Nature Journaling

I’m starting a blog post mini-series on what homeschooling looks like in our home. I hope this gives you a bit of an idea of how our days are spent, and how delightful learning at home can be!

Today we spent  much of the afternoon working on our nature journals. We’ve been reading the Burgess Bird Book for Children for the Natural History component of Year 1 and it has been a great delight. What I’ve appreciated the most about this book is how it makes us pay attention to the habits of birds – do they fly smoothly, or do they fly in a way that makes them look like a rabbit hopping through the sky? Are they neat and tidy, or messy homemakers? Why do some woodpeckers spend so much time on the ground instead of in trees?

This afternoon James painted a picture of a red-headed woodpecker.

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And June coloured a picture of a red-headed woodpecker. (She goes for colourful rather than accurate in her pictures and it drives her brother crazy!!)

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And I painted a picture of a northern flicker. James pointed one out to me the other day – it landed on the Douglas fir tree right next to the patio and we admired it with wide eyes (it’s quite lovely with that startling red bit on the back of its head!) for a few seconds before it noticed us and flew off. I don’t have an original bone in my body when it comes to art, so I focus on copying paintings or photographs found online. It’s working well so far.

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Life Lately

We returned home this past Monday from a most enjoyable weekend in the Fraser Valley celebrating Thanksgiving Day with our families. I’d been down there with the kids the week before to attend a homeschooling conference, and James, June and Alice were so thrilled to be going back to Grandpa and Grandma’s again in such a short time frame. (Definite advantage of living in Kelowna vs. Fruitvale!) Alice spent the week leading up to Thanksgiving keeping her ears open for any mention of Grandpa and Grandma’s place. If she heard the words, she’d run over, ask, “Go with you?” and “Get my shoes?” with an urgent look in her eyes. She was not going to be left behind!

Speaking of Grandpa and Grandma’s, James has lately mentioned several times, most mournfully, how disappointed he is that we actually found a home in which to live; he would have preferred living at his grandparents’ place. “We could have stayed there for a whole month!” he’s been heard sighing. While I share his enthusiasm for the enjoyments of Grandpa and Grandma’s home, I’ve very much relieved we have this lovely home in which to live! 🙂

Anyways! Thanksgiving weekend! Jeremy spent hours and hour marking. Then we got drenched in a monsoon on Saturday afternoon while attempting to enjoy a corn maze. And then we spent a lovely afternoon and evening with my side of the family. The kids rode their bikes, played around in the basement and . . . well, I don’t really know what else they were up to. They were having such fun they just kept busy the whole time. 🙂 We enjoyed a delicious gourmetten feast, some rousing card games and some old, catchy Dutch music that transported us back to our teen years.

The next day we went to mass in Abbotsford, visited our hospitalized nephew, and enjoyed another round of Thanksgiving deliciousness with Jeremy’s side of the family. James tried a Wii for the first time and was quite thrilled with it; it was his favourite part of the evening. For the record, June’s fave: seeing her cousins again. And Alice’s: playing with Oma’s play kitchen.

And on Monday we returned home with the beginnings of colds for everyone. That’s made for a bit of a long week here. Alice has been coughing atrociously, and James and June are keeping me on my toes by shouting in alarm any time there’s a hint of a dribble from her nose. June’s just completed yet another round of antibiotics . . . and Jeremy had his first sick day at school (well, half day). Our neighbour had given us a free family admission to the local pool, so when Jeremy showed up at home after lunch, I bolted out the door with James and June. (Gotta use that van whenever it’s around!) It was lovely to get out of the house, and we thoroughly enjoyed our wet and splashy afternoon!

Jeremy also gave me a sabbath day from mothering today. Talk about speaking my love language! 🙂 After coffee time this morning, I headed out for the day; it was my goal to see something beautiful, to experience some quiet, and to go to confession. I started by visiting Kalamoir Regional Park, a lovely little area along Okanagan Lake. There’s a trail that runs along the water and through a bit of forest. It was so beautiful! There were two areas along the trail that were more heavily forested, and in the first area a group of black-capped chickadees (which I had just painted in my nature journal a week or two ago, and actually recognized on sight) was spiritedly chirping about, and in the second patch there were some cheerful robins bustling about. Our backyard is as dead as a doornail (too dry this summer), and our van is nearly always in use, so our nature study has been severely restricted since moving here. It was so refreshing to see a lovely, lively spot in the world again, and to spend some time observing the frolicking antics of those dear little birds!

After some time walking about outside, I found a quiet spot along the beach and prayed for a while. And then perused a used book store and found a lovely stash of books for a certain Redwall fan (shhhhh!), and then spent a couple hours reading in a comfy coffee shop. Then I went to confession, and headed home. It was a wondrously refreshing day! (Alas, the afternoon caffeinated beverage means I’m still awake at 1:30am! Mental note to self: do not drink caffeine after lunch!!!!)

I haven’t really pulled out my real camera since moving to West Kelowna, but the other day the light coming in the window was just perfect. I love these shots of my sweet and sparky little lass! (Going to have to take it out more often!) I’m also loving the fact that, despite my absolute incompetence in all things hair-related, June manages to walk away from a bath looking like we slaved over her hair for an hour. 😉 I can’t believe she’s going to be four next month!

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And here’s what we’ve been reading lately . . .

Me
The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason by Laurie Bestvater
Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason (for an online book club)

James
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

June
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The High Hills by Jill Barklem

Alice
Jamberry by Bruce Degan
Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field

I’d love to dive into another good work of fiction. After finishing The Lord of the Rings and marvelling over the exquisitely beautiful portrait of selflessness (Sam), friendship (Sam and Frodo), and a world in which things are as they should be (comfortable homes, noble kings, Gandalf responding to the destruction of the ring by talking less and laughing more), it’s been hard to muster enthusiasm for anything else. I’d love to hear your recommendations if you’ve read an excellent book lately!

God’s Abundant Provision

Things have changed substantially since my last blog post about Alice’s second birthday. We’ve moved to West Kelowna, Jeremy’s prepping for his first year as a teacher, and James started Year 1 of Ambleside Online!

Looking at each of those items, one at a time . . .

First, the move. When Jeremy accepted his teaching position in Kelowna, we gave notice to our landlord and agreed to move out July 31st. And then we began looking for a home in Kelowna, which turned out to be much more difficult than we’d anticipated. Well, there are actually a fair number of homes for rent, but the cost to rent out just the main floor of a home is astronomical! So we scoured Craigslist, Kijiji and Castanet daily in our hunt for a small home at a reasonable price.

The first place we came across was a cute little home in downtown Kelowna. It turned out to be a scam; the guy had copied pictures from an active MLS listing and was pressuring us to send money ASAP to “secure our rental” (i.e., fill his pocket). The second place was a three-bedroom main floor in Vernon. It was on a busy street, and the back yard wasn’t totally fenced, and it would have been a 45 minute drive to work for Jeremy – but the price was okay. We hummed and hawed and slept on it overnight, but by the time we emailed the landlord back, she’d already rented the place to someone else! And then we came across a third place that looked like it might work. The price was good, but the home, half of a duplex, was tiny . . . maybe 900 square feet. It did have three bedrooms, though, and it had a tiny yard. We drove out from Fruitvale to take a look at it, and toured the place with about five other people who were also interested. It turns out there was actually another suite tucked in below the duplex that was rented out to a student, and I imagined our children running around at 6am . . . And then we waited on pins and needles to hear back. A week or so later we got a text message saying the duplex had been rented to someone else.

We were devastated. The duplex had been far from ideal, with its cramped quarters and negligible backyard, but it was nearing the end of July and we had to be out of our Fruitvale home and now we had no place to move to! We began to consider alternative arrangements. Perhaps the kids and I could move in with mom and dad for a month, while Jeremy camped in Kelowna and got started on school prep work. We could look around for a home, Jeremy could pop in for a walk through, and we could move in around the first of September. It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. (Plus the kids were overjoyed at the thought of living with Grandpa and Grandma for a WHOLE MONTH!)

Throughout this whole time, Jeremy and I had been praying constantly. Despite being in the early weeks of my pregnancy and easily able to sleep eleven hours a night, I woke up one morning at 4:30am with a strong urge to pray. I prayed and prayed. I went to work that day and prayed desperately on my breaks. Our housing situation was constantly on my mind, but I was also constantly bringing it before the throne of God. We asked our families to pray for us. I asked some friends to pray for us. I asked saints (like Saint Ann and Saint Joseph) to pray for us, as well. I imagined Joseph leading Mary to Bethlehem when she was pregnant with the Lord Jesus, and then desperately looking for a place for them to stay.

And then we found an ad for a home for rent in West Kelowna. A whole home. With a good-sized fenced yard. For the same rent we were paying in Fruitvale! Jeremy called the property manager and happened to be the first person to leave a message. But the property manager had left messages with several people who had posted wanted ads on Castanet, so she said she would get back to us. Then she let us know that a couple had toured the home, and she expected to rent the place to them. And then we waited for a couple days as she waited to hear back from them.

On July 28, three days before we were supposed to move, we got a call from the property manager saying the other couple had passed on the place, and it was ours if we wanted it. She explained that it had a deck, and that our kids could fall off of it. That the basement bedroom might not be comfortable enough for a child to sleep in. That parts of the basement were unfinished. That there was no dishwasher.

We said, “WHO CARES!!!! We’ll take it!!!!” (We haven’t had a dishwasher in five years, anyways. What’s another year?)

And we moved in August 1st. Our new home is twice the size of our Fruitvale home. The yard is dead because of the dry summer, but there’s plenty of space for the kids to run around. The street is quiet, and the neighbour across the road said the other day that she loves hearing the kids play outside. “They sure sing a lot!” she commented cheerfully.

We are still basking in the unexpected surprise of God giving us so much more than we’d asked for. A huge home! A lovely deck outside! A good-sized yard! I’ll post some pictures of our new place another time, but suffice it to say we are more than happy with this place. It is temporary, till the end of March (or possibly June), but it gives us time to get used to the area and look around at where we’d like to live in the future.

Some photos! Here are James and Jeremy, about to embark on their trip to Harmon Lake a few days after we moved in. James was thrilled he was allowed to come along!

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We’re now only three hours away from the Fraser Valley and we’ve had a bunch of visitors already. Definitely easy to get used to that!

June holding Everly. 🙂

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Second, the job. Last year, when Jeremy decided not to go into the ministry, we thought it would be best if I worked for a year so we could think for a while about the best career path for Jeremy. There were several options . . . going back into woodworking, purchasing a landscaping franchise, or going into teaching. Last September, we decided to spend the month praying about what Jeremy should do for work, and by the end of the month he felt that he ought to go into teaching. My parents were visiting around that time, and as Jeremy and my dad were walking down the road in Fruitvale, some random child hollered at Jeremy, “Hey old guy, are you a teacher??”

From that time on, then, we looked around for teaching opportunities. Jeremy and I have both been drawn to classical education and when Jeremy thought about where he’d like to teach, he immediately thought a classical school – preferably, a Catholic classical school. Well, those are awfully scarce in Canada. There are a couple (mostly elementary schools) in Ontario, but none in western Canada. And so we began to look into getting a green card so Jeremy could work in the USA. That turned out to be a much longer process than either of us had predicted (9+ months wait to see if you’re approved for applying for a visa, more like 15+ months to actually get the visa). So while we found a number of fascinating schools in the USA that would be a dream to work at (here’s looking at you, Gregory the Great Academy) in the end those were not realistic. By the time we realized that, it was late spring.

Around that time, my dad had a vision of sorts in which he saw two things: the Bible, and Jeremy paddling in a canoe. Both of these were in reference to a job for Jeremy. We were puzzled. The Bible was pretty obvious, but where in the world could Jeremy find a job that involved a canoe?

He ended up applying for a restricted teaching license in BC, and looked around for teaching positions at Catholic schools in BC. There were a couple available and he applied for them, but none seemed like the right thing and we were beginning to get desperate as the months ticked by. I had said I would work for a year, and as June 1 of this year rolled around, my heart despaired. Would there be a teaching position that Jeremy would be qualified for? If so, would a school hire him despite his lack of experience? What if nothing came up? What ought our Plan B to be? Would I be able to homeschool James for first grade? Where did this canoe fit into the picture?

We began looking at other ways Jeremy could use his Master of Divinity degree. He applied for a Youth Coordinator position at a Catholic church in the Lower Mainland. He applied for a Spiritual Director position at a retirement home. He applied for a Building and Yard Maintenance position at a home for special needs adults. He applied for a woodworking job, for a site maintenance job at a mini storage facility. He applied for a Forest Ranger position. And we prayed over and over for guidance, direction and for the right job to fall into Jeremy’s hands.

In June, Jeremy prayed a novena (a nine-day prayer) asking Saint Joseph to pray for a job for him, and the day after he finished it, a lady at church thought Alice looked so cute toddling out of church she just had to give her a church bulletin to carry (we didn’t often get one). Alice happily carried it to the van, and later that day we perused it. There was a job posting inside for a teaching position in Kelowna – a position for a high school religion teacher at a Catholic school! I immediately popped onto the computer and applied on Jeremy’s behalf. He got a phone call shortly thereafter and an interview was set up. The interview came and went. Jeremy didn’t think it had gone that well. We waited a bit longer.

And then the principal of Immaculata Regional High School called back and offered Jeremy the job! And Jeremy accepted it! He called me at work and feigned a disappointed attitude. My heart plummeted. And he told me he got the job! It was one of the best phone calls of my life, and I could barely contain my excitement at work. It was difficult to go back into the labour room without dancing all about the room for joy!

Last week, Jeremy was explaining to me that he’s not just the Religious Studies teacher, he also is the Religious Coordinator. That means he has to organize Masses at the school,  as well as teacher retreats and student retreats . . . and he has to go on the student retreats, too. It turns out the senior class retreat has already been planned. Guess what one of the recreational activities is on this trip? Canoeing.

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Hiking the Bear Creek Canyon Rim last week:

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And last but not least! Homeschooling!

I have wanted to homeschool ever since James was born. Even before he was born, actually. I started reading homeschooling books when James was a baby and they reinforced the reasons why homeschooling can be great for a family – tailoring a child’s education to their strengths, giving children more time to learn concepts that are difficult for them, being able to focus on what is true, good and beautiful instead of what makes you most suited to a particular job. About two years ago I came across Ambleside Online and thought it was pretty much a perfect fit. It is full of rich literature, but it also includes classical music, beautiful paintings, nature study and plenty of free outdoor play.

James and I completed a light kindergarten year last year. He learned how to read. He began to understand basic math. And we read so many good stories together! I had a miscarriage in January, and began working full-time in April, so school slid to a halt this past spring. And that was just fine. James and June played outside almost all day, and that was so good for both of them!

Two weeks ago I dropped off my little treasures at my parents’ place for several days so that I could finish up our homeschool plans for the year.

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And then on August 14th, James started first grade!!!

We started by sorting out some household tasks. James now makes breakfast (oatmeal) for us on school mornings. He is very, very pleased to have this responsibility and he does a careful job.

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Math games:

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Copywork. June loves being close by when we do school, and she enjoys playing Upwords and other games while we’re busy.

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Reading practice:

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Our handicraft this semester is loom knitting. James is knitting a toque for the baby expected in March. He’d very much like it to be a boy, so he’s knitting a blue toque. 🙂 We’re finding this to be a perfect beginner handicraft. It’s varied enough to remain interesting, and it’s simple enough not to be frustrating. I got the loom on amazon and found the bulky yarn at Michaels.

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So here is what a week of school looks like in our home. I’ve divided our day up into sections. We all do Bible & Breakfast together (prayers, questions about the day/date, Bible or religious readings and some songs), and we do Tea Time together with all the kids, too. Ambleside Online recommends reading books slowly over a whole term (12 weeks) or even over a whole year. So we’re slowly working our way through several books. Some are history books (Our Island Story), some are geography-based stories (Paddle to the Sea), some are nature books (Burgess Bird Book) and others are simply literature (Aesops’s Fables, Blue Fairy Book and Just So Stories). So far, they are wonderful and rich and we are thoroughly enjoying them!

During Alice’s nap time, James and I do math together, as well as some copywork and reading practice. In the afternoons we get some housework done, listen to some music, practise our handicrafts and do some drawing. So far, this is working well for us!

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A number of the local hikes have been closed due to the forest fire risk. That’s been very disappointing as we’ve driven around looking for little nature walks to go on! This past week we ended up at the Gellatly Nut Farm where we walked through the nut orchards and took a dip in Okanagan Lake. James thinks this should be our back up plan every week. 🙂

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We’ve been finishing the last of the Lord of the Rings trilogy this week, and just read the bit where the ring is destroyed in Mount Doom. The joy! The delight! James could hardly contain himself! He’s been bouncing around on the trampoline in delight for some time, celebrating.

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And, last photo of the post. This morning we had a lovely weekend breakfast treat: cinnamon roll ragamuffins. They’re like cinnamon buns, except they don’t have any yeast and so they don’t require any time to rise. Quick, and so delicious!!! Even better when paired with a chai tea latte. 🙂

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What We’re Reading, Nov. 2016

Me
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry: a thoughtful and thought-provoking story that made me think a lot about how much of our lives are directed towards buying rather than making.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry: an exquisitely written story of a woman’s life. Profound and deeply moving. I cried through more than half of the book either because of the sadness of it or because Hannah’s thoughts were so perfectly expressed.
Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge: an engaging story of two women who love the same man who can’t for the life of him pay attention to details, like names. This serves him ill in the most lamentable way, and the rest of the story is about the hard work of day-to-day love. About half the story takes place in wilds of New Zealand – so neat, seeing as my parents and brother and sister-in-law are there right now!
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden: a really, really interesting look at the life of nuns. The book focuses on Philippa Talbot, a woman living a posh life in London who gives up her career and home to become a nun. Fascinating!

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James (5 years old)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (again!)
The Last Battle by CS Lewis
Excalibur by Hudson Talbott: the illustrations in this book about King Arthur are fabulous!
My Book House #4 by Olive Beaupre Miller
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (reading with help)
Dick and Jane stories (reading almost independently!)

June (3 years old)
Autumn Story, Winter Story, Spring Story, Summer Story by Jill Barklem: June got this set of four books for her birthday and loves the stories of the little mice of Brambly Hedge. The illustrations are intricate and paint such lovely portraits of home life! Wendell Berry would approve. 🙂
– Miss Suzy by Miriam Young: delightful!

Recommended Reads

I’ve read a couple of excellent books this year, the sort of books to savour and to think about for months afterwards.

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Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – this is actually a trilogy that describes the life of a young Catholic woman living in Norway in the 1300s. The characters are utterly fascinating! Kristin’s father is devout and exemplary. He has the qualities of a man born to be a leader, but instead moves to a small and unimportant part of Norway to work as a farmer so his wife will be – well, not quite happy, but at least less mournful. And even there in the back country, he finds opportunities to live out his faith. I loved the small details the author included about Lavrans, like how his eyes would be red-rimmed after confession. He’s generous to his servants, he works so hard, he even takes in two orphaned girls and raises them as his own children. It’s a remarkable account. Kristin herself is fascinating, too, in a different way. Lavrans has smaller struggles in his life, while Kristin chooses to act unvirtuously and really spends the rest of her life wrestling with the choice between sin and God. There is so much here to reflect on. I totally recommend this book!

That Distant Land by Wendell Berry – this book is a collection of short stories mostly about farmers in a little out-of-the-way part of Kentucky. Wendell Berry has this amazing ability to notice all the little details about a person – shirt untucked, hair sticking up, hat clutched in a hand – and uses those little details to figure out the bigger picture about a person, too. I absolutely adored this book, and can’t wait to read more by Mr. Berry!

(PS – I listened to this as an audiobook and loved Michael Kramer’s reading of the book.)

The Island of the World by Michael O’Brien – this book tells the difficult story of Josip, a young boy growing up in Croatia during WWII. The first half of the book is filled with unspeakable suffering, but there is also much beauty and grace. When I read Gone With the Wind several years ago, I was left with a restless heart over Scarlett’s incredible, unflinching selfishness – and the opposite was true with this book. I was undone by Josip’s quiet strength; my heart grew through reading of his forgiveness and his sacrificing selflessness. A book to remember. And for a much better review of the book, read this blog post! 

Recent Reads / October ’15

Ordinary by Michael Horton

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I’ve just started reading this book with our JOY (Future Minister’s Wives) group and find the premise intriguing. We hear a lot these days about living big lives, being able to accomplish anything, being radical Christians, etc. Horton argues instead that mundane faithfulness ought to be the goal of our lives.

Here’s a section that stood out to me (he’s quoting a blog post):

“What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily everydayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.”

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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This is a good example of a book that encourages us to live big/radical lives. Quadriplegic Will Traynor meets his new paid companion, Louisa Clark, and can’t stand the fact that she’s living an ordinary life. They have conversations like this:

“So where did you pick up your exotic tastes? Where else have you lived?”
“I haven’t.”
“What, you’ve only ever lived here?”
“Only here.” I turned and looked at him, crossing my arms over my chest defensively. “So? What’s so weird about that?”
“It’s such a small town. So limiting . . . I always think this is the kind of place that people come back to. When they’ve become tired of everything else. Or when they don’t have enough imagination to go anywhere else . . . It’s not exactly dynamic, is it? Not exactly full of ideas or interesting people or opportunities . . . You’re twenty-six years old, Clark. You should be out there, claiming the world as your own, getting in trouble in bars, showing off your strange wardrobe to dodgy men . . .”
“I’m happy here,” I said.
“Well, you shouldn’t be.”

One thing Lucy Maud Montgomery excels at is showing the loveliness of ordinary life. And I wish I could say that Louisa plays the part of LMM for Will, opening his eyes to the truth that ordinary activities, like peeling potatoes and encouraging a friend, done in love are good and worthwhile things to do. Instead, Louisa is the one who realizes that her small life is the result of being paralyzed (ahem, pun intended) by her past. It makes for a wretched and unsatisfying ending. O, for a Middlemarch-like ending instead!

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
– George Eliot

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit; head on over there to read more brief book reviews.

A Few of our Favourite Books

If you know me at all, you know I love to read. And one of my aims as a mom is to share this love of reading with my children, and to hopefully pass it on to them, too. I take the view of Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.

And so we read together a lot. I love it. But I’m also pretty choosy when it comes to purchasing books. I don’t care to have the equivalent of Doritos and doughnuts lining our shelves; I’d rather fill them up with rich and beautiful tales that will feed and nourish our kids’ imagination.

So when I buy books, I look for three things: books that are written with vivid, beautiful language; books that tell wonderful stories; and books that show what it is to live virtuously.

Here are some of our favourites.

1. St. George & the Dragon by Margaret Hodges

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The wonderful tale of Princess Una, who finds a courageous knight to fight the dragon that has been laying waste to her parents’ kingdom.

Arenda: “This is such a good story. Like Chesterton said, fairy tales give children a Saint George to slay the dragon. This story shows what evil looks like, but also gives children a noble victor over evil. And that truth – that good is stronger evil – is so beautiful! Plus the illustrations are gorgeous.”
James: “I like this book because Saint George fights the dragon, and the dragon breathes fire out and there’s lots of struggles.”

(Note: The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges is a good companion book to this one.)

2. The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

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The ox-cart man brings the fruit of his land to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Arenda: “This story’s plot is pretty tame, but the great thing about it this book is the way it beautifully shows the resourcefulness of a pilgrim family. The ox-cart man’s and his family turn flax to linen, knit shawls from wool from their sheep, make candles and grow all sorts of food. There’s so much to admire!”
James: “I like that they pack up and that he sells his ox!”

3. Virginia Lee Burton books

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This Virginia Lee Burton treasury includes Mike Mulligan (the story of a hard-working, old-fashioned steam shovel), The Little House (which I fondly remember from my childhood), and Katy and the Big Snow (the story of an industrious snowplow).

Arenda: “James likes these stories more than I do. But what I like about them is they have a fondness for the way things have been, instead of only appreciating what is flashy and new. And they show what it’s like to work hard.”
James: “Katy is my favourite. She has a bulldozer and a snowplow. Interesting!”

4. Obadiah the Bold by Brinton Turkle

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Obadiah is terribly fond of his new brass spyglass and thinks he’d like to be a pirate when he grows up – until his father teaches him about true bravery.

Arenda: “Obadiah is a little Quaker pilgrim living on Nantucket Island. I like the formal but oh-so-loving relationship between Obadiah and his father who tells him about his courageous grandfather.”
James: “I like that Obadiah gets shoved into that closet.”

5. Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman

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Little Red Riding Hood encounters a wolf on her way to her grandmother’s house.

Arenda: “We read lots of fairy tales to our kids! This is a somewhat grim version of Little Red Riding Hood seeing as the big, bad wolf eats her and her grandmother. But good triumphs in the end, plus there’s a great line about children obeying their parents (James has repeated LRRH’s line, “Yes, mother, I will do just as you tell me” quite often!). You can get lost in the lovely illustrations.”
James: “I like that the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother and that he doesn’t even say hello or anything, and that the huntsman kills the wolf.”

6. Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer

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Another lovely book that tells the tale of hard-working, kind-hearted Beauty, her lazy sisters, and a gruesome beast.

Arenda: “I just wish this version had illustrations on every page.”
James: “I like where he says, ‘I prowl for my food.'”

7. The Water of Life by Barbara Rogasky (based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm)

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Three brothers search for the water of life to heal their dying father.

Arenda: “A tale of two wicked brothers and one good brother and their search for the water of life. Quite a neat little story with wonderful pictures.”
James: “I like that the dwarf tells the youngest one how to get the water of life because he is not too proud like his brothers were.”

8. My Book House series edited by Olive Beaupre Miller

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Arenda: “The first book in this series is full of nursery rhymes, the sort that I could read to Alice. And the rest have stories and poems that grow increasingly complex and end with sections from Dickens and other wonderful writers. A series to grow up with.”
James: “I like that the fairies had given Ellie two wings and that every Sunday she would fly away.”

We’ve started reading a handful of longer chapter books as well, just reading a chapter or two a day. As long as they have illustrations on every other page or so, James is happy to listen to the story.

1. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

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Arenda: “This is the original Pinocchio story and it’s far different than anything I remember! It’s downright grim at times, like the part where assassins hang Pinocchio from a tree. But it’s quite a moving story, one that shows the slow progress of regeneration. Pinocchio is ‘born’ selfish and lazy, but he develops into a real boy, one who honours his father, is diligent in his studies and cares for others.”
James: “I like that he gets swallowed up by the whale!”

2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Arenda: “A lovely story of true friendship.”
James: “I like the part where Avery swings on the rope swing in the barn!”

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Arenda: “Some of the best children’s books ever written. Beautiful language, romping adventures, plus sacrifice and honour and courage. Absolutely recommended, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
James: “I like Aslan the best.”