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Dear Readers,

I am very excited to announce a new, fun, exciting twist on my regular Summer Literature Soirée!  This summer, the lovely Greta Eskridge of #maandpamodern fame will be joining me to enhance and enrich our time together!  Greta (if you don’t know her–and you should) hosts the very popular At Home Podcast where her lively personality, her disarming humility, and her honesty and vulnerability have earned her a very faithful following!  Greta is one of a few voices in home schooling today that is actually a home school graduate herself (as well as a college graduate–which she did not do at home), and I know you will love her as much as I do!

This year, rather than hosting this at my home, as I have done for the last 6 years (yes, it’s been six!), Greta and I have secured the beautiful Monday Club on Monterey in San Luis Obispo.  This historic building was built by California’s first woman architect–the remarkable Julia Morgan.  Its warm Spanish Colonial style architecture will provide a hospitable and lovely venue for our day of discussing history, literature, poetry and nature!  I so hope you can join us!

And on a side note–we will be serving our local favorite–Scout Coffee, and a delicious sandwich and salad luncheon created my the master Southern Italian chefs at Giuseppe’s Bistro!  So, make plans to join us for a festive day of laughter, learning, literature and life!  Here are the details and here is the link to register:

Rea and Greta’s Literature Soirée
July 22, 2017
9am to 4pm
The Monday Club, San Luis Obispo, CA
Cost: Early Bird $60 by May 31st
$65 after June 1

A free COFFEE MEET UP with Rea and Greta will be held the night before the Soirée at Scout Coffee on Foothill Avenue. Come at 6:30 pm. Cost of admission is a cup of coffee or tea!  Come get a chance to mingle with lots of like-minded mamas and enjoy San Luis Obispo’s favorite coffee hang-out at the same time!

 

Teaching History Through Literature by Rea Berg

Our ancient predecessors, sitting by candlelight or lamplight, reading history, actually read history through literature.  There simply was no other way to study history–as there were no textbooks until the Modern era. History has effectively been taught through literature since ancient times.  Just the last century or so has this vibrant subject been robbed of its human connection by the ubiquitous textbook.  As Neil Postman urges in his book, The End of Education, those who desire to improve teaching ought to get rid of all textbooks which, in his opinion are “the enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning” (116).  Replacing the history textbook with literature not only restores this discipline to its historic roots, but also reinvigorates it with its inherent passion, human interest, and wonder. In the long term, children who are exposed to the best books from an early age, learn the adventure, drama, and poetry of a well-told tale, and discover the truth of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxim, “All history is biography.”

The Power of Poetry

 by Greta Eskridge

“Poetry: the best words in the best order.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge



For many of us teachers, poetry is an afterthought. There are so many books to get through, novels, historical books, texts about science and geography, that we struggle to find room for poetry. If there is any time left at the end of a school day or week, we might fit in a poem or two. But we might not. Because we aren’t sure that poetry matters all that much.
However, when we don’t expose our children to poetry we are doing them a great disservice. The author W. Somerset Maughman says, “the crown of literature is poetry.” 
Poetry requires a different kind of reading and thinking from us than prose does. It makes us work a little bit harder. It exposes us to the best language, because it the poet chooses each word so carefully.
In this session, Greta will share with you many ways to bring poetry into your school day. She’ll give you everything from lesson ideas, to lists of best-loved childhood poems, and poetry collections. She’ll share a bit of her childhood exposure to poetry, or more accurately, the lack thereof. And what it was that finally brought poetry to life for her.
More than anything, Greta wants you to come way from this session feeling excited about poetry and inspired to add it to your everyday life. After all,  “teaching poetry is one important way to help children become human beings who are fully awake to the world.” Megan McNamer

Exploring the Great Writers of History for Children–A Practicum on Teaching History Through Literature by Rea Berg

At the turn of the twentieth century, a publication movement arose that recognized the value of children having excellent picture books and history books that dealt with serious subjects, no longer just fairy tales and fantasy–but history and biography.  Recognized experts in their fields were commissioned to write excellent books for children. This movement coincided with an artistic flowering committed to exposing children to the beauty of art at a young age. Combined, these movements resulted in a golden era of children’s literature that provided children (and their parents) with extraordinary books that were not only intellectually satisfying, but also visually pleasing.  This session will explore a number of these works and the ways in which these books can build a rich historical and literary curriculum for you and your students.  

Learning to Love Nature Through Literature by Greta Eskridge

“He does not despise real woods because he reads of enchanted woods; the reading makes all the real woods a little enchanted.” CS Lewis



One might not automatically make a connection between nature and literature. Spending time in nature calls to mind hiking trails and backpacks, dirt and bugs. While literature makes us think of academia, deep discussions, or at the very least, curling up in a comfy spot to get lost in the pages of Jane Austin.
However, many wonderful works of literature are rich in nature, and the writers of these works were great nature lovers. They understood the powerful teacher that nature and literature can be together, engaging us in the wonder of the natural sciences in a way a textbooks never could.  
When we read these works of literature with our children, we expose them to the beauty and marvels of nature in a powerful way.
In this session, Greta will share her own journey of falling in love with nature through reading great books. And she’ll explain why she has made nature study through literature such a priority in her own children’s education.
Greta will share practical tips on how to make nature come alive through books. As well as ways to get more nature into your lives, even if the idea of a hike with your children leaves you feeling slightly panicked. 
You’ll come away from this session with an extensive list of books that are rich in nature. Best of all, you’ll be inspired to add more nature and literature to your school days.



 

The work of Mitsumasa Anno

“All beautiful things encourage a child’s sense of wonder–and everything that encourages a child’s sense of wonder is beautiful.” –Mitsumasa Anno

The work of Mitsumasa Anno has been beloved since the 1970s when his first books appearedImage result for Anno's Journey in the United States.  His first US title was Topsy Turvies (1970) and in 1978 the book that acquainted me with his work appeared.  That was Anno’s Journey–a truly inspired and for me, enchanted wordless journey through Europe.  The genius of Mr. Anno’s work is in the delightfully detailed watercolors that lead the reader from pastoral scenes to village and finally to city scenes. Life is presented within the simplicity of quotidian routine–farmers tending their fields, shepherds guarding their flocks, a merchant selling wares, or a child playing hoops.Then suddenly, suddenly, out pops a scene from an Impressionist masterpiece, or a character from a novel, or a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Traveling with Anno through Anno’s Journey is a delight to any that love art, architecture, literature, geography, culture or children’s books! For instance, hidden within his inviting scenes one will come upon Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge or George Seurat’s  A Sunday on La Grande Gatte or his Bathers at Asniers.  Less artistically inclined “readers” will find delight in Anno’s hilarious depiction of the silly king from The Emperor’s New Clothes, or the unsuspecting Little  Red Riding Hood innocently picking flowers while the wily fox watches from the woods.   Then there is Pinocchio, running through the streets!  Even young children will experience the thrill of discovery when they notice the four whimsical characters–the donkey, the dog, the cat and the cock from the well-loved Tale of the Bremen Town Musicians or see the iconic red balloon wafting up off the page from the Oscar-winning French film short of the same name.  There is something for everyone here, even the youngest child will love just pouring over the pictures with their intense colors, humor, and variety.

Over two years ago, I contacted the Japanese publisher of Mr. Anno’s work, in order to ascertain if they would be willing to have our

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The enchanted Guilan from Anno’s China

company, Beautiful Feet Books, republish Anno’s Spain, which had been out of print for some time.  In the process of that journey, I also found that Mr. Anno had done a Journey book on China, which had never been published in the US before.  Not only that, I also discovered that for each of Mr. Anno’s Journey books (there are now 8) he had written wonderful back matter to accompany each scene. These have never been translated and published in the English language editions, which is a shame, as Mr. Anno’s voice is as endearing and warm-hearted as his art. So for the editions that Beautiful Feet Books is bringing out, we are thrilled to be including these wonderful notes. After that we will begin work on Anno’s Japan and Anno’s Denmark.

annos-china-iphoneJust a few weeks ago we took delivery (like proud parents with a new baby!) on Anno’s China–the first time this beautiful book has ever appeared in America. Just like his other books, “readers” will accompany Anno as he travels through China, exploring life in this vast and majestic land where birds fish for men, where dragons and lions dance, and where thousands of clay soldiers and calvary guard the tomb of China’s first emperor.  Anno’s China received a Kirkus starred review which you can read about here.

I am currently working on bringing Anno’s Spain back into print as well.  I am finishing up editing the translation from the Japanese to English and expect to go to print early Spring. I will continue to post more about Mr. Anno’s work as we continue on this wonderful Journey with him!

“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.”  Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

Image result for tanner mary painting

The Visitation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

This is the season of Advent.  “Advent” comes from the Latin–ad venire–meaning “to come to” and denotes a sense of anticipation or heralding the arrival of something.

For Mary, the arrival meant an unplanned pregnancy, the potential loss of everything–her home, her family, and possibly her life.

To be “found with child” before marriage (and during a betrothal) was a complete disaster in Ancient Hebrew culture. It was a tragedy with dire consequences.  Deuteronomy. 22:20 says, that if a man marries a maiden who claimed to be a virgin, and then finds out that she is not, “they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there the townsmen shall stone her to death.”

And Deuteronomy. 22:23 says, “If a man has relations within the walls of a city with a maiden who is betrothed, you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death.  But if they were in the open fields, “the man alone shall die,” [because] the betrothed maiden may have cried out for help but there was no one to come to her aid.”

Mary’s unplanned pregnancy made her extraordinarily vulnerable. Vulnerable denotes being susceptible to being wounded or hurt–and what could possibly be more vulnerable than a young maiden with child?  Mary was susceptible to being wounded by her family, her community, her betrothed.

Vulnerable also means being open to moral attack, criticism, or temptation.

“Look! A young woman, a virgin, shall conceive and bear a son!” Yeah, right. Mary was vulnerable to contempt, scorn, to malicious mocking, to pure logic, to reason, to laughable disbelief, to the wagging of heads, the rolling eyes, the knowing smirks.

C.S. Lewis says of vulnerability:

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Mary allowed herself to become vulnerable–to bear the potential shame, rejection, misunderstanding, disbelief, scorn and contempt that came as an unexpected outcome of her love and obedience to God.

The opposite of vulnerability is to be unbreakable, impenetrable, defensive, oppositional, intractable, insensitive, incapable of empathy or compassion.

Unwittingly, Mary carried within herself the King of Vulnerability.  When the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace, took on human form–and not only human form, but the most vulnerable–a tiny helpless babe, he demonstrated the power of becoming powerless, the majesty of laying aside all majesty, the honor of becoming the lowliest.  When the King of all eternity, the maker and sustainer of life, the genesis of all beauty, goodness, truth and light, came into the world he came stripped of everything but vulnerability.

Imagine the scene: the Eternal God has left the beauty, glory, and splendor of heaven–where “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man”–the wonders there, to be born of blood and water in a stable, dark, dank, cold, spread with urine-soaked hay, surrounded by the warm breath of animals, and their dung, and then wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Matthew Henry says of the “swaddling clothes” that they signify

“rent or torn . . . his very swaddles were ragged and torn.  His being born in a stable and laid in a manger [reflects] the poverty of his parents–had they been rich, room would have been made for them in the inn–being poor they must shift as they could. [The precious lamb of God] was born into an age of the corruption and degeneracy of manners–that a woman of virtue and honor should be used so barbarously  . . . if there had been any common humanity among them, they would not have turned a woman in travail [labor] into a stable.”

In this scene we see the vulnerability of Mary and the vulnerability of this precious infant.

Five-hundred years before Christ, the playwright Aeschylus wrestled with the fate of the perfectly just man–the man who loves justice for the beauty of the thing itself, and not because being just brings worldly blessings.  Plato recorded the thoughts of Aeschylus:

The perfectly just man must not be just merely for the love of justice, and not on account of worldly blessings that might accrue from  its practice.  Therefore the perfectly just man will be tried, will suffer all kinds of ills on account of his justice, and finally be crucified.  Plato–The Republic II

The King of glory chose the way of vulnerability fully, completely, and without reservation  Having perfect foreknowledge he knew what to expect from broken humanity.

We are called to follow the vulnerable One.  We are called to follow Him, who “made himself of no reputation.”  Becoming vulnerable is painful.  We open ourselves to an unknown future, one we don’t have foreknowledge of.

Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy says the following:

Paul Farmer, the renowned physician, who has spent his life trying to cure the world’s sickest and poorest people, one quoted me something that the writer Thomas Merton said: We are bodies of broken bones.  I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human.  We all have our reasons.  Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our

Image result for just mercy bryan stevensoncommon humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, healing.  Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.  We have a choice.  We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing.  Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and as a result, deny our own humanity” (288-289).

I want the compassion and empathy spoken of here, to be a reality in my life.  I know my love for those I ought to love best is often conditional, harsh, strained.  I am so often selfish, prideful, quick to anger, and quick to judge. This is the confession of my own brokenness that in reaching for the light, I might find hope for the darkness in myself.

“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel–God with us.” Our God made himself vulnerable in order to be the God that is with us. He does not stand afar, but stands with us in our sin, our pain, and our brokenness, to bring healing, light, and redemption.  That is the message of Christmas.

While61jsxanwnl-_sx258_bo1204203200_ working on my forthcoming guide Around the World with Picturebooks, I have been writing notes for Katherine Paterson’s The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks.  This delightful folk tale of Japan was new to me, having read mostly Paterson’s middle grade and YA works like The Great Gilly Hopkins, The Bridge to Terabithia, and Jacob Have I Loved.  I have enjoyed all of these and was delighted to find she had written some picturebooks also.  I had known she was raised in China, daughter to missionary parents there, but I wasn’t aware that as an adult she went to Japan for missionary work and grad school.  I also wasn’t aware that she had adopted two daughters (as have I) and that she fostered children as well.  Recently she was interviewed by Lauren Daley regarding how the story of The Great Gilly Hopkins came to her. The Great Gilly Hopkins, if you haven’t read it, concerns a very angry girl (justifiably so) who has been abandoned by her mother and bounced around foster families until she is completely unattached and out of control.   Katherine’s ability to get inside Gilly’s head and portray her so believably struck me deeply all those years ago and has stayed with me. In a recent interview Paterson talks about her inspiration for the book:

I asked Paterson how the story came to her. Turns out Paterson and her late husband — who have two sons, and adopted two daughters — were also foster parents at one point.

“My husband and I were asked to be foster parents to two kids…and I didn’t realize how different it was to be a foster parent, how hard it was to mother children who aren’t yours, [who] would only be with us a short time… And I realized, that in saying that it was difficult, I was saying that these two people were disposable. And I was so ashamed … Because no one is disposable.”

That of course, struck a chord with me since our recent time at #wildandfreetexas talking about issues of social justice.  It recalled the quote from Paul Farmer:

“The idea that some lives matter less, is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” 

And of course, Father Greg Boyle’s words:

We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”Tattoos on the Heart

imgresAll that to say, that if you haven’t read The Great Gilly Hopkins to your family, the Advent season might be a truly fine time to do so.  It is a book that will cultivate a “deep trench of empathy” in your children that will help them to see how blessed they are and how much we need to stand with those who have been thought of as disposable.  The other great news is that The Great Gilly Hopkins was made into a movie (by Katherine Paterson’s sons–which to me as a #wildandfreemama is the greatest legacy we can have as parents–when our children expand on and extend the work we’ve begun!) and it is available for Christmas giving!  You can read more about it here.  So check this out and comment here if you’ve read The Great Gilly Hopkins and if you loved it!

Dear Readers and Literature Soirée friends,

I have had a number of requests for a recipe for the soup that I’ve served at our Literature Soirées.  I apologize for the lateness of getting this posted, but as I am not often caught in the kitchen using a recipe (unless it’s for baking, which I’m not very proficient at!), I generally hesitate, because well, in might not turn out the same!  (This is the Achille’s heal of cooking off the cuff!).

So, in honor of Katie Merrick’s @wineabit patience, I decided to make this soup today after visiting the

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These will turn wonderfully golden brown by adding a 1/2 tsp of sugar and caramelizing at high heat.

Farmer’s market and getting organic leeks, onions, Japanese Red Kuri squash, celery, garlic, etc.  So, here’s the deal.  This wonderful autumnal soup can be made with either Kabocha squash or Japanese Red Kuri squash.  I have made it with either one and while I prefer the Japanese Red Kuri, it is so similar to Kabocha, that there will be little noticeable difference.  So here goes: Japanese Red Kuri or Kabocha Soup

Caramelize together in 1/4 C bacon fat plus 1/4 C butter or clarified butter (if you’re Paleo)

3 large quartered onions (nothing needs fine chopping as all ingredients will soften in broth)

2 large leeks

1 full head garlic (10-12 cloves)

4 stalks celery with leaves

4-5 carrots (I prefer the Nantes carrots from Farmer’s if you can find them–they’re wonderfully sweet-of course, a French img_3753variety!)

1 heaping teaspoon sea salt

2 heaping tsp (crushed)  Herbs de Provence

1/2 tsp. sugar to help everything caramelize until golden brown

Meanwhile . . .

Halve 2 Kabocha or Red Kuri squash and roast at 350* for 45 minutes to one hour (until tender)

When tender discard seeds (unless you’re really resourceful) peel, and set aside.

When the vegetables are all wonderfully golden brown add 6-8 cups homemade chicken broth. (this takes the soup to another level as you probably know, but store bought will suffice too.)

Add 1 C white wine

img_3755Add roasted squash to this mixture and simmer until everything is tender

Use an emersion blender or regular blender to puree everything together and then salt and pepper to taste.

If desired finish with a dollop of creme fraîche or plain yogurt or sour cream.  Sprinkle on a bit of baby chives. Serve with hot, crunchy, French sourdough!

If you do make this, please post and let me know how it turns out!

Bon Appetite!

 

Dear Readers,

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

This summer while babysitting three of my adorable grandsons, I read the oldest grandson Charlotte’s Web for the first time.  He is a bright little guy for 7 years old, who loves Simagestar Wars (he practically has all the movies memorized), action figures, Cars, Planes (both movies) and generally boyish stuff.  I had some reservations as to how much he would enjoy the story of Fern, Wilber, and Charlotte, (there being no Jedi Warriors, Luke Skywalkers, or battles with light sabers).  What will he think of this old-fashioned tale of barnyard animals, tender affection and lasting friendship?

I needn’t have worried.  Even for a tiny 7 year-old Jedi warrior, this classic still strikes a chord.  It was a joy to see him (not much of a cuddler) cuddle close and listen attentively to this sweet story.  He asked all the right questions and we had a special connection for those precious few days.  It is a memory I’ll treasure and I trust he will too.

So it was with delight that I heard about the publication today of Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet.  You can hear the full broadcast here and I think you’ll find the collage illustrations enticing and enchanting!  I’m so happy that E.B. White is getting some well-deserved attention.  The enduring nature of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan and his contributions to other children’s writers make this a wonderful homage to a writer who should have won a Newbery Medal.  The year Charlotte’s Web was published it lost the Newbery Medal to The Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark–a book seldom read today. (It did garner a Newbery Honor). In The New York Times, Eudora Welty wrote of Charlotte’s Web, “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done”.  And the astounding sales (78 million copies) and the book’s translation into 23 languages proves that simple, tender, and old-fashioned stories can still capture the heart of a boy–even a Jedi warrior.

White wrote everything on a manual typewriter. The author typed up all White's poems on a manual typewrite to include them as parts of the illustrations.

E.B. White wrote everything on a manual typewriter. Melissa Sweet typed up all White’s poems on a manual typewrite to include them as parts of the illustrations.

Hello Readers!

Pictured here are just a few of the wonderful literature selections we will be exploring during my Literature Soirée on the Medieval and Renaissance era. There are a still a few places left, so you can find all the info and grab a spot at this link. I’m excited to share this time with you and all the lovely mamas that are already signed up! The Renaissance era offers such richness to explore, and the seminal texts we will cover will give you the confidence to approach this era with passion and joy!  Remember we will also be discussing Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, so get out your copy and do a review of this important and (for me at least!) life-changing book!  And finally, we have the lovely Bernadette Speakes scheduled to share with us some of her artistry in drama!  So come expecting to be enriched, inspired, challenged and equipped for an amazing adventure of learning!  Looking forward to seeing you soon!  Rea

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