Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Summer of Suspense

Mystery stories are always popular among the children in my book club so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Summer of Suspense, by CR Hedgcock.  

Summer of Suspense is the first in a series of six Baker Family Adventures. These feature the Baker family who are a family with four children, who live on a farm. It wasn't completely clear from Summer of Suspense but I think that they live in the US although their cousin, Millie, who also appears in the book, comes from England.

Mr Baker has to go to England to help his wealthy brother, Clive, with a new invention while Millie visits the Baker family and plans to take part in a horse riding competition along with two of her cousins. Millie turns out to be spoiled and selfish. My initial thought was that she would be the antagonist of the story although I changed my mind as I read. Millie makes life difficult for her cousins and in particular, allows the horses loose and hides her own horse. When this happens again, Millie is blamed and no one believes that her horse has actually disappeared but when Millie herself disappears, then her cousin, Abby, the family is alarmed. 

The story then becomes  fast paced with car chases, hiding, ransom demands and criminals before reaching a happy conclusion. 

The book is written from a Christian perspective. The Baker family pray and remember Scripture at difficult times. Millie becomes a more pleasant person at the end of the book. It isn't clear, to me, whether this is just to fit in, or whether she is seeking to know the Lord. I would have liked to see Millie's character more developed and perhaps, to know more from her point of view. This may happen in later books.

The author was home educated and this is one of those rare books which includes characters who learn at home. However, this isn't a major feature of the plot and the book will also be enjoyed by children who go to school.

This story will appeal to 8 to 12 year olds, particularly those who like adventure and horses. It isn't for the very sensitive as it is quite dramatic in places and does include criminals and kidnapping. I am looking forward to sharing it with the book club.

Summer of Suspense can be obtained from Amazon or from Grace and Truth books.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of Summer of Suspense. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.

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Monday, 10 April 2017

Useful home education supplies (you might be surprised)

When I think of what makes our days work, some things are obvious and others less so.
  • Large supply of pencils. We used to spend time every day playing Hunt the pencil. This is a game of dubious educational merit. Buying a large supply of pencils, every summer, has eliminated this. We just return pencils to their container when they are found.

  • Lining paper. Yes, the sort that is used for decorating. This has numerous uses: timelines, painting for younger children or at groups, brainstorming, tablecloth at Poetry Tea where it helps creativity.
    I use both sides of the paper and of course, it recycles. This post from Farmhouse Schoolhouse talks about assessing children's knowledge using similar large sheets of paper.

  • A phone. Not everyone will agree but I use my phone in morning time for music (Classics for Kids) and Bedtime Math. At other times, it is used to quickly look up topics. Yes, I know that there are problems with looking things up on the internet but it is very useful for quickly finding pictures of cocoa beans or the capital of French Guiana (Cayenne). The phone is also useful for taking quick pictures to document learning.
Making chocolates on a group trip
  • A white board. This is a recent addition, for us, but I wish that we had purchased this earlier. We use a magnetic board  with All about Spelling but also use it for vocabulary word, drawing, dictation, working out maths and so on.

  • Outside space. We are privileged to have a garden and several parks nearby but whilst all this isn't necessary, I would find it difficult to home educate without some outside space. We go outside for exercise, nature study, for poetry on sunny days, for picnics and discussion and to improve days that aren't going so well! Charlotte Mason talks about children spending hours outside-four to six hours a day on fine days from April to October. We don't usually get up to Charlotte Mason levels of outside time! However, UK government recommendations are at least an hour a day of aerobic exercise, for children, and it is certainly easier to do aerobic exercise outside. 
If you are a home educator, what are your top home education supplies?

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Thursday, 6 April 2017

Picture Books about South America

Picture books about South America seem few and far between. Over the last couple of years, we have been learning about the continents at our local home education group. South America has been, by far, the most difficult in terms of researching picture books, and chapter books for that matter. This is a South American list-some of the lists that I have researched have put Central America with South America. There are a reasonable number of books about Mexico but strictly, that comes under North America.


Anyway, these are the few that I have found.


  • Ecuador Adventure: Jim Elliot by Colin Jones. This is a picture book about the missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador in the 1950s. This is well, but sensitively, presented. This book is rather longer than the others and is probably aimed at the 7-11 age group.
  • Mia's Story by Michael Foreman. This is the story of a little girl who lives in a shanty town ,built on a rubbish dump, in Chile. The sort of book that I want to read to my children to remind them of how much we have.
  • Lost City:The Discovery of Machu Picchu by Ted Lewin is the  story of the finding of the remains of Machu Picchu, in 1911, by Professor Hiram Bingham. A fascinating, older children's picture book (ideal for 5 to 10s, I would think). It does refer to Something going on. Something just beyond his eyes. What was it?
  • Tonight is Carnaval is a book about waiting for the carnival illustrated with arpilleras which are sewn pictures from South America.  For some reason carnival is spelled, throughout the book, as I have written in the title.
  • Waiting for the Biblioburro is the true story of a man who brings a library of books to remote villages in Columbia on two donkeys. This is the sort of picture book which it would be easy to use as the basis of a unit study.
I haven't seen If you were me and lived in Peru but we have used and enjoyed other books in this series.

Please feel free to add other picture books about South America in the comments.

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Saturday, 1 April 2017

April Inspiration

The end of March and beginning of April have felt like Spring, perhaps my favourite season. It has even been warm enough for a picnic.

Yesterday, our home education group had a visit from Douglas Bond. He talked about the process of writing, answered questions and read from a couple of his books, including his latest release, Luther in Love which is a biographical novel about Martin and Katharina Luther.  Sadly, I failed to take any pictures of the day although it well attended and some families travelled a fair way to be there. Ossett Christian Bookshop stock Douglas Bond's books and have Luther in Love in stock. 

Tim Challies has started a new series about Christian men and their godly mothers. So far, there have been two installments about the mothers of John Newton and Hudston Taylor. Both have been encouraging reads for those of us in the trenches. I'm looking forward to more.

There is often discussion on home education forums about entry requirements to university. King's College, Cambridge has produced a page especially for home educated applicants.

Not before 7 has a post about creating a book club with loads of detail about different sorts of club and links to resources.

I love resource rich peeps into other people's home education and have been enjoying the Farmhouse Schoolhouse instagram for some time. Elsie has produced a description of a couple of weeks of her children's home education which is full of links and ideas. I do think that it is important when reading about other people's homes to remember that we have all been given different circumstances and that ideas that work well in another family aren't necessarily right for you.

We are looking forward to a break from formal bookwork over the next few weeks although that doesn't necessarily correspond to quiet!

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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Book Catch-up: Reading Challenge

I have fallen way behind with posts about the Reading Challenge. Using this challenge has proved useful to push me into reading beyond my usual fare of children's books, biography and the occasional novel.

Anyway, some highlights from my reading. I have put the category of book in brackets. The full list is found at the page called Books read 2017.

These Strange Ashes (By or about a missionary) This book by Elizabeth Elliot was recommended by a friend. Elizabeth Elliot tells the story of her first year as a missionary, how everything went wrong and what God brought out of this.

Jonathan Edwards (Book less than 100 pages) This book is from Simonetta Carr's lovely series of picture books. They aren't cheap but everyone that I have read has been well worth reading. The books have maps, timelines and pictures. The book about Jonathan Edwards ends with a great quote from a letter to his daughter. I usually don't mind whether I read books or ebooks but these are proper books that are beautifully produced and even feel good. Highly recommended.

God's Smuggler (Choice) Another book recommended by a friend. An amazing story of God's provision and how Bibles got into the former Soviet block.

A guide to Christian living (Christian living) This is a chapter from John Calvin's Institutes in book form. It is short and surprisingly readable.


I've just ventured into audiobooks via Librivox. My first try was a bit of a fail. Augustine's Confessions was just too difficult. My second try was John Buchan's Mr Standfast which was better but much harder to follow than in print. Has anyone else found that they can only manage easy books on audio?

Current reading and challenges
As usual there are several books on the go

  • Market day of the Soul (Theology)is about how the Lord's Day was kept during the years 1532 to 1700. This book isn't quite what I had thought. My aim had been to read a book about the Biblical principles for keeping the Lord's Day so that I could then work out practical details. It is really more historical which is interesting but I still need to read a book about principles. I do wish that the old spelling had been updated.
  • The Nation's Favourite Poems (Poetry). A fascinating read and has forced me to read some famous poems that I haven't read before. I have been surprised by the world view of some famous poets and have enjoyed the introduction to others.
  • The Zookeeper's Wife (New York Times best seller) This is a true story of how the Zookeeper of Warsaw Zoo and his wife sheltered Jews during the Second World War. A fascinating and easy read-so far.
Challenges-OK, I have got stuck on a few books and this is why.
  • Holy War (recommended by your pastor). This is on the church recommended list. Why did I get stuck? I lent it to someone else in the middle of reading it which probably wasn't clever.  Anyway, it has been returned so hopefully, I can get reading again soon.
  • Catastrophe: Europe goes to war 1914 (history). I like this book but it isn't the sort of book to read just before midnight or while the vegetables are cooking or in ten minutes after lunch. I'm hoping to finish it but it might need to wait until my summer holiday.
  • John Calvin on Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Haggai.(commentary) This has been a challenge for similar reasons. It requires time and proper concentration. I had a slot for it first thing in the morning but have been thrown by the difference in length of the sections.

As always, I love book recommendations and would be delighted to have any advice on audio books and managing longer books.

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Book Catch-up: Read alouds

It is a while since I have written about books. We usually have several read alouds running at once. 

The current read alouds are

The latter is a strange read aloud but is much loved by Younger Son. We only read a page or so at a time and it usually provokes discussion. 

Other recent read alouds have been those for the Book Club. These were Gentle Ben for the older group which Younger Daughter attends and Charlotte's Web for Youngest Son. Youngest Son loved both of these books. 

A friend recommended Gentle Ben some time ago and it has been a great choice for our North America topic in the book club. It is about a friendship between a boy and a large brown bear. The book is set in Alaska where livelihoods are dependent on the annual salmon run. Fascinatingly, the Swedish authorities refused to screen the television programme made from the book, as they were worried that it might encourage people to befriend a potentially dangerous animal.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading The family with Two Front Doors with Younger Daughter. I have written about this book before but recommend it. We hope to study the Second World War next year and reading this book, is helpful background to some of the antisemitism which existed between the wars and the effect of the Holocaust on families. Yet, despite this the book is mainly happy and centres around family life and a wedding.  Having read the book, we are hoping to make challah.

We have also finished a children's biography of CS Lewis:The Story Teller by Derek Bingham. My children all love the Chronicles of Narnia so finding out more about CS Lewis is an obvious extension. Younger Daughter is keen that we read War in the Wasteland next. This is a fictionalised telling of the atheist CS Lewis's time in the trenches in the First World War and his thoughts about faith, at that time. 

I would love some recommendations, particularly, as I am putting together some ideas for reading around history from September when we hope to look at the Victorians followed by the First and Second World Wars.

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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

5 Ways of Helping Children show Care to Older Family Members

Most families will have some members who are elderly and frail but helping children to show love and respect can need thought. It is easy if Granny can go out and talk to the children but when someone is housebound and challenged cognitively then this can take more thought. These are a few thoughts from personal experience. Please do add more ideas in the comments. Sometimes, our efforts feel woefully thin.

I have started from the premise that children shouldn't be involved in personal care but should be able to help add joy to life.
  • Visit but just for a short time. Generally, people love to see younger relatives but they find them tiring. My eight year old pops into see his Grandmother on most days. He will talk to her for a minute or two then go out. When we went down to see my Mother in a nursing home, I usually didn't stay as long if I had the children with me. Sometimes, we broke the visit into two, split up by a playground visit! On other occasions, the children visited for a short while and my husband took them out while I stayed longer.

  • Help choose presents. Finding presents for very frail people can be difficult, especially, if they are on a modified diet. Sometimes, a child can suddenly hit on a great idea especially, if this is something that the whole family has been discussing. One of my children spotted a lovely illustrated book which was ideal as a gift. Some people may appreciate pictures and cards from the children although do handle this sensitively, particularly if there is cognitive impairment involved and Granny/Grandad can't be relied upon to say the appropriate thing!

  • Read/recite part of the Bible or a favourite poem. The children and I recently practiced and read Daffodils: I wandered lonely as a cloud.  Make sure that you also provide a large print version and that hearing aid/reading glasses are used, as necessary.

  • Look at old family photographs together. The children will be amused at the sight of their parents as children or older siblings when much younger.

  • It may be appropriate to involve an older child in meal preparation. One of mine has been able to puree a roast properly. This means pureeing all the components separately and shaping them so that the meal looks attractive. Realistically, it is not possible to do this and serve up at the same time! While normal fish and chips were still on the menu, one of my older children was always happy to go to the chippie for his Grandmother.
Don't forget to encourage the children to pray for their older relatives.

Be sensitive about
  • cognitive impairment. Remind the person you are visiting of your name, even if you are a son or daughter. Don't test them on the names of the grandchildren/greatgrandchildren. People can enjoy your visit even if they can't remember your name. 
  • Hearing issues. Avoid background noise and speak clearly.
  • There may be times when it isn't appropriate to take children to visit. They are few and far between but if the older relative is distressed or in pain then a visit may not be right. Generally, though it is better to visit.
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