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. . . the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck

One of the topics of discussion during our soirée the Saturday before last was the way in which the dystopias of today–The Hunger Games, the Divergent trilogy etc., present disturbing scenes of violence between children.  While violence against children has always been a component of fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction etc., what the astute Samantha Riddering pointed out was the way in which that violence has traditionally been perpetrated by the evil adult antagonist.  Obviously, sometimes that antagonist was a monster, a dragon, an ogre, a wicked stepmother, or an evil Sméagol.  From  fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, to sophisticated Pulitzer-prize winning fictions like To Kill a Mockingbird,  violence against children is presented as the work of evil personified–the Big Bad Wolf to Bob Ewell respectively.  The difference in some of today’s young adult dystopias is how often  the ogres perpetrating evil against children are the children themselves. While these dystopias are the literary grandchildren of William Golding’s–The Lord of the Flies–the groundbreaking novel that first featured this disturbing literary trope, the nature of Golding’s brutal images did not popularize it to a youthful audience. In the US it Image result for hunger gamesonly sold a few thousand copies before going out of print. Today it is mandatory reading in high school. Unlike The Lord of the Flies, the trilogies of Divergent and Hunger Games, replete with graphic violence between children are wildly popular with young readers who seem inured to a level of violence that seems extreme.

Additionally layering the complexity of child-to-child violence is that the teen protagonists become hardened and highly skilled warriors perpetrating acts of war at a young age. Sometimes these actions involve gut-wrenching cruelty like the Divergent character Peter plunging a knife into Edward’s eye while he’s asleep. Though youth becoming skilled warriors isn’t new in children’s lit–Frodo and Sam Gamgee are young hobbits when they fight the evil forces of Mordor, and Peter and Edmund become warriors in Narnia–again, what is new is war between rival youth.  Perhaps the real-life counterpart is gang warfare, which would beg the question of how books like the trilogies mentioned may contribute to an already violent gang culture. Oh, but gang members don’t read, so not to worry.   I think it’s interesting to note that the film scene of Peter’s nocturnal knifing of Edward was cut from the movie.  Director Neil Burger denied that the scene was cut because it was too graphic, but rather because it “disrupted the flow of the story.”   Hmmm.  Gratuitous perhaps?

As I was finishing writing this my daughter Rebecca posted a wonderful blog entry on the “Loveliness of Reading Aloud” which I think you’ll enjoy.  She links in her article to another by Meghan Cox Gurdon which may further inspire the effort it takes to develop this practice in your home.  Gurdon is the children’s literature critic for the Wall Street Journal and as a mother of 5 has her finger firmly on the pulse of the kinds of books most parents want their children to enjoy.  For parents reading this that have YA readers, I think you’ll find her article on this genre enlightening.

For those that attended the soirée who might have thoughts they didn’t share that day or any others who would just like to comment on this topic, please feel free to do so below.  What are the thoughts ruminating around in your mind when you confront the issues of violence in children’s lit today? Let’s continue this discussion!  In the meantime I’ll close with this beautiful quote from Tolkien on the function of fairy-tale as it reminds us of the limitless power of the well-crafted tale to cultivate the best in the human heart.

The eucatastrophic tale [one with a happy ending] is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.  The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true endImage result for tolkien to any fairy-tale: this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist”, nor “fugitive.”  In its fairy-tale–or otherworld–setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow or: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. –Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (68-69).

Dear Readers,

IMG_3768

The giant clock at Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

On Saturday, June 27th I’ll be holding my annual Summer Reading Soirée! 

The theme will be “Summer Reading”–exploring the world of children’s picture books, folk and fairy tales, and best picks for family read-alouds. We will also explore the deeper meanings available in children’s literature as we look at how great stories have the power to bring catharsis, anagnorisis (self-knowledge), and promote the practice of a self-examined life.  As Socrates so poignantly recognized, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Children’s books can help us cultivate self-knowledge and lead our children to establish an understanding and recognition of this in their lives too! 

For those with teens, cultivating the family read-aloud time becomes more and more difficult–sports, evening activities, and homework all tend to take precedence.  Because teen’s opinions and perspectives are solidifying, these years can be some of the most rewarding for reading aloud together as we share more complex literary works. These times build emotional, spiritual, and intellectual bridges in our relationships–bridges that help us cross over the tumultuous tides of teen life into the adult world.  We’ll explore ways to continue the practice of sharing the best literature even as our children move through the teen years.

Those who attended last summer will remember that we had the distinct pleasure of having Bernadette Speakes bring the poetry of Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems, to dramatic life through her powerful readings.  Bernadette will delight us with her art once again! So, if you have a poem or a literary passage you’d like to suggest for Bernadette’s reading, please feel free to make a suggestion.  See Bernadette’s bio below.

Date: Saturday, June 27, 2015
Time: 9:30 am -3:30 pm
Place: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo
Cost: $30 (which includes lunch)
Make your reservation here.

Finally, I am currently reading the ancient philosopher Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life.”  Hereshortnessoflife is a passage that has really made me ponder how we use our time:

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response.  Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself–as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap–in fact, almost with out any value” (12).

 This sentiment has made me more cognizant of the incredible gift you are giving me (and hopefully yourselves) when you heroically carve out a full day of time to attend a literature Soirée.  I want to value your time as it should be valued.  In that light I intend to focus on the things that really matter–i.e. the things that can cause us to respect each day we are given, to nurture and build the relationships that are near and dear to us, and to focus on transcendent things. Because ultimately “when time is no more”, only those will have enduring value. I hope to see you on Saturday, June 27th!

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Bernadette Speakes graced the stage last winter, in the Elephant Theatre’s West Coast Premiere of the comedy, North Plan, directed by David Fofi. In the 2013 Fringe Festival, she portrayed Tituba, in The Crucible.  She created and produced the successful Get Up Stand Up . . . Clean Comedy 4 A Change–a showcase bridging the gap of laughter and charity together. Bernadette Bernadetteappeared in several acclaimed shows such as The Elephant Theater’s In Arabia We’d Be Kings, and The Fountain Theater’s West Coast Production of Direct from Death Row . . . The Scottsboro Boys. Bernadette will be furthering her film and TV credits with a key role in the upcoming film The Woods; A New Beginning. Other Film and TV Credits include: The Soloist, Heroes,  Parenthood, To Sir with Love II with Mr. Sidney Poitier, and the 1997 Sundance Festival Winner Love Jones. Awards include an Emmy Nomination for A Stage of Our Own with James Earl Jones, The LA Drama Critic’s Circle, and the LA Weekly.  Bernadette is a wife and mother of 2 beautiful children. She presently lives in Los Angeles.

o-GRAPES-OF-WRATH-ARISTS-facebook“She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build laughter out of inadequate materials . . . She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Dear Readers,

One of the beauties of reading classics again is the heightened ability to empathize in different seasons of life. Reading The Grapes of Wrath with my 15 year-old daughter, is an entirely different experience than reading it as a teenager.  I see it now through the eyes of a grandmother, a mother, a sister and a daughter.  But it is the position of Mrs. Joad that is particularly striking for me as a mother and grandmother.  Steinbeck’s passage above reflects an unconscious notion many mothers feel as they strive to build strength and integrity in their families.

Becoming re-acquainted with Steinbeck’s tale of the great Dust Bowl migration displays the timeless power of literature.  As we immerse in the story of a formerly middle-class family cast off from their one-time prosperous farm, forced to migrate with little more than the clothes on their backs, a few family members in extremities of health, with little money and facing cruel prejudice wherever they go, I’m struck by how capricious our relative ease and comfort can be and how blithely we view it.

I relate particularly to Mrs. Joad, as she struggles to keep her family together, knowing how important that is, yet watching the vicissitudes of fate and chance play their hand cruelly against her best intentions, and my heart aches with her mother heart.  As she buries both parents along the way due to the extremities of travel and little chance of rest and sustenance, I feel I can understand her heartbreak and agony.  So determined is she to keep the family together that when the men make plans to split up, she takes up a jack handle and threatens to wallop Pa if he forces his plan.  The formerly mild-mannered and temperate Ma is forced to such means to do what she believes is right. Tragically, despite her best efforts the family is split up.  Steinbeck describes in vivid detail how the tragedy of the Dust Bowl, corporate and individual greed, and small-minded prejudice brought such devastation to hard-working, happy, God-fearing families all across the plains.

The lessons of The Grapes of Wrath are many.  But the one that is resonating with me currently is how displacement is such an ongoing human tragedy.  It strips dignity, creates prejudice, subjects the innocent to violence, and destroys families. While we have no great forced migrations occurring in America today, around the world they are an ongoing reality.  We have displaced Mexican children swamping our borders, the Syrian refugee crisis is daily in the news, Rwandan refugee camps burst at the seams, and there are continuing crises in Sudan and Somalia.

Watching the heartbreak of Mrs. Joad is an important exercise in learning to have a heart for refugees and for the disenfranchised around the globe. Mrs. Joad stands as an icon of the tragedy that is repeated around the world as families are forced to flee their homes.  Through one of his characters, Steinbeck poses the question, “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”  It is a good question to ask ourselves.  The next time we’re tempted to dismiss the plight of the refugee, whether at our border, or elsewhere on the globe, let’s remember Mrs. Joad, and say a prayer for all those in her place.

 

Marilyn Nelson's tender, poignant and inspiring life of a man of faith and science.

Marilyn Nelson’s tender, poignant and inspiring poetry portrays the  life of a man of faith and science.

Dear Readers and friends,

August 9, 2014 will be my Summer Literature Soirée, which many of you have attended in the past.  Normally I like to do a summer reading event at the beginning of the summer and then a Back-to-School event at the end of August, early September.  But due to speaking engagements and other life commitments (2 new grandchildren born this spring!), I am only able to provide one this season. Regardless, I am very much looking forward to spending this special time discussing literature, nurturing friendships, and making new acquaintances too!

So, I am mixing it up a bit this time, as I’d like to spend a bit more concentrated time digging into literary analysis with all of you!  Don’t panic if you’ve never analyzed literature before as this format will empower you to feel confident and equipped to discuss literature with your children/students on a deeper level.

Richard Kim's memoir of his childhood in Korea is one of the most beautiful an moving coming-of-age stories I've ever encountered.

Richard Kim’s memoir of his childhood in Korea is one of the most beautiful and moving coming-of-age stories I’ve ever encountered.

Here’s the literature we will discuss on August 9th:

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

Water Buffalo Days by Quang Nhuong Huynh

Lost Names by Richard Kim

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown

For convenience sake, Beautiful Feet Books will offer anyone who signs up for the soirée, an opportunity to purchase the above books discounted and have them shipped  to your home, in the next week or so,  to give you enough time to read them before August 9th (yeah for summer lazy days to read and rest!).  If you are interested in this, please visit the this link to order as soon as possible. The book pack is featured at the bottom of the page. We will offer  the above set of books at a 25% discount, but this offer will only be available until Friday, July 11.   And of course, bring the books with you on August 9th, so you can work directly with the text!

McCloskey's classic summer story evokes the pathos and innocence of childhood days spent on salt water, enchanted by the beauty of nature and the freshness of summer showers.

McCloskey’s classic summer story evokes the pathos and innocence of childhood days spent on salt water, enchanted by the beauty of nature and the freshness of summer showers.

So here are the details:

Date: Saturday, August 9, 2014

Place: my home: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Cost: $35.00 (which includes lunch)

Time: 9:30 am – 3:30 pm.

Registration here.

Hoping you’ll join me for this sweet summer time event!

The sole substitute for an experience we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Early American Primary SG CoverDear Readers,

At the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, June 12-14th, I will be presenting a session on Early American History Through Literature.  This presentation will explore the power of studying the history of our nation through literature, rather than standard textbooks. The joys and advantages of learning history when it is taught through narrative are too numerous to address in a blog post, but I will address a few here by way of a teaser for my upcoming session next month!

Dana Gioia, man of letters, poet, and social critic has written extensively on the importance of literature in society.  In an article he wrote a few years ago, titled “Why literature matters: good books help make a civil society”, Gioia notes how dramatic declines in the reading of literature have negatively impacted our society.  This decline has manifested itself in dismal historic knowledge, such that college seniors cannot pass a high school level American history test of basic knowledge; the corporate world laments that local schools graduate students with poor reading skills, and higher order problem-solving skills dependent upon imagination are at an all-time low.

Other studies cite that 42% of college graduates never pick up another literary work again.  The tragedy that this represents is hard to fathom but given an educational system that in many cases blights any love of reading through the imposition of dry lifeless textbooks, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the outcome would be exactly what we are seeing.

One extraordinary advantage of home education is the opportunity it provides families to choose a vast array of literary works and center their studies around those. The benefits of a literature approach are multifaceted and I believe, lifelong.  Students who have the option of rich, broad, and expansive literary choices become lifelong lovers of literature and creative problem-solving adults.

Other benefits of literature include a deeper connection and respect of our cultural and literary past.  Students who are exposed to a broad range of literary works see the world through a much more hopeful, optimistic, and understanding lens. Reading the thoughts of great minds who have gone before us, understanding and having empathy for their trials, and rejoicing in their triumphs, brings perspective and wisdom.

As Gioia notes in the aforementioned article, literature is also a powerful force for good in society.  Important literary works have changed the course of history and brought justice and truth to bear upon society’s ills.

 “Indeed we sometimes underestimate how large a role literature has played in the evolution of our national identity, especially in that literature often has served to introduce young people to events from the past and principles of civil society and governance.  Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin a few times over the course of our home schooling years, I think I can understand in a small way why this novel was able to move a nation in the manner it did.  Harriet Beecher Stowe was gifted in helping her readers identify vicariously with the victims of slavery–not just the slaves, but even the inheritors of slaves.  Her characterization ghc_250x125of the evil effects of slavery on an entire society, slave and master alike, turned the conscience of a nation and became a powerful catalyst for change.

Literature is powerful.  For the homeschooling parent, there is no more effective tool in his or her tool chest.  This seminar at GHC will explore the literature that has impacted the course of American history, the books to read with your students, the best authors for children, and how to establish a literature-based curriculum that will encourage lovers of literature and life long readers. Sign up now to attend GHC in Ontario, California, June 12-14.  If you sign up through the BFB link (here) your registration will help to support the Blickenstaff family as they continue to adapt to life altering challenges.  Also, GHC has posted the schedule for the conference, so be sure to go online and check it out!  Hope to see you there!

Dear Readers,

Just a little over six weeks from now, June 12-14, the Great Homeschool Convention returns to California for three days of wonderful workshops, keynote speakers, and tantalizing curriculum exhibits! At Beautiful Feet Books, we  look forward to connecting with you either at one of the three sessions I’ll be presenting, or at our BFB booth.

b4c4f95361719784b9d266fb5f2f0a79One of the topics I will be speaking on is: Classic Literature for Character Building (or Character Through Literature), so I wanted to take a moment to give a brief overview of what my session will cover as you make plans for your GHC weekend!

We can strip the knight of his amor, to reveal that he looks exactly like us, or we can try on the armor ourselves to experience how it feels.  Fiction provides an ideal opportunity to try on the armor. –C.S. Lewis

Over thirty years of reading aloud to my children has convinced me, more than ever, of the profound life-changing, life-equipping, and soul-nourishing importance of great books.  Recently I began reading Charles Dickens’s  A Tale of Two Cities to my youngest daughter, aged 14.  She was fairly ambivalent as we began, particularly because the 19th century English verbiage is challenging, to say the least.  Not being familiar with Dickens can stop even an avid reader from wanting to continue what can be a truly challenging endeavor.  Fortunately for me, an older adult son happened to be visiting at the time and remarked that A Tale of Two tale-of-two-cities-book-cover-450x600-1Cities was his favorite book in high school.  He even remembered writing his own Tale of Two Cities based upon Dickens’s great work. Haply, that helped cinch the deal, and we continue pursuing this remarkable novel knowing that the unforgettable characters that Dickens created in this work–the cruel Madame Defarge, the noble Charles Darnay, and the ultimately self-sacrificing Sydney Carton, will impact our hearts long after we close the final pages of this book.  As Lewis notes in the quote above, we can either choose to live cynical unimaginative lives, or we can, through our imaginative powers walk vicariously in the shoes of another, and through that identification, ultimately determine what kind of people we want to be.  Will we make noble, self-sacrificing choices like Darnay and Carton, or will we be unforgiving and vengeful as the cruel Madame Defarge?  In small ways, we have an opportunity to make these choices each day.

The best books inspire us, not by preaching lofty sermons, or by moralizing lectures, but by drawing us into stories that resonate with the human desire to love and be loved, and by our longing to live for something bigger and better than ourselves. In the novel Don Quixote, Cervantes states through his main protagonist that the ” . . . ultimate end of writing is both to instruct and delight” (476).1 Since Cervantes is credited with the invention of the modern novel, perhaps his perspective is one we should take to heart. Regarding the notion of “instruction” of course, as parents we get that, that is a given. In our parental role we are forever looking for resources to educate, inform, and instruct our children. But how often in that pursuit, do we neglect the notion of delight? When we make choices of literature,  do we adequately factor in the importance of delight as an essential medium of the most important kind of learning?  Consider how often Jesus used stories to teach moral lessons.  His stories were never dry, dull, or boring.  Rather they captured his listeners by their pure simplicity, their inherent truth and their clear applicability to everyone’s lives.  All great literature has these same inherent qualities, from the simplest children’s book like Make Way for Ducklings to sophisticated novels like Pride and Prejudice.  

In June I’ll be presenting the essential elements that make books delightful, and how stories have the power to truly mold ourselves and our children into the kind of characters we want to be in this great drama called life–written and directed by the master storyteller Himself. I hope to see you in June at the Great Homeschool Convention!

BFB Retreat wrap-up

BFB Manual 1stpgHi Readers,
Last month in Santa Barbara, our new Beautiful Feet representatives came together from around the country to talk about vision, share our lives, and get better acquainted as we look to working together in the future.  It was a very special time for all of us, and we thought it might be encouraging to reflect a bit on our experiences and share some photos with you!

Here are some reflections of our time together:

How beautiful it was to spend a weekend surrounded by women who share the same desire to gift their children with a love for great books!  There’s something extraordinary in exchanging with another mom an experience we’ve had watching our children light up when they’ve read a story that prompts their minds to think about what they’ve read, and compare it to their own process of thinking or life choices.  What continually stands out the most from this weekend is, “there’s power in story”.  Over and over again, this theme rang through all of our conversations.  It’s this truth that inspired me the most, a truth I hope to instill in my two young warriors.  Thank you, Beautiful Feet Books, for your heart-felt desire to deposit something incredibly special into the lives of our family!                        –Karyn C.

I had such a glorious, refreshing, and magical time with all of you.  I am convinced that Beautiful Feet Books are not DSC_3094only the most fun and adventurous time of the day, but it’s our opportunity to bond and connect to each other and the human heart.  I am so grateful that God has led me too this.  I loved hearing everyone share their stories over laughter, and delicious beautifully arranged meals.  The Nicoise salad was just fabulous.  Kathy’s passion and quiet yet fiery spirit about her convictions just brought delight to my soul.  I along with her, am assured that I want to do every curriculum that is out there with my children or by myself if they are unable to.  These amazing stories teach my children, along with myself, the essence of compassion, forgiveness, redemption, and that they too, are part of a great story.  I will be shouting “Beautiful Feet” from the roof tops until I am old and gray.  I have stumbled upon treasure and look forward to seeing how many more families are impacted.   It’s so beautiful to witness the hearts being evoked through history and great stories through literature.  I had such a memorable and warm time.   –Vanessa H.

DSC_3101“Words are how we think; stories are how we link.” Christina Baldwin
As I sat around the patio table, I was awe struck by the stories which were being shared. Each woman’s story was different, but the stories linked us in a common bond. Our common bond is the implementation of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy through the use of “living books.” “Living books” nurture the imagination, feed the soul, and stir the conscience. It was amazing to see how one woman’s influence has rippled out and touched the lives of those who were participating in the discussion and those within each woman’s sphere of influence.  –Kathy A.

I had the privilege and  most extreme pleasure in being able to participate in a marvelous and inspiring retreat with Beautiful Feet Book’s Rea Berg, Rebecca Manor, Josh Berg, and a group of passionate moms!  So lucky was I!! The DSC_3114Beautiful Feet Book’s family is zealous about passing on the legacy of history and literature!! It was an honor to learn from their intensity to learn and grow and pass it on. I loved loved learning from Rea and her reinforcing that my ministry is influencing my children and what better way than through stories that lead to empathy. It is not about just mechanically reading a story but molding my children’s heart through them. Of course, this only happens with the best books and I am always and will be forever inspired by their desire to feed children’s minds and hearts with excellence. They are constantly trying to find new ways of doing this with their ideas of more literary guides of heroes for boys and girls. It was amazing to hear from Rebecca and her love DSC_3112and knowledge for history through her new Medieval guide. I am excited about my children learning from her! Their hearts to meet all of our needs was displayed through their teaching, hanging with family, food and fun! I am so grateful to learn from and pass on all that I have gotten from Beautiful Feet Books!!           –Lisa S.

I felt privileged to be part of such a sweet time of sharing our lives together as a group of women, mothers and teachers. Everyone brought something truly unique to the group dynamics and I believe all of us went away inspired and empowered to continue building the lives of our students, children, and grandchildren as we seek to implement CM’s core belief that true education is about life!

Remember that the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, is just 2 months away!  I will be speaking there on three topics:  Early American History through Literature, Classic Literature for Little Folks, and Charlotte Mason Meets Plato: Restoring the Joy of Education in the Home.  Remember that any registration through the above link, Beautiful Feet Books will make a $5 donation to the Patty Pollatos Fund.  Thank you so much for your support!

All photos compliments of Lisa Sulewski Photography.  All rights reserved.  Thank you, Lisa!

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