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Archive for the ‘Character Through Literature’ Category

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.



 

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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!

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“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
― C.S. Lewisimgres

In July I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the delightful Sarah Mackenzie for her Read-Aloud Revival podcast.  It was more like a friendly chat over coffee as Sarah and I shared thoughts about life, literature, reading-aloud, children’s book publishing, history studies and our mutual love for good books.  The podcast is now up and you can access it here.

Sarah has recently published a book about home schooling entitled Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace.  As a young mom of six little ones, Sarah knows how hectic and demanding the homeschooling lifestyle can be and offers great advice for letting go of striving and finding a deep peace in your heart and home.

One of the topics we discussed briefly was the current educational trend of teaching history by “beginning at the beginning.” Those who are interested in a little more in-depth look at this topic might enjoy reading, “When Should I Teach Ancient History, which you can access here.  Memoria Press has also written a brief intro on this topic entitled “History is Not Chronological, which you can access here.imgres-2

In closing, one of the questions Sarah asked was what book I had read as a child that most impacted me.  I always come back to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for the book that I believe truly, as C. S. Lewis coined, “baptized my imagination.”  I read it as a teen or young adult, but it opened the eyes of my imagination in a way no other book ever had.  We never know which book will do that for us or our children–thus the reason to read, read, read!  But read the best books first, because you never know if you’ll have time to read them all!

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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!

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