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Little Britches . . . more read-aloud greats

I’ve just returned from CHEA–which for those readers outside of California is the California Home Educators annual conference held in Pasadena.  I spoke there a number of times and had the delightful opportunity to connect with many of you and I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog so we can continue to keep in touch!  We talked and talked and talked some more about good books and it was wonderful to hear your stories about how good books have changed your lives!  One beautiful young mother came up and shared how hearing me talk about the power of good books a few years ago had totally changed the direction of her family’s home schooling journey and delightfully so.  They decided to scrap the textbooks and entered on the wonderful journey of literature!  Thank you, Monica for sharing!  Loretta persevered in her commitment to the power of literature over a traditional academic approach despite the often disparaging comments of friends–you know, the “What do you actually do for school?” “Well, we read great literature.”  “Oh . . . really–is that all?”  Loretta’s disparaging friends were quite surprised to find her literature rich son accepted to West Point where he is currently in his third year.  Many testimonials like this encouraged us to continue to press on sharing our passion and commitment to the canon of literature for its own sake.

So here’s another all-time favorite for summer reading, family read-aloud, character building books.  This one is particularly dear to my heart because it offers fathers a sure bet for a read-aloud experience they will look forward to each night!  Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is the powerful true story of young Ralph Moody, who in 1906 moves from New Hampshire to Colorado with his family.  Through young Ralph’s eyes we experience the hair-raising adventures of a passionate, impetuous young boy as he and his father attempt to carve out a ranching life amidst the perils of tornadoes, water wars, flash floods, and grinding poverty.  Ralph’s perspective offers a lens into the character of a father committed to raising Ralph to be honest at his core. The tender pathos of their conversations, the father’s profound strength when faced with overwhelming difficulties and his devotion to his son all offer lessons rare in our day.

The sequel to Little Britches is Man of the Family.  Following this there are 5 more titles in the series.  Every family should experience the wonder of these books at some time in the life of their family.  We are currently reading Man of the Family to our daughters aged 10 and 15.  They love them and beg for more most nights (excepting the ones where we don’t get to read-aloud time till after 9 or 10 pm!  Well, it is summer after all!).  For our family, this is probably the third time over the years reading this series and repeated readings only increases our devotion. If you’ve enjoyed these books with your family, please let us know your thoughts and how these books impacted you.

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The Power of Books

David Brook’s most recent editorial in The New York Times speaks to the amazing power of books – and makes a good argument for summer reading lists!  As we’ve been promoting some great summer reads, you’ll be happy to know that giving your kids books during the summer helps diminish the loss of knowledge that widely happens to students during the break.  But you already knew that!  The article also speaks to the effect our internet focused culture has on learning and the ability to reason.  What I found to be the most interesting was this:

“But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group…A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe.”

What a fantastic idea!  As the internet grabs at more of our time and attention, young people given the opportunity to read will choose to do so – and it can affect the way they see themselves and their place in the world.  Fascinating stuff here!  Happy reading –  The Medium is the Medium.


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Summer Reading: favorites for your independent reader

My favorite way to pass the long hot summer afternoons of a northern California childhood was with a good book.  While the local public pool provided hours of respite there were times when you could just not take the sun anymore and needed to retreat to the shade and what better way to while away those hot hours than by transporting your imagination to another time and place?

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

This book took me far back to the cool woods and dusty villages of medieval England.  Adventures galore await the reader who jumps into the lives of a young spoiled prince and his whipping boy.  I remember being thoroughly confused that there was such a provision made for princes – the punishment for their misdeeds would be placed on another boy?  My sense of justice could not reconcile this but as the story progressed I came to see beyond the simplistic preconceptions of rich and poor, privileged and not.  There are very funny scenes in this book coupled with adventures and great life-lessons. Reading level: middle school.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry

This well-loved classic is a must for summer reading.  The salt breezes of Chincoteague island, the wildness of its ponies, the adventures of Paul and Maureen, the elements are all there and Henry creates a beautiful story that will capture your child’s imagination.  Once your child has read one of Marguerite Henry’s books, you’ll find yourself trolling used book stores in search of others to quench your child’s new found appetite for all Henry’s “horse” stories.  Reading level: middle school.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

When I was about 12 or 13 I went through a serious Elizabeth George Speare phase.  I could not get enough of her stories.  I must have read Calico CaptiveThe Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Sign of the Beaver, and The Bronze Bow a dozen times each and remember being so disappointed when I realized I had read everything she’d ever written – it was almost like being let down by a very good friend.  Didn’t she know I needed more of her stories? Four was not nearly enough.  Until her death in 1994, I kept hoping that she’d write more.  That was not to be the case but in the mean time, I read and re-read The Bronze Bow.  Daniel bar Jamin, the story’s main protagonist is a young Jewish boy living at the time of Christ.  Fired by zealots angry at Roman rule, Daniel is a young man full of anger and living only to avenge his father’s murder.  Set in the volatile first Century, there are so many facets to this story and there are wonderful characters; the Pharisee’s family, the kind Roman soldier, a new preacher from Nazareth.  Really a must-read along with any of Speare’s other titles. Reading level: jr. high.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Talk about transporting one’s mind to another time and place – this is such an adventure classic.  Fastidious Englishman, Phileas Fogg and his faithful manservant, Jean Passepartout, embark on the unthinkable-at-the-time task of traveling around the world in a record-breaking 80 days.  Such a world apart from our current ability to circle the globe in a matter of hours stuffed inside a sterile metal tube, Fogg’s journey is colorful, exciting, dangerous, and funny. Reading level: jr. high.

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier

Set in Warsaw, Poland in 1942 this story is based on true accounts of a young family trying to escape Nazi occupation. When the children are separated from their parents it seems impossible that they will survive.  Grit and determination coupled with great courage drive them onward as the three young children fight against all odds.  A brilliantly told story, this one isn’t your classic feel-good summer read, but it’s a great adventure story.

Well, there’s some suggestions for books that will transport your children to distant lands and times.  I would love to hear about some of your favorites!

Happy Reading,


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Summer Reading: America!

As we are approaching Independence Day,  I thought it would be good to feature some great American classics on our Summer Reading List.  In the midst of cookouts, fireworks, and parades, it’s good to remember exactly what we are celebrating.  While many of these books may be viewed as scholastic or things to read during the academic year, I have found that sometimes it can be a lot of fun to read these without the pressure of comprehension questions or written essays attached!

The Star Spangled Banner

What better way to celebrate the 4th of July than a reading of the classic American anthem, the Star Spangled Banner?  The D’Aulaire’s splendidly illustrated version is a must for this weekend.  Capturing the vastness of the American landscape, the variety of its people, and key events in our history, The Star Spangled Banner is Americana at its best.

George Washington by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire

And what 4th of July reading list would be complete without a biography of the Father of our Nation?  This one makes a great read-aloud and the illustrations are gorgeous.  I remember hours spent with the original hardback edition, pouring over the details of the lithographs while listening to my mom or dad read me the story.  A book like this gives a child an introduction to greatness and a love of the history of one’s country.

It has been said that the inability to believe in the greatness of other’s character reveals a smallness of one’s own.  By providing children with examples of great leadership, as seen in George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and many others, you open worlds to them that are inspiring and optimistic.  Worlds apart from our everyday experience.  Yes, each of these people were flawed and had struggles and made poor decisions at times but that is what makes them so inspiring.  In the face of their own fallenness, they rose to make the world a bit more friendly, a bit kinder, and a bit more beautiful.

A More Perfect Union by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

Telling the stories of the long, hot summers in Philadelphia when the Continental Congresses met and crafted our Constitution, this book has wonderful illustrations and tells the story of the Great American Experiment. Accessible to all ages it’s a great primer on the story of why America separated from Britain and formed a unique government, the likes of which the world had never seen.

What are your favorite 4th of July themed reads?  Any books you remember fondly from childhood or have recently discovered?  Please share!

May you and your family have a wonderful 4th of July,


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Literature Training Seminar

Announcing my first solo Literature Training Seminar!  While many of you know I’ve taught literature training sessions at conventions, home school meetings, and seminars held by others for the last 25 years, I’ve yet to hold my very own day-long seminar.  This month, July 31st I’ll be starting this new venture as a trial run to see how it goes, if there is interest, and if I can actually speak for nearly 6 hours straight!! (Those who know me will probably wonder what the question is . . .)!  So if you are interested here is the basic info:

Saturday, July 31st

9 am to 3 pm (an hour break for lunch)

Location: San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

165 Grand Avenue

San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

This literature training session will focus on the best children’s literature covering the historic period from the fall of Rome to the Early Renaissance.  Topics to be covered will include: what makes a good book, tools of literary analysis, knowing the best children’s authors, benefits of reading aloud and much more.  An hour of practicum will allow participants to get involved using the tools presented with some classic children’s picture books.  All in all, I expect it to be inspiring, challenging and lots of fun too!  Hope you can join me.  For more information call 800.889.1978 or you can register here.  Happy Reading!