Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott" by Yona Zeldis McDonough

On a recent trip to our local library I saw "Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott" by Yona Zeldis McDonough on display. Knowing that the 5 Minutes for Books Louisa May Alcott book club was coming up, I dropped the book into my already stuffed book bag and brought it home.

This biography tells the life story of Louisa May beginning from her birth to her death. Several snapshots of her childhood are included such as weekly family pillow fights and being rescued from the Boston Commons frog pond by a black boy. Her myriad of jobs are also described; from teacher to housemaid to Civil War nurse and, finally, to author.

Along with the simple telling of Louisa's life the book includes some of her quotes, two of her earliest poems, facts about the Alcott family and a short bibliography. It's definitely not your typical children's picture book.

My children (1-6 years) are still a little young for this book but children (especially girls) in 4-8 grades would probably enjoy it. I can see it being a good introduction to the biography genre or a valuable resource after reading some of Miss Alcott's books.

While writing this review I read the website of the author Yona Zeldis McDonough. Under her biography section she had this to say:
"...when you are reader, you just need to read. Sometimes you read books that change your life, like OF MICE AND MEN, which I read--and adored-- when I was in sixth grade. Other times, you read the latest adventures of Betty and Veronica. You’ll read a three-day old newspaper or the back of the cereal box if that’s all that there is available, because readers just need to read."
I couldn't agree with her more!! "Louisa" is my first introduction to Ms. McDonough. I'm definitely interested in reading more of her books. I recommend you do the same.

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Jack and Jill" by Louisa May Alcott

"Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after."

So goes the old nursery rhyme and the main characters of "Jack and Jill" by Louisa May Alcott. The two children, friends in a small town, start the story sledding during Christmas vacation.

Unfortunately, they are a little too daring on the sled and each end up with an injury that keeps them out of school for months. The remainder of the story recounts their activities and the lessons they learn as they heal.

I found this book fascinating to read after I toured Miss Alcott's home, Orchard House. Three things in this story really struck me: the children learn moral lessons and improve their characters by the end of the story; the mothers decide to home school the children even when they are healed; the children write and perform plays and skits while making their own entertainment.

I've mentioned before that I prefer old children's books. The children in these books usually mature due to natural consequences of their "adventures." I SO prefer this to modern stories with whiny, smart-mouthed kids! Apparently Miss Alcott (and her father) also believed children should develop moral characters along with their academic work.

The knowledge that Miss Alcott's father was a teacher who promoted educational philosophies unheard of in his day helped me understand her motivation at having the mothers in this story choose to home school. She used the two mothers as a means of promoting some of her father's ideas. As a home school mom, I was especially intrigued by the description of their lessons which sound a lot like Charlotte Mason's philosophy!

I also learned at the Orchard House that Miss Alcott and her sisters often wrote and performed skits to entertain their parents and guests. It appears that Miss Alcott often drew on her own childhood for writing material. As I recall the sisters of Little Women also performed homemade plays.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fun little story. I'm sure boys and girls of all ages would like reading about the trials and successes of Jack and Jill as they heal from their injuries and the poor character qualities that caused them.

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Orchard House: Home of Louisa May Alcott

After living in New England for 12 years, I finally decided this was the year to see Orchard House, the family home of Louisa May Alcott.

So when my Mom visited in August we packed up the family and drove to Concord, Massachusetts. I had no idea how much American and literary history is packed in that small town!!

Guided tours are available of the Orchard House for a fee. Of course we handed over our Mom's money and joined a tour. In hindsight, I should have suggested Joel and the kids play outside or in the grassy field across the street. Will was very interested in the tour but little hands are inclined to touch and that was specifically forbidden. I would have enjoyed the tour more if I hadn't been concerned with someone knocking over a priceless antique!

Even with the distraction of 4 small children I managed to learn a few things from the tour:
  • Orchard House is where Miss Alcott wrote her popular book "Little Women." Today the house is owned by a not-for-profit corporation who operates a museum about the Alcott family. In fact, part of the tour includes Miss Alcott's bedroom (upper right windows) where you can see the original desk where she wrote her books (picture taking is not allowed inside so I can't show it to you).

  • Louisa and her sisters would write short plays and then perform them for guests. They even had a curtain across a doorway that would be drawn while they ran up the backstairs to change costumes for the next act.

  • Bronson Alcott (Louisa's father) was a teacher. He believed everyone, including girls, should be well educated. Many of his ideas were not popular at the time but are taken for granted today.

  • Louisa's sister was encouraged to draw and paint anywhere - including the walls of the house. Many of the walls are covered with her drawings.
I couldn't help laughing to myself when the guide drew our attention to an "Order of Indoor Duties" that Mrs. Alcott had written and posted on the wall. She had times for specific chores, school work, walks, and meals. The guide seemed to think this was an oddity as did the rest of the tour group. It made complete sense to me!

I'm glad I can now say I've visited the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of "Little Women." Have you visited Orchard House? If not, put it on your list of things to do in New England!

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Louisa May Alcott Series

I have long been a fan of Louisa May Alcott. In fact, I can't remember when I first read her popular novel "Little Women", though I'm sure it was in high school over 16 years ago. (Wow! When did I get old enough to say that?!) "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys" were also quickly read.

Because I'm a fan of Louisa May Alcott, or more accurately "Little Women," I'm excited to join 5 Minutes for Books November book club! On November 3 participants will be linking their reviews of any book by Miss Alcott. It should be fun to read about her lesser known works!

In anticipation of November 3, I have published 5 posts:
I hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: "If God is Good" by Randy Alcorn

Last month the folks at Random House sent me a copy of Randy Alcorn's new book, "If God is Good." Unfortunately I have been unable to find the time to read the book so (as per my agreement with them) I am posting the summary they sent me about the book.

Again, I have not read this book. I scanned through the table of contents and a couple of chapters. It SEEMS solid but I can't tell you for sure. So, please do not purchase it based on my recommendation. Check out other reviews to see if it's worth reading.

Here's the summary:
Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us.

In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God--Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?

These are ancient questions, but also modern ones as well. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and even former believers like Bart Ehrman answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God.

In this captivating new book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.

Alcorn offers insights from his conversations with men and women whose lives have been torn apart by suffering, and yet whose faith in God burns brighter than ever. He reveals the big picture of who God is and what God is doing in the world–now and forever. And he equips you to share your faith more clearly and genuinely in this world of pain and fear.

As he did in his best-selling book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn delves deep into a profound subject, and through compelling stories, provocative questions and answers, and keen biblical understanding, he brings assurance and hope to all.

The review book was provided by Random House, Inc. Follow the link to purchase "If God is Good."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: "You Were Born for This" by Bruce Wilkinson

“What if I told you I'm certain you missed a miracle yesterday? And not just any miracle but one that Heaven wanted to do through you to significantly change someone's life for the better—maybe your own?”

So begins Bruce Wilkinson's (of The Prayer of Jabez fame) latest book, You Were Born for This: 7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles. Wilkinson sets out to teach the reader how to consistently perform miracles (aka “divine coincidences, miracle moments, supernatural provisions”) for other people. Frankly, I believe this book has several flaws, therefore, I do NOT recommend you read this book. Let me repeat that, I do NOT recommend this book.

Wilkinson's practical examples do not match his definition of a miracle. On page 16 he defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” That brings to my mind Jesus making the blind see, the lame walk, the sick healthy, and the dead alive. While I do not doubt the working of the Holy Spirit in Wilkinson's examples, I don't find them to be “extraordinary.”

For example, he tells the story of a man walking through a large airport praying for God to use him for a miracle. The man then feels led to talk to a young female store clerk that he just made a purchase from. The woman reveals that she's pregnant and going for medical tests soon to confirm if something is wrong with the baby. The two pray together and she feels comforted. On the man's return trip he finds the woman and the two rejoice that the baby is fine.

Divine intervention to provide comfort for the young woman? Absolutely. An extraordinary event? Not really.

Wilkinson's method of achieving a life filled with predictable miracles has little to do with a life filled with prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization or spiritual disciplines. Instead you say a prayer making yourself available to God for his “assignment” and then you watch for it all day. When you see certain signs and feel the Spirit prompting you then you act.

Maybe I'm nitpicking but I think he has the cart before the horse. The “miracles” he describes should be the outcome of a live filled with spiritual disciplines, not the reverse. A Christian's focus should be on Jesus, not what amazing experience can I have today.

Wilkinson's analogy of Heaven as “Command Central” and Christians as God's “partner” paint a picture of a weak God. The presence of God is a dreadful (in the overwhelming, awe-inspiring sense) place to be. It is NOT an office where messages are sent out just as a courier or messenger service sends out people. Also, God chooses to use people to accomplish his will but we are not his partners. Partners imply equality. We are never on the same level as God. We are his creation, his children and his servants. But never his partners.

I'm sure that this book will become wildly popular and widely quoted. It utilizes that feel-good, experience based philosophy that is so common among Christian literature right now. And I'm sure many good deeds and “miracles” will be accomplish in the next few years, I'm just not sure that lives will significantly be changed.

This book was provided for review by Random House, Inc. You may purchase the book at their website through this link: You Were Born for This.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Apple Picking Book Recommendations

It's apple picking time in New England! In honor of our annual tradition, here are a few excellent books on apples and apple picking that I found at my local library.

Amazing Apples, written and illustrated by Consie Powell.
Published by Albert Whitman & Co. in 2003.
ISBN 0-8075-0399-1

Amazing Apples uses simple poems in acrostic form to describe apple orchards and apple picking. The poems are clever and and not forced for the sake of the acrostic form. For a peek at the inside of the book follow the Amazing Apples link.

My 6 year old reader did not notice the acrostics when he read the book by himself. However, once I pointed them out he easily understood the concept of an acrostic. He thought writing his own acrostic would be fun, though it might be a challenge since his spelling isn't as good as his reading yet.

In addition to the fun poems, I also enjoyed the illustrations. Mrs. Powell used hand-colored woodblocks to create the images. Each page is filled with colorful details to interest the eye. Maybe we will use some potato blocks to illustrate our own acrostic poems next week.

The Life and Times of the Apple, written and illustrated by Charles Micucci.
Published by Orchard Books in 1992.
ISBN 0-531-05939-1

Grafting, parts of the flower, statistics on apple production around the world, The Life and Times of the Apple is chock full of information about the apple.

In addition to the apple facts, the illustrations are fantastic! Using watercolor and pencil, Micucci shows you the fine details of the parts of an apple flower, how a bee pollinates an the flower and how the flower turns into an apple. Despite all of the facts The Life and Times of the Apple manages to maintain a whimsical attitude that children and grown-ups will enjoy.

Those are my apple book recommendations for this year. What apple books do you recommend I read next year?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn's here but where am I?

Wow! When I wrote "see you in Autumn" back in July I never expected to be almost half way through October when I wrote again!

I took a bloggy break because I had become completely overwhelmed by life. I needed to step back, re-evaluate my priorities and put some habits in place that reflected my priorities.

So that's what I've been doing. I've been working a good daily routine for almost 2 months, having quiet times, doing school with my children and cooking supper every night. Taking a break has been a good thing.

In addition to the mundane activities of life, I have:

* Attended a Homeschool Co-op every Friday with my children. That's the kids before we left for the first co-op meeting.

Will is in 5 classses: drama, science 1, study hall, science 1, and P.E. Ben is in Bible (think Sunday school), drama, science/history, P.E. and Movie (the under 5 crew are wore out by this time and lay on the floor for a video). Ellie joins Ben for everything but science/history. And Sam just enjoys playing with all the bright and noisy toys in the church's nursery. Meanwhile I'm helping in a Writing 2 class and hanging out with moms. It's a fun but exhausting day.

* Watched "Thomas the Tank Engine: Hero of the Rails" in a theatre with my kids. We enjoyed the movie, a story and FREE pizza.

* Visited the Audubon Society of Rhode Island Educational Center. VERY cool. The center is smallish but well done with exhibits explaining the flora and fauna of Rhode Island marshes and woodlands.

There is also a nature trail where we saw a snapping turtle, many frogs, a praying mantis, huge grasshoppers, tracks in the mud from a raccoon and large bird, and lots of plants we couldn't identify. (By the way, if you live in RI, the Center is free all day on the 1st Saturday of each month.)

* Visited our local library MANY times. Will has developed a voracious appetite for books. He's reading at a 2/3 grade level (remember he's in the 1st grade). He and I agreed this week that we need a weekly library day to keep him supplied, so Wednesday afternoon will now find us picking out fresh reading material.

* Took a field trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Also VERY cool. The boys were studying whales in science (Apologia, Zoology 2 Aquatic Life. EXCELLENT) so we decided to make the trip into Massachusetts. Unfortunately, we were not able to tour other sites, but you should definitely check out this link to the New Bedford Whaling National Park.

This picture shows Joel and the kids in the lobby. That's 4 whale skeleton's suspended in the air behind them. The largest one (head on the right) is a juvenile Blue Whale (the largest mammal on earth). (Btw RI people, Cranston Library has free passes.)

That's what I've been busy doing. I'm trying to work out a routine that will give me time to blog (I've missed it!!) but for the foreseeable future I'm going to be hit or miss around here. If you enjoy reading about the goings on at my house I recommend you subscribe via google reader or email. Then when something new is posted you'll know about it.

Until later...
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