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The Wind Blows Free

Author(s): 
Loula Grace Erdman
Copyright: 
1952
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Series: 
Texas Panhandle
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
271 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

After Papa's store burns down in East Texas, the Pierce family decides to take up farming and moves to the wilds of the Texas Panhandle where life is challenging and money is tight. Papa has built a "dugout" cabin and the family makes do with circumstances far different from those to which they are accustomed.

The Panhandle in the 1890s is quite barren - just a few ranchers and cowboys about and hardly a tree to be found. It's a tough land to survive in, especially for farming families like the Pierces. They grow accustomed to things they would never have dreamed of in the past - like collecting old cattle bones to sell, burning "cow chips" for fuel and living with a dirt floor. But somehow they learn to appreciate their homemade Christmas, the dependability of the cowboys and "the wind that blows free."

15 year old Melinda is the particular heroine of the story. She is reluctant to leave her grandmother, her school and her close friends. The new life is hard and strange and some days she just can't seem to get anything right.

This is a delightful family story with plenty of adventure and just a bit of romance. I really didn't want it to end (and not many books have that effect on me). My daughter and I especially enjoyed the balance between living simply and appreciating education. The "homemade Christmas" was a particular favorite - quite inspiring actually!

Review Date: 
12-2-06
Reviewed by: 

The Winged Watchman

Book cover: 'The Winged Watchman'
Author(s): 
Hilda Van Stockum
Copyright: 
1962
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
191 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

A wonderful intelligent, faith-filled story of courage and hope in the midst of great hardships The story centers around a Catholic family in Holland during the Nazi occupation. There is plenty of excitement as the boys discover and give aid to a downed English pilot and deliver messages for the "underground." Their family "grows" as they take in fugitives and war orphans which brings both hardship and joy. Hilda Van Stockum writes an excellent tale, making the reader sympathize with the character and understand the time period without making it either depressing or too "happily ever after." The story contains much wisdom about life, faith, family and love. This is probably our very favorite title from Bethlehem Books.

Note: If having your children "believe in Santa Claus" is important to you, there is a chapter which should be approached with caution.

Click here for Discussion Questions

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

The Winged Watchman (audio)

Author(s): 
Hilda van Stockum
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

With a gripping story and a spellbinding narrator, The Winged Watchman audiobook is a winner. Set during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Holland during WWII, Joris, 10-years-old, and his older brother Dirk Jan are the main characters in this story. From the opening chapter in the book, when Joris saves a young puppy from being beaten, they struggle--alone or together--to do what is right in a world that seems to be falling apart.

Throughout the book in fact, they, as well as their parents, are faced with choices, choices that involve risks, even death. Should they help the young girl left lying on the side of the road, the airman hiding in the mill, the man escaping from deportation? The risks they face are very real as they soon find out when their neighbor and his son, the same age as Joris, are taken away after British airmen are found hiding in his barn. As Joris stares at his classmate's empty desk in school, he is reminded all too vividly that his neighbor could be him.

Who is it that could have done such a wicked thing as to reveal the airmen's presence? It could be none other that Leendert Schenderhans, another neighbor boy, only not just a "boy" but a young man of eighteen, who had become a landwatcher, a Dutchman who enforces the laws of the Nazi occupation.

He too plays a critical part in the story. Joris has to only observe how he acts to realize that he does not want to be like him, cruel, selfish, lazy, and greedy. The reader doesn't have to be told he is mean, through his actions, we become all too keenly aware of his lack of virtue. More than just a nasty person, he is a person to be feared, because of his power.

Not just another story about WWII, this is a story every child should read or hear, because it not only offers children a very real view of history, but it also explores timeless issues they have to deal with every day, even today. How can I forgive my enemy?

This is a theme that is repeated throughout the story. Especially memorable is the scene when Joris comments that he thought he would get holes in his knees from praying for so many people. The story goes on to say, "At first she [mother] would not pray for the Germans, though Father said that was wrong. 'We have to pray for our enemies,' he said. 'What sort of Christian are you?' So then Mother prayed for the Germans too."

You won't be disappointed! This is a story to treasure, made especially enjoyable by a wonderful narrator, who makes this an absolute listening pleasure.

Click here for Discussion Questions Click here to listen to an audio sample on the Bethlehem Books website

Additional notes: 

Unabridged audio book, approximately 4 hours, 3 tapes or 4 CDs

Click here for Discussion Questions

Review Date: 
8-16-04
Reviewed by: 

The Wolfling, A Documentary Novel of the Eighteen-Seventies

Book cover: 'The Wolfling, A Documentary Novel of the Eighteen-Seventies'
Author(s): 
Sterling North
ISBN: 
140 361 669
Copyright: 
1969
Publisher: 
Penguin/Puffin
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
223 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Wolfling is the follow up to Sterling North's Newbery Honor book Rascal. The two are loosely related in that they both take place in the wilderness of Wisconsin. Rascal is largely an autobiography of North's unusual childhood in Wisconsin in the early part of the 20th century while Wolfling takes place in the time that North's father was a boy soon after the Civil War. It is based on the letters that he sent North about his childhood.

The bottom line of the story is that the main character, Robbie, must figure out who he is, and what he wants to do with his life. He comes to discover this through his relationships with both virtuous and morally suspect people who live in his town, and through his relationship with his mother and father, who are going through a similar discernment. Robbie learns how to deal with the morally suspect characters without condoning their actions, while emulating the virtuous characters. His parents are portrayed are virtuous, hard working people who must deal with the hardships of life on the frontier, the hardest of which is the loss of several children. Robbie makes virtuous choices, and in that, the book is a good choice for young adolescents.

North weaves actual historical events and real historical characters into the story and in some ways this is the most interesting part of the story. He spends a good deal of time introducing the reader to Thure Kumlein, a Swedish naturalist who is largely unknown, but made great contributions in natural history research at the time. If I lived in Wisconsin I would be seeking out his works and trying to travel to the part of Wisconsin where this story takes place.

In the back of the book, North gives scientific and historical information about the events described in the story. He describes the Panic of 1873 and the great Chicago fire as adeptly as he describes the habits of wolves in that region. Speaking of wolves, you might wonder why this review doesn't mention the wolfling so far. The dog is important as a plot device to move the story of Robbie's coming of age, but he is not central to the story. However, your more subtle readers may see an analogy between the wolfling and Robbie. The wolfling straddles two worlds, the wild and the tame, just as Robbie straddles much the same two worlds, the "wild" unruliness of the frontier, and the "tame" of schooling and civilization.

I couldn't help comparing this book to North's more widely acclaimed Rascal, and I like this one much better. In Rascal, North spends a lot of time "teaching" about his evolutionary and social philosophies. I had decided my children shouldn't read it until they were older, even though they would love all the outdoor exploits of the main character. I think that Wolfling is a better story with a better message. And, the best part as far as my children are concerned is that Robbie doesn't have to give up the wolfling in the end.

Review Date: 
5-15-04
Reviewed by: 

The Wonderful Day

Author(s): 
Elizabeth Coatsworth
Copyright: 
2006
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Number of pages: 
139 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

A storm is brewing in the air. As the hot July day grows sticky with humidity and towering thunderclouds begin to form, the excitement begins to mount for Sally as she eagerly awaits the arrival of her friend Pierre in The Wonderful Day, the fifth and final book of the series.

What begins as a sunny, summer day soon changes as dark, menacing thunderclouds cover the sky. But the clouds are not the only thing that is threatening to spoil Sally’s day. Andrew is acting most peculiar. He doesn’t seem to share Sally’s excitement at seeing Pierre after so many years.

Uncle Joseph doesn’t seem to be himself either. He is pensive and brooding. Today, he is hoping to bid on a piece of government land for sale. But will his rash decision to build a sawmill before he owns the land cause him to lose Five Bushel Farm? A slick stranger has entered the town, announcing his grand plans to buy all the plots for sale.

That same stranger, the devious Mr. Standforth, has threatened to buy her beautiful white horse, Meknes, after he promises to destroy her Uncle’s fortune. That wicked Mr. Standforth, who delights in other’s misfortunes, has already brought ruin to several other families. Will he ruin Uncle Joseph too?

Unexpectedly, Sally may be the key to save the day, but will she arrive at the land auction too late?

If the reader has read the other books in the series, she will enjoy the bits and pieces and characters that return like old friends. Sally’s good humor and charm make her an especially appealing character to young people. She does not lose hope in the face of adversity.

Review Date: 
7-12-06
Reviewed by: 

The World of Language Series

Book cover: 'The World of Language Series'
Author(s): 
Ruth Heller
Subject(s): 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This series of six books introduces young children to concepts of grammar through very entertaining and sometimes humorous poetry and extremely colorful pictures. The titles are: Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs, Behind the Mask: A Book About Prepositions,A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns, Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns, Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book About Adjectives and Up, Up, and Away: A Book About Adverbs. Within the context of a fast-moving collection of widely-varying and very colorful illustrations, these poems explain, list and give examples of each of the parts of speech. For example, in the book Behind the Mask, you'll find the following sentences (emphasis is the same here as it is in the text) " Of PREPOSITIONS have no fear. They help to make directions clear. Along the northern shore bear east... beyond this green, reptilian beast... past its hungry, gaping mouth... veer directly... to the south, toward a place where mermaids flock upon, beside and near a rock." These particular sentences are spread out over six pages which include pictures of an antique-looking map illustrated with ships, a treasure chest, a Tritan, etc., a large pictures of a green serpent and a page full of mermaids. My children have really enjoyed these books and I have to admit that they are a decent refresher course for moms as well.

Unfortunately, almost every book has something (usually only one thing in each book) of a possibly-objectionable nature, such as: some scantily-clad mermaids and illustrations of witches (although appropriately portrayed as ugly and scary). The series is also recommended by Seton Home Study in their online reading resource lists.

Review Date: 
5-13-2000
Reviewed by: 

The World of the Trapp Family

Book cover: 'The World of the Trapp Family'
Author(s): 
William Anderson
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Anderson Publications
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
168 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Whenever I hear the phrase "based on a true story", I want to know what the true story was. The World of the Trapp Family will provide just that for anyone interested in the real family behind The Sound of Music. The movie is just factual enough that Sound of Music fans will surely enjoy the flesh and blood behind the story. However, the real family is so much more vivid and fascinating than the movie that this book will probably be enjoyed even by those who didn't care for the movie (or grew tired of seeing it too many times.)

This in-depth history of the Trapp family (shortened from "von Trapp" when they became American citizens) begins with young Captain Georg von Trapp - a highly-decorated hero of the Austrian Navy during World War I. He and his wife Agathe (whose grandfather invented the torpedo) had just started a family a few years before the war broke out in 1914. The happy couple had seven children - Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina - before Agathe's untimely death of scarlet fever in 1922.

Maria Kutschera was a twenty-two year old postulant at Nonnberg Abbey when her Mother Superior assigned her to become a teacher for one of the von Trapp children who was too sickly to attend school. The Captain and Maria were married within the year and Maria gave birth to three more children: Rosmarie, Eleanore and Johannes. Although there was a certain amount of musical talent in the family to begin with, Maria introduced to the family to a great variety of beautiful music (sacred music, traditional folk songs, etc.). Music became a big part of their lives and something that knit the family together very tightly.

After the family fortune was lost (1932) in events leading up to World War II, the family took boarders into their home in order to simply be able to keep their home. Because of these events, they became acquainted with a young priest, Fr. Franz Wasner in 1935. Fr. Wasner was a canon lawyer and musician who became interested in the family's musical talent and eventually became their musical mentor, conductor and composer who emigrated with them to America during the difficulties of World War II. He introduced them to an even greater variety of great vocal music and individual family members became skilled with the recorder and other instruments as well. Reluctantly, they began to accept invitations to sing before audiences and eventually came to realize that this was part of God's plan for them.

After the Nazi's took over Austria in 1938, the family had to turn down three separate propositions from the enemy: Captain von Trapp was offered the command of a German submarine, the eldest son - who was just barely out of medical school - was offered the post as head of one of the great Vienna hospitals, and the family choir was invited to sing for Hitler's birthday celebration. Each of these offered possibilities of fame and fortune, but the family felt that these would also compromise their basic obligations to God and country. Leaving behind their large estate and nearly all of their belongings, they traveled to America where they were invited to give an extensive concert tour.

The story continues to follow the von Trapp family as they make their way through the War years (with two sons fighting for the U.S.), become American citizens, tour as a choir for twenty years, establish themselves and a farm on a lovely site in Vermont and many other events all the way up to recent photos of the six children who are still alive today.

The book is brimming with hundreds of glossy photos (black and white of older family photos, color of beautiful scenes from Austria and America and more recent pictures) that are a real feast for the eyes. Their lives were so intertwined with significant parts of history, music and culture that this book - along with Maria Trapp's autobiography - could make an interesting supplement to a study of the 20th century. The beauty of the Catholic culture lived fully by the Trapp family through music, traditions, celebrations of Catholic faith and other aspects of their lives will make this especially enjoyed by Catholic families of today.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Donated for review by the author, William Anderson.

Review Date: 
11-03-01
Reviewed by: 

The Writing on the Hearth

Author(s): 
Cynthia Harnett
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

England in the mid 1400's, Catholic perspective. Because this book does deal with the subject of witchcraft, I think it's probably appropriate for upper grade school and high school. It would be helpful to be familiar with the life of Saint Joan of Arc first. The story is of a teenage boy named Stephen who dreams of attending Oxford some day. He gets mixed up in a mystery/adventure which threatens to destroy that dream. The story nicely, but subtly shows his intellectual development as he matures. He discovers the importance of study in learning to discern the truth. One of the characters gives an excellent description of Classical Education and explains the Trivium and Quadrivium. The story provides lots of good discussion material, especially since the author seems to purposely provide some obscurity with regard to judging the character of some people.

Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

The Writing Road To Reading

Book cover: 'phonics'
Author(s): 
Romalda Bishop Spalding
Copyright: 
1990
Publisher: 
William Morrow Co, New York
Number of pages: 
287 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Just as this book is much more difficult to use thanTeach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, it is also more difficult to review. A companion book by Wanda Sanseri, Teaching Reading At Home, organizes the information into a one page flow chart, then expands each item in the flow chart systematically so you feel comfortable with what to teach when. The Riggs Institute also has an extensive web site (www.riggsinst.org) devoted to this and a lot of supplementary materials for the Writing Road To Reading.

WRTR is based on putting the 45 sounds of English into 70 phonograms or ways of spelling the 45 sounds in writing. A simple diacritical marking system is taught. An example of this is the letter a. It is introduced as the sounds of a (short sound), a (long sound), a (ahh sound) (the terms short and long are not used).The first sound of a is the most common so it is not marked, the second sound of a is underlined to show that it is saying the second sound and the third sound of a has a little number 3 written over it. By the way, consonant blends in which each letter still retains it sound are not taught.

The beginning of the program is the hardest. You introduce 4 phonograms each day by showing a flash card of the letter while saying the sound(s) of it. The student says the sound. You show how to write the letter. They are grouped by similar shape so you start with a, c, d, g and o which are formed similarly. There are detailed instructions as to presenting this. Being a "fine-motor-skill-challenged" family this was the most difficult. After three weeks the student should know the first 54 sounds. They then begin a spelling notebook. The words are dictated by the teacher. The students say each phonogram sound or syllable in it, then write each one, then read it. Then they mark it appropriately. After 150 words are presented by this method they then begin reading. They claim that reading is never taught, that after explicit, intensive phonics instruction and the encoding of words by spelling in this manner children are just able to read. They spell their way into reading. My children already read when we started this program so I cannot vouch for that. There are also 29 spelling rules such as the 5 ways silent e's are used in English taught along the way.

Spalding did not want children to be reading twaddle (not her word but appropriate here) but the finest in children's literature. There is a long appendix in the back of recommended books grouped by grade level.

120 pages of the book are devoted to a spelling list which is to be used for grades 1 through 4. Each year a new spelling notebook is begun using a sewn composition notebook. All the phonograms and spelling rules are reviewed by writing them in each year's new notebook. 30 spelling words a week are recommended by Spalding and 20 a week by Sanseri. With my children I use 20 per week. I introduce 5 per day M-Th then have a test on Friday. They are reviewed and practiced by being used in sentences, playing hangman, etc.

Even though my children were already reading when we began the program I feel it was very valuable to give a thorough review of phonics and to apply phonics in the spelling lesson, not in the reading lesson. I plan to continue using it as a long term spelling program. I think the way spelling is taught in this program makes sense. My children's reading continues to improve and we have become comfortable with using it. By the way Spalding says the lessons take 3 hours a day, Sanseri says that in a home situation it takes about an hour per day. So far with both children at 2 different levels entailing 2 separate lessons it has never taken more than 1 hour per day for us. This program was recommended to me very highly by many people and I am glad I took their advice. The key phrase which sums up this complex program is "spell your way into reading."

Additional notes: 

Copyrights: 1957 revised, 1990.

Reviewed by: 

The Year and Our Children

Author(s): 
Mary Reed Newland
Publisher: 
Sophia Institute Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
328 pages
Subject(s): 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Originally published in the 1950s, The Year and Our Children has been the gold standard by which all other liturgical year activity books are measured. And now, Sophia Institute Press has brought this beloved gem back into print. Those of us with old dog-eared and grease stained copies, and all those who coveted those well-worn editions, thrill at the news of widespread availability of this treasure. I think I was trembling on the phone when I ordered my new copy.

This new edition is larger and easier to read than the original, and the editors at Sophia Institute Press have removed some of the more outdated information and inserted quite a few helpful footnotes. Mrs. Newland proceeds through the year, beginning at the beginning of the Church’s year in Advent and ending with All Souls and Thanksgiving. For each major feast, she describes family activities, prayers, and traditions and explains the origins of the observation of these feast days. She also explains some of the more mysterious or unknown observances, such as Rogation and ember days, and shows in each case how the family can participate in the observances in the home. I especially appreciate her treatment of All Hallows Eve, reclaiming it as a Catholic holiday.

These are more than just craft ideas or ways to decorate the home for the different holidays (though that is included); these are substantial Christian exercises to make the life of the Church real in our families. So for example, when we decorate the Christmas tree, after spending much time making significant and beautiful ornaments, there is a lovely blessing for the tree: a Psalm prayed as a group alternating lines with a reading from Ezekiel.

While the Christmas and Epiphany sections are among my favorites there are wonderful ideas in every part of the book and much to meditate upon as we move through the year of the Church. One line from the section on Lent has always stuck with me. It is so simple, simple enough for children, and yet deep enough to reflect upon all of Lent: For Him to redeem us was not an easy thing. Jesus hurt.

This book would be a thoughtful and much appreciated gift for any family who wants to enhance their participation in the year of the Church and create traditions their children will love. It would be kept for years . . . and become a well loved, dog-eared, and grease stained treasure.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1-30-2008
Reviewed by: 

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