In June 2014, the GreatHomeschool Convention is coming to Ontario, California. I am delighted that one of the keynote speakers is Michael Medved, popular radio show host and author of Saving Childhood: Protecting our Children from the National Assault on Innocence. Michael and his psychologist wife Diane, have written an important work about how our culture seems intent through the forces of media, schools, peers, and even other parents, to rob our children of the beauty, innocence and wonder of childhood. Strikingly, Saving Childhood was first published in 1998, and we all know that the media climate has changed dramatically in just a decade and a half. Medved wrote before the smartphone had taken over the lives of so many young people, thus compounding dramatically the potential negative effects of media saturation, not to mention the inherent dangers of exposure to a myriad of digital dangers.
Reading Saving Childhood isn’t always a pleasant read, the statistics and stories about children involved in crime and sordid behavior makes one’s heart break for the very loss of innocence the Medved’s lament. But the book is also one of hope and especially direction in regaining our passion and purpose for parenting. The stories of real children whose lives have been irreversibly damaged because of a lack of parenting provide ample incentive for really taking this job of protecting our children seriously. While many of the dangers of growing up in 21st century America remain the same as those we confronted as children ourselves, the digital age has presented an entirely new level and immediacy to potentially harmful experiences. Since the Medved’s book was published prior to the age of the smartphone, as parents we need to educate ourselves on the dangers unique to this brave new world. In The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair, parents can explore the kinds of incidents that are happening to children all over the country, hopefully before they happen to more innocent children. You can read an insightful (and perhaps convicting) review of The Big Disconnect from the NYTimeshere.
These books would both make great Christmas vacation reading, so consider getting them for yourself or someone you love! I’m doing so myself! Also, don’t forget to sign up for the Great Homeschool Convention coming to a city near you! I will be speaking at the Ontario, California convention too! Any GHC tickets purchased through our Beautiful Feet Books link will automatically generate a $5 donation to the Brent Blickenstaff fund, which you can read about here. And for one more day–up until midnight November 30–you can get a discount rate on your ticket purchases. Hope to see you there!
Taken at face value, the story of the Pilgrim Fathers has something of the mythic quality about it. The Pilgrims were a harassed people fleeing their homes under cover of darkness, betrayed by a ship’s captain, arrested, left to languish in prison, and separated from their families. Their eventual escape to Holland and their lives as immigrants presented economic, cultural, and social challenges. On their trans-Atlantic crossing to the New World they suffered the wiles of unscrupulous investors, the near sinking of the Speedwell, the miseries of life “tween decks” for nine long weeks, and treacherous gales upon the sea that split their mast and nearly forced them back to England. Their troubles weren’t over once they reached the New World. There they suffered disease and death. Despite all of this, or perhaps because of all of this, the Pilgrim story echoes across the generations with hope in the midst of heartache, and with promise in the midst of pain.
The story of the Pilgrims is a story of persecution.
Convinced by their understanding of the scriptures that the state-mandated Church of England could not lead them into religious truth, the Pilgrims began meeting in secret. This infuriated King James and he swore to make these Separatists “conform or he would harry them out of the land!” Many were arrested and imprisoned. Even the young orphan William Bradford, who joined the Separatists at age 15, was harassed by his own family who threatened to disown him if he continued his association with Separatists. To them he calmly replied:
To keep a good conscience and walk in such a way as God has prescribed in his Word, is a thing which I must prefer before you all and above life itself. Wherefore since it is for a good Cause that I am likely to suffer the disasters which you lay before me, you have no cause to be either angry with me, or sorry for me. Yea, I am not only willing to part with everything that is dear to me in this world for this Cause, but I am thankful that God hath given me heart so to do, and will accept me so to suffer for him.”
It is remarkable that a teen-aged boy could make such a proclamation, and yet, it was also predictive of his future. William Bradford did eventually lose nearly everything that was dear to him, excepting his faith. Bradford’s youthful bravado was the type of devotion that enabled the Pilgrims to endure persecution. Ultimately, King James did drive the Separatists out of England.
The story of the Pilgrims is a story of prison andpain.
The Separatists were Englishmen bound over generations by history, culture, and language to their land. Their attachment to the very soil of England and their English identity was deep and profound. Making the choice to leave was wrenching and traumatic. It was a painful choice that could only be rationalized by a new identity. They realized they were no longer just Englishmen, but Pilgrims and sojourners.
Added to the pain of leaving England, was the trauma of heartbreaking separation of families. In 1608, when the Pilgrims secretly hired a ship to help them escape to Holland, unforeseen events conspired to separate the men from their wives and children. When the ship’s captain saw king’s soldiers approaching the families awaiting the ship on the beach, he panicked and sailed off with only the men aboard. The men were devastated as they watched their beloved wives and children hauled off by the king’s soldiers, completely helpless to do anything. Their pleas to the captain to let them off the ship went unheeded. On the shore, William Brewster, was arrested once again and thrown back into prison. The homeless women and children had to find shelter with hospitable neighbors until arrangements could be made once again for passage to Holland.
The distraught men who sailed to Holland were set upon by a gale that blew their ship mercilessly for a solid week. Given up for lost, the ship finally reached the shores of Norway and eventually Amsterdam. On landing, nineteen year-old William Bradford was promptly arrested by Dutch authorities. They’d been “informed” by King James’s agent that Bradford was an escaped criminal. The falsehood was eventually cleared up and Bradford was released as the religious refugee that he was.
The story of the Pilgrims is also a story of providence.
The Pilgrims delight in the freedom of religion they are able to enjoy in Holland. Life in the beautiful city of Leyden is peaceful and in some cases prosperous. Though the former landed gentry of England will never completely adjust to being tradesmen, carpenters, and craftsmen, they are grateful for provision. But for these Pilgrims, being sojourners and citizens of a heavenly kingdom, prosperity and provision are not enough. Fathers and mothers watch their children growing up in this prosperous city with little sense of the destiny they felt when they left all they loved to follow a higher calling. The Twelve-year truce between Holland and Spain is coming to an end, and English sons will soon be drafted into the Dutch army to fight against Spain. Circumstances, especially difficult ones, viewed through the eye of providence can bring perspective.
The Pilgrims choose to follow providence–a strong leading and sense that they are called to something higher. They call it a New Jerusalem in the New World and they begin to discuss, research and plan. The timid ones, those who rightly fear the very real dangers of the wilderness, or the great length and hazards of the ocean voyage, are encouraged by none other than that former orphan boy, the man William Bradford. He replies:
All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties; and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages. It was granted the dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties many, but not invincible. For though there were many of them likely, yet they were not certain. It might be that sundry of the things feared might never befall; others, by provident care and the use of good means, might in a great measure be prevented; and all of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might be either borne or overcome.”
Again, Bradford’s words prove prophetic. Through careful planning, many obstacles are overcome. But some cannot be foreseen, and must be suffered through. That includes unscrupulous agents who at the last minute change the terms of their agreement, virtually assigning the Pilgrims to seven years of slavery in exchange for their passage to the New World. This they will not do. So, they must sell much needed provisions in order to pay the port tax and leave England. Finally at sea, the Speedwell begins to leak so badly both ships must return to port. Long delays and expenses ensue while the Speedwell is overhauled from stem to stern.
Finally the ships depart, once and for all, they believe. But 300 miles out, the Speedwell begins to leak again so badly that the captain can barely keep her afloat. The disheartened Pilgrims return again to shore where the captain concludes the Speedwell is over-masted and unseaworthy. This was suspected to be treachery on the part of the captain and his crew, as they did not really want to sail to America. Now the Pilgrims must abandon one ship, consolidate as best they can on the Mayflower and leave passengers and provisions behind. Valuable time and money has been used up.
Finally at sea, a North Atlantic gale blows up. The Pilgrims pray while the sailors delight in cursing the pious seafarers and their God. But when the main beam buckles under the violence of the storm, it is the Pilgrims who haul out a great iron jack-screw they had brought from Leyden, and fix the buckled beam.
Nine weeks later, on November 20, 1620, the Pilgrims sight land in Cape Cod. But before the Pilgrims can fully give thanks, the captain announces that the treacherous currents around Cape Cod may run the ship into deadly shoals. The Pilgrims pray once again and disaster is averted. As the men explore the land for a suitable habitation, the women and children remain aboard the Mayflower. Sadly, one day, Bradford returns to find his beloved wife Dorothy has fallen overboard and drown. Later, when the Pilgrims are finally able to come ashore and begin to build their shelters, the exposure and lack of provisions have devastating effects. Of the hundred Pilgrims who made the journey, only six or seven remain well enough to care for the sick. By the end of the year, half of the Pilgrims have died.
The saga of the Pilgrims is a saga of persecution, prison, and pain. But it is also a profound saga of perseverance, promise and providence. By November of 1621, the colony has recovered such that William Bradford proclaims three days of “praise and thanksgiving to God for his mercies to the children of men.” Despite profound pain, Bradford has the perspective to see God’s providence and provision.
If ever any people in these later Ages, were upheld by the Providence of God, after a more special manner than others, then we: and therefore are the more bound to celebrate the memory of His goodness, with everlasting thankfulness . . . So that when I seriously consider of things, I cannot but think that God hath a purpose to give that land, as an inheritance, to our nation.” –Edward Winslow, Good News from New England, 1623
In June 2014, the Great Homeschool Convention is coming to Ontario, California. I am excited and honored to be a speaker on the roster and look forward to seeing many familiar faces and making the acquaintance of some of you that have followed this blog, but whom I’ve yet to meet. I am presenting three sessions, and while the topics for these have yet to be determined by GHC, as you can imagine they will involve something to do with the wonderful world of children’s literature, whether that’s history, science, geography, or just fabulous family read-alouds!
I’m also looking forward to hearing from some speakers myself, and hope in particular to catch a session by Dr. Kathy Koch. Dr. Kathy is the author of How Am I Smart? A Parent’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences, which helps parents and teachers better understand their children’s and student’s learning strengths. Dr. Kathy provides down-to-earth, yet compassionate counsel on parenting and her brief video posts are always good for a boost. Kathy reminds us about the importance of respecting our children in the various ways they are gifted and letting go of trying to form them into our own image. Her approach resonates with those of us who love Charlotte Mason and how she taught us to respect the individuality of our children. Her current post addresses that very topic. You can read it here.
Readers of this blog who are interested in attending either the Greenville, SC convention, or the Cincinnati, OH conventions can register online through this link. For those attending the California convention, registration will be available next month. Because we are also trying to support the Blickenstaff family due to their recent tragedy which you can read about here, any registration you place through our site will earn a $5 donation for the Blickenstaff family through the Patty Pollatas Fund. Thank you for your support, and I hope to see you in Ontario in June!
As some of you know, my family suffered a tragedy the 7th of September, when my brother-in-law was swimming in Ocean City, Maryland, and suffered a broken neck of the C1 and C2 vertebrae, the same injury as Christopher Reeves. This has rocked our world and turned it upside down, as you can imagine. Currently, things have stabilized, but doctors hold out little hope for Brent to recover any function below his neck, including the ability to breathe on his own. My sister is maintaining courageously, but the daily round of travel, long hospital visits, grim prognosis from doctors, caring for a 14 year-old, two dogs, a home, and financial pressures certainly are a heavy weight upon her. As our family has processed this loss, and the way in which life can turn upside down in a heartbeat, I’ve been meditating on how we as humans deal with crisis. I’ve suffered the full range of emotions, a heavy sense of grief, a feeling of powerlessness, feelings of panic and intense anxiety for my sister and her husband and daughter. I’ve also experienced what they call “survivor’s guilt” and the ways in which guilt can plague those who witness this type of tragedy up close and personal. I haven’t sorted out all these feelings and I’m certain there are more to come. In the meantime, I’m trying to process what it means to walk in the “joy of the Lord” in the midst of tragedy and trauma. I confess I’m not there yet, but am hoping that I can learn through this what Nehemiah meant when he said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).
As I was pondering this today I remembered the following Longfellow poem that my children and I had memorized many years ago. The verses about the footprints kept coming back to me:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
The above verses have taken on a concrete reality for me in the past few days. The stories of heroic individuals, a dear friend who is a quadriplegic, Christopher Reeves, and many other truly courageous individuals who have chosen to face the devastating loss of mobility with courage and grace have brought courage and strength to me. I have felt forlorn and shipwrecked with the overwhelming challenges my sister faces, and how to best help her and Brent. But the stories of those who have walked this same road have enabled me to “take heart again.” I hope that whatever you are facing today can be viewed through the light of the words below, remembering that the choices we make leave footprints for those who follow behind. I hope I can become better at choosing to live life with grace and joy, and watch how God is able to transform tragedy into triumph.
As my sister is under tremendous financial pressure, If you feel inclined to help her and her family at this time, you can visit this link. All donations are tax-deductible and 100% of the money will go directly to my sister and husband to pay for daily living expenses. Thank you.
Welcome to another installment of Around the World with Newbery and Caldecott Part IV! This post will explore just a few of the wonderful award-winning children’s books of France! This is another preview to my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée. It is just a little over a week away, so if you’re interested, please visit here.
As a Francophile since my early 20s, when I spent nearly a year in Paris, I have returned many times to this fascinating country that holds so much of the world’s greatest art, architecture, cuisine, and natural beauty! I love France for all of these things, but also for the pivotal part they played in helped the struggling American colonies to win their fight for independence from Great Britain.
Probably the most well-known and beloved children’s book about Paris is Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Winner of the Caldecott Honor in 1940, Madeline’s Rescue won the Caldecott Medal in 1954. My friend and former professor, Anita Silvey has done a marvelous job of telling the background of these wonderful creations by Bemelmans here.
Another author of French tales beloved by American children is Claire Huchet Bishop, a French-born American who is best known for twoNewbery Honor titles–All Alone, which tells the story of a French boy who herds cattle in the mountains and befriends a fellow herder in need. His compassion leads to the healing of old rivalries in the village. Pancakes-Paris, which is unfortunately out-of-print, tells the tale of a boy given a box of pancake mix by American GIs after WWII. Set during the same period is Twenty and Ten, the story of French school children hiding Jewish children from the Nazis.
The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson is the heartwarming story of Armand, a Parisian tramp who wants nothing to do with children. But when three fatherless children “adopt” him, all kinds of adventures happen. Readers will be charmed by the warmth and pathos of this story and by the tender illustrations of Garth Williams who you you will recognize as the beloved illustrator of the Little House on the Prairie series. Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1959.
Winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1993, Mirette on the High Wireby Emily Arnold McCully tells the tale of a celebrated tightrope walker and his friendship with young Mirette. While he teaches the devoted Mirette the art of tightrope walking, he learns some wonderful lessons too. While there are many, many more wonderful titles that I haven’t touched on yet, I will conclude with a title of extraordinary beauty published during the Golden Age of children’s book illustration–the late nineteenth century. Joan of Arc (1899) by Maurice Boutet de Monvel depicts in grand sweeping panoramas, the life of the devout French maid who led the beleaguered forces of her country to victory over England. The artist’s devotion to the French heroine comes through his watercolor paintings with power and exuberance. I will let the following pictures speak for themselves.
Rea Berg is passionate about children's books and has been republishing classic and historical children's literature for the last 30 years through her company Beautiful Feet Books. She also designs guides for teaching elementary and secondary students history using award-winning classic and historic literature. She holds both an undergraduate degree in English from Simmons College, Boston as well as a graduate degree in children's literature.