love in that house,” said Sarah.

“You are too wise for your years.”

(Dalgliesh, p. 14)

 

Both The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble are sure to continue inspiring Christian families for years to come.

 

 

Heart of a Samurai

Preus, Margi (2010). Heart of a Samurai. New York: Amulet Books.

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Heart of a Samurai is the fictional account of a Japanese teenager’s unprecedented encounter with America in the mid 1800’s. Shipwrecked at the age of fourteen, Manjiro, (also known by his American name, John Mung), is rescued by a whaling vessel, along with four of his Japanese shipmates. After sailing for two years with the crew of the John Howland, Manjiro returns to the United States with Captain Whitfield, who later adopts him. In the book, Manjiro must address fears based on preconceived ideas,  homesickness, and choose between a myriad of opportunities placed before him.

To give you a taste of Pruis’ writing style, here is an excerpt that shows the inner struggle Manjiro is going through. He has just been informed by a Japanese shipmate that the choice to stay with the rescued sailors from his own country, or go on to America with Captain Whitfield, was to be his own:

“Manjiro opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Thoughts collided in his mind. To see America…but to possibly miss a chance to return home to his mother and family. To learn a thousand new things…but to go to a strange place where people might hate and reject him. To feel again the lift of his heart when the sails filled with wind and the ship seemed to soar over the ocean…but to have to say goodbye to his comrades with whom he’d shared so much…” (Pruis, p,74)

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In Japan Manjiro was being raised as a Buddhist. Not much mention is made of this, other than a reference to early missionaries trying to change not only the beliefs of the Japanese people, but their lifestyles as well. John Mung’s adoptive family must change churches twice before finding one accepting of their new son, but it is clear that somewhere along the way, he was presented with the gospel, for in his final letter to Captain Whitfield  before returning to Japan he writes:

“I hope you will never forget me, for I have thought about you day after day; you are my best friend on earth, besides the great God.” (Pruis, p.251)

In this her first novel, Margi Preus successfully weaves together a number of historical accuracies into creative writing. The book is informative in its descriptions of nineteenth century whaling, the codes of the Samurai, the  California Gold Rush, and Japanese and American perceptions of one another in the mid-nineteenth century. Heart of a Samurai is suitable as a read-aloud for any age, and as an independent read for grades six through eight. It could be used in conjunction with Commodore Perry and Land of the Shogun, perhaps reading  this aloud and having the kids read Preus’ book on their own. (Manjiro’s adventure, and consequent ability to counsel and interpret for the Japanese government, was instrumental in paving the way for the end to 250 years of Japanese isolationsism). It can also be connected to Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, as after returning to Japan, Manjiro translates his book The New American Practical Navigator into Japanese. (Jean Lee Latham’s Carry on, Mr. Bowditch was awarded the Newbery medal in 1956).

In addition to being a Newbery honor (2011), Heart of a Samurai made the Best Children’s Books of the Year lists for Bank Street College, the New York Public Library, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Beautifully done!

Little Blue Truck

Schertle, Alice (2008). Little Blue Truck. Boston: Harcourt, Inc.

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At first I was remiss that I’d left Alice Schertle’s Little Blue Truck off of my “Top Ten Picks for Toddlers” post, but then I realized that with three sequels, it has probably earned a post all to itself. Filled with two of little boys’ favorite interests, trucks and animals, this story of a friendly truck helping others, and being helped himself, is a favorite among my early intervention students. The premise is simple: after helping out a self-centered dump  truck who gets himself in a fix, Little Blue Truck, likewise, needs a hand. Because he is well-loved by his many animal friends, they work together to come to his rescue. In the end the big, yellow dump truck learns a valuable lesson.

Sequel Little Blue Truck Leads the Way teaches about taking turns and putting others ahead of oneself, and Little Blue Truck’s Christmas is just pure, counting backwards fun- complete with twinkling lights adorning the final page. Illustrator Jill McElmurry also deserves praise for her colorful, engaging drawings.

Marketed as a preschool book, this series is especially appropriate for ages 2 1/2 to 4 years.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Lin, Grace (2009). Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York, NY: Little, Brown, & Company.

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In this middle grade fantasy author Grace Lin does an outstanding job of weaving Chinese folktales into an original, engaging story. Living beside “Fruitless Mountain”, Minli’s hard life working the rice fields alongside her parents, is brightened by only one thing: her father’s stories. When a talking goldfish provides her with directions to “Never-Ending Mountain”, Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s fortune. Like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, a dragon who cannot fly joins the heroine in her quest when he is freed. Together they embark on a journey of courage and self-discovery, meeting more than a few interesting characters along the way.

This book is phenomenal for character studies and comparisons: Ba’s contentment versus Ma’s discontentment, Magistrate Tiger’s selfishness versus Jade Dragon’s children’s and other characters’ self-sacrifice, and Minli’s courage, to name a few. It is a perfect introduction to Chinese folktales, and a wonderful way to capture student interest when studying this culture. Opportunities to incorporate geography (the origins of the Jade, Pearl, Yellow, Long, and Black rivers, as given in folklore, are included), technology (Minli must make a compass for her journey), creative writing (they can attempt to write their own folktales), and history, abound. Grace Lin’s website offers a reader’s guide with ten questions that make excellent writing prompts. (These can also be found at the end of the Little, Brown, and Company 2011 edition of the book).

And the best news is Lin doesn’t stop here: sequels Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver are nearly as good as the first book of the series. The books are quite intricately woven, and I would suggest students journal or illustrate the story as they read to aid in following them, especially the last in the trilogy.

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Recommended for ages eight to twelve, (grades three to seven), this Newbery Honor Book and New York Times best seller is too good to be missed, so if your teens haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy it, use it as a family read aloud. It is one of the finest works of children’s literature published since the century began, and I expect will remain in my top five favorites for upper elementary fiction for years to come.

Sugarbush Spring

Chall, Marsha Wilson (2000). Sugarbush Spring. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.

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It is February in the Finger Lakes, and the maple syrup makers are expectantly tapping trees, running lines, and watching the forecast to see when the first sap collections will be made. My husband is no exception. Any day now I will lose him to the sugarhouse (which luckily I can see from several windows of our home). My kitchen will be overtaken by giant pots, bottles, gauges, and scents of sweetness. And in the evenings, when the kids are snuggled on the couch, sleepily watching DVDs, I will sneak out and join him for the familiar annual sounds of boiling sap and crackling timber.



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Marsha Wilson Chall depicts the experience exquisitely in her book, Sugarbush Spring. Through the eyes of a child, from tapping to bottling, a day of sap harvesting and syrup making is revealed in beautiful word pictures:

“I hang a pail beneath each of them and wait. The sun side spills first. Ping…ping…dripple, dripple-dripple.” (p.7)

“All around the sugarbush I measure who is ready, filling up my arms with trees.” (p.8)

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But the writing is only the half of it; Jim Daly’s illustrations are nothing short of frameable. Year after year the kids and I pour over the beautiful paintings, enjoying them every bit as much as the story itself.

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Maple syruping abounds in children’s literature, as I shared in the unit study I wrote several years ago (see The Old Schoolhouse magazine, Fall 2008 issue, or TOS Digital Products WeE Book “From the Tree to the Table: A Maple Syrup Story”). Miracles on Maple Hill, A Gathering of Days, The Birchbark House, Calico Bush, and Little House in the Big Woods, all include descriptions of the process in various times and places. Sugarbush Spring works especially well as a read aloud for younger children. It goes beyond the technical knowledge of syrup making (although this isn’t neglected) to the beauty of one of God’s gifts- hidden in trees for thousands of years before its discovery.

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Enjoy a sign that spring is on its way. If you can, make it to the sugarbush yourself, (and if you come to ours, be sure to wear boots!). If you can’t, find yourself a copy of Sugarbush Spring.