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Religious Literacy in America

While this blog is primarily devoted to children’s books, I am currently listening to the audio edition of Stephen Prothero’s brilliant work, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–and Doesn’t. I have been so taken by this book that I had to digress briefly to encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this and read it! I happen to have had the pleasure of knowing Stephen and his wife when we were living in Sandwich, Massachusetts, where they also lived. Our daughters attended the same preschool and we met at several social occasions related to that. What I didn’t know at the time was that Stephen was becoming one of the preeminent scholars of religion in America while I was busy home schooling and running children hither and thither! The first time we met Stephen (at a sushi party in our home!) he had just finished American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. I of course, made a mental note to get his latest book and read it, but in the hectic silliness of life, my mental note disappeared in the vacuous recesses of my brain! Now that we’ve relocated to California, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to learn from such a keen mind.
I think you’ll be struck by Stephen’s astute analysis of religion in America in the title (at right), as well as how many of our prejudices regarding faith, the Bible, liberal and conservative politics, and education, are the well worn tracks of a culture that, while it ascribes to a Judeo-Christian ethic, has lost many of the moorings that have traditionally bound us to transcendent truth. Stephen’s surveys of current religious and biblical knowledge will take your breath away, or if they don’t, may perhaps stun you into action and a reevaluation of what you believe and why. I hope you’ll take this challenge and read this title and then get some comments going so we can all learn together and perhaps revisit truths and creeds that we’ve long taken for granted. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think, and I’ll continue to post musings as I finish this wonderful work!

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Literature Seminar Saturday, September 18th

Thank you to those of you that registered for the Literature Seminar last week.  Sadly, some folks that didn’t register showed up at the door.  Somehow they didn’t get the memo, and I apologize for that.  I had posted on Facebook, the BFB website and here that the seminar was postponed, so I do regret the inconvenience for any who may have traveled.

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.  Wrap up will include how children’s books have inspired great men and women to do great things!  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!

Literature Training Seminar

Saturday, September 18, 2010

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

Location: San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

165 Grand Avenue

San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

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The Wreck of the Zephyr and Madeline

Our youngest daughter recently had a friend for a summer sleep over and before I tucked the two little ones into bed (knowing it would probably be some time before they actually slept) I read them some family favorites hoping to encourage some sleepiness.  One of my all time best loved children’s books is The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris VanAllsburg.  While VanAllsburg is most popularly know for The Polar Express, it is my humble opinion that his previous works surpass his Christmas tale in both substance and artistic richness.  If you’ve never read this gem, check it out of the library soon, or find a used copy online.  The artwork alone is stunning, and the story is subtle and clever for the close reader.  It involves a young aspiring sailor (in a gorgeous, but simple New England seaside town) who has quite an amazing adventure which I won’t spoil for you.  The other VanAllsburg title that we’ve loved forever is Jumanji.  Both these stories have great twists at the end that will intrigue the young reader.

We also pulled out Madeline, as our little friend had never heard of the precocious French orphan who has captured the hearts of little girls for over half a century! Each book of the series begins with, “In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines . . . the smallest one was Madeline.” The author, Ludwig Bemelmans had a life as colorful as his protagonist, and incidentally, his wife’s name was Madeleine.  Madeline’s Rescue, the second book in the series won the Caldecott Medal in 1954.  For those who live near New York City or visit it regularly, one of the city’s most famous hotels, The Carlyle has a mural painted by Bemelmans in its Bemelman’s Bar.  It is the artists seasonal depiction of New York’s Central Park and includes the characters from his delightful stories.  Fortunately, when the hotel was planning to remodel and forever lose Bemelman’s work, it was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that came to the rescue of this delightful work of art.