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A Day on Skates

Book cover
Author(s): 
Hilda Van Stockum
Illustrator(s): 
Hilda Van Stockum
Copyright: 
1934
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
44 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Newbery Medal runner-up 1935

This beautiful new edition of Hilda Van Stockum's little masterpiece was an exciting development in our household. You see, we missed the original Bethlehem Books run of this favorite title and ended up with an old copy from eBay with cracked and brittle pages. We still loved it of course.

A Day on Skates is a simple story of a Dutch brother and sister who go on a skating picnic with their teacher and classmates for a whole day. For modern children, the setting and events open up the imagination to far away times and places. There are humorous episodes and simple lessons in humanity present in the story. The writing is lovely and engaging. The pen-and-ink illustrations and occasional full-page color paintings are a perfect complement to the story.

A particular strength of her writing is her sympathetic view of the human condition. Here is a perfect example from the story:

Every Dutch boy and girl loves to skate, and every Dutch man and woman, too. And no wonder. Holland with its canals and streams has many miles of ice when the cold at last arrives. Both Evert and Afke had learned to skate when they were very small. Indeed, Afke had been only three when she first tottered on pigmy skates, carefully held up by her father. By now she had become quite an expert, and Evert was even better. He had won several prizes in his school's skating tournaments. One of the prizes had been a beautiful book called Robinson Crusoe, which he had read so often that the cover had come off. Another time he won a silver pencil, which he gave to Afke, and the last time it had been a book entitled Good Henry, the story of a boy who was always good. This he had promptly traded for a penknife.

We bring this book out again and again, particularly on chilly winter days. Although the text is a bit longer than your average picture book, it's broken up into chapters. We tend to read a chapter at a time spread out throughout a day.

This would make a lovely gift for children of all ages.

Review Date: 
12-5-2007
Reviewed by: 

A Doorway of Amethyst

Beginning Geology
Book Cover
Author(s): 
Mary Daly
Illustrator(s): 
Margy Jakos
Copyright: 
2007
Publisher: 
Hedge School
Binding: 
Spiralbound
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Here is a geology text that assumes no conflict between Christianity and science and is faithful to Church teaching. This book covers basic topics in geology, including the Earth's age and composition, the dynamics of continental plate motion, classification of rocks and soil, effects of glaciers, radiometric dating, and more. The illustrations are lovely and hand-drawn – not what you would expect in a textbook. However, I prefer a few glossy photographs as well, but you can find these on the internet. I was unfamiliar with many of the geologic terms so I learned a lot along side my 12-year-old daughter. I especially appreciated the author's explanation of evolution in the appendix and Chapter 11 on the geologic column in the Williston Basin.

I allotted 18 weeks to finish this book, but it took 22 weeks, rushing a bit. The book has suggested research activities at the end of most chapters, but we did not do very many of them. (I had already ”planned” one semester of chemistry to follow one semester of geology.) The last chapter consists of short biographies of mostly Catholic scientists. There is also a suggested reading list at the end of the book. Exercises are included at the end of each chapter - lots of crosswords, matching, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, etc. There are also poems interspersed throughout the text to aid in memorization. If we had done more research activities and added supplemental reading, this book would expanded into a full-year course. There were no tests included so it was necessary to make some to reinforce the material.

Mary Daly mostly separates scientific considerations from philosophical ones. She sticks her opinions in the appendices. However, the one exception is in the first chapter when she explains charitably that Young Earth Creationism is inconsistent with scientific evidence.

Here are some of the ideas (as far as I can understand) that really distinguish this book from most geology texts aimed at the home school market:

  • The text is consistent with our Catholic Faith.
  • Radiometric dating of rocks shows that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
  • While we are all descended from two first parents, the fossil record points to a single "family tree of life" of which we are a part.
  • Evolution of new species by natural selection is an incomplete explanation of the fossil record. In an appendix, the author suggests that additional mechanism is needed to account for the sudden appearance of new species in the fossil record. John Davison, a professor of zoology, developed a semi-meiotic hypothesis as just this sort of mechanism. I found this very intriguing since it is compatible with what is observed and is testable. Mary Daly also suggests that some paleontologists have a philosophical bias that prevents them from considering other scientific explanations.
  • The geologic record does not support a worldwide flood. Mary Daly explains there is not enough water on Earth to do this. She suggests that Noah's flood was probably a catastrophic flood that affected the part of the world known to the inspired writer.

Overall, I think A Doorway of Amethyst is a very good, well-written geology text. I am grateful that Mary Daly took the time to write it. I recommend it and plan to use it again. Next time, I would want to write cumulative quizzes for each chapter, allow more time for supplemental reading, and incorporate more projects and writing assignments. (I can dream, anyway.)

You can view sample pages on the author's Hedge School website

This is a 1st edition of the text, and my daughter found quite a few typographical errors in it.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Reviewed by Pam Blakeslee

Review Date: 
5-31-2012

A Family Journal

A Homeschooling Mother's Companion
Book cover: 'A Family Journal: A Homeschooling Mother's Companion'
Author(s): 
Rita Munn
Copyright: 
2003
Publisher: 
Catholic Heritage Curricula
Binding: 
Spiralbound
Number of pages: 
156 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This book is a collection of thirty-six "journal entries" (one for each week of the school-year) - stories about the author's family life and homeschooling intertwined with scripture, recipes and her own reflections about life and God's love. (Neat, huh?) The stories are touching, funny, encouraging, sad, uplifting - just like life in this imperfect world (particularly with a family) really is. This makes the book so comforting to mothers who are always struggling with the realities of life and are so often presented with a perfect picture of an unattainable ideal that they are "supposed" to be working on. (No wonder so many of us feel inadequate.) Rita humbly shares her pictures of life in a way that gently encourages mothers to perservere in their vocation and grow closer to God and to their families. This book is a real gem that will be passed around to friends and laughed and cried over.

Rita Munn is a Catholic homeschool mother of ten. She is part of the Mom-to-Mom Connections team at Catholic Heritage Curricula.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
6-23-03
Reviewed by: 

A Grace Given

Author(s): 
Kent Gilges
Copyright: 
2008
Publisher: 
Cider Press Publishing
Number of pages: 
260 pages
Review: 

On January 21, my children and I were visiting my mother for her birthday when a dreadful thing happened. Just as my eight-year-old daughter was leaning over to give her a kiss, Mom began to have a violent seizure. The staff of the rehabilitation center where she was already fighting back from a stroke ushered us out of the room, rushing her immediately to Good Samaritan Hospital.

The very next day, January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, A Grace Given by Kent Gilges arrived in my mailbox. Never was a book more aptly named because that is precisely what it became for me during those following weeks of uncertainty and turmoil.

A Grace Given tells the story of Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges (“Elie”), an infant diagnosed with a brain tumor at seven months of age. Recounted with unspeakable tenderness by her father Kent, Elie’s tale unfolds before us so that we are swept up in the beauty, fragility, dignity, and inestimable worth of her life. Throughout his personal narrative, Elie’s father contemplates the question of human suffering with authenticity and wisdom, so that the book is somehow at once both heartrending and uplifting — yet never for an instant depressing.

It has been said that a great book should be read three times in life: once in childhood, once in early adulthood, and again in old age. I would venture to say that A Grace Given deserves to be read at least three times: once at the outset of marriage, once in the middle of life, and again in old age.

It should be required reading for couples about to be married because it illustrates better than any book I have ever read how the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage unites a man and wife, drawing them closer, even in the midst of life’s heaviest crosses. As I read their story, Kent, his wife Liz, and baby Elie became for me a reflection of the Holy Family on the flight into Egypt, calling to mind the strength and devotion of St. Joseph, Our Lady’s faith and obedience to God’s will, and the Christ Child’s tender innocence. In this age of throw-away marriages, Kent and Liz show what Our Lord intended when He said, “And the two shall become one flesh.” We recognize plainly that, throughout her many sufferings, little Elie was blessed because her parents’ deep love for one another surrounded her always.

It should be read again in middle age, when one’s parents are aging or sick. The book became (and continues to be) a balm to my soul as I witnessed all my mother has endured these many months, helping me to understand that sorrow draws us closer to God, and the gift of life is always worth celebrating, even in its darkest hours. It should be read again in old age, when its lessons on strength in suffering and relief in selflessness are no doubt best understood.

My favorite person in the book is Liz, and I found myself not only identifying with her as a mother, but wishing I could be more like her. She is strong and loving in the face of adversity, endlessly devoted to her child, and completely trusting in God’s care. She turns to the rosary, prayer, and the sacraments in her time of need, so that she becomes a model for all parents, particularly those who suffer greatly. One of the most touching scenes in the book takes place when Elie is in the hospital after major surgery. Even in the midst of pain and fears, Liz quietly ministers to other mothers of desperately ill children, cheering them with words of hope and faith. Liz’s sanctity and kindness become a shining light for her husband, child, and everyone around her.

A Grace Given is a uniquely “Long Island” story with much of the action taking place in Port Washington and Manhasset, making it a particularly interesting read. It details a husband’s journey from skepticism toward religion in a way that will leave you feeling grateful for the gift of the Catholic faith. Above all, it is a testament to the exquisite beauty of family life that is as deep and abiding as a father’s heart.
Read it, and you will never be the same.

Originally published in the Long Island Catholic. (used with permission)

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
8-2-2008
Reviewed by: 

A Landscape with Dragons

Book cover: 'A Landscape with Dragons'
Author(s): 
Michael O'Brien
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
261 pages
Subject(s): 
Review: 

This book has helped me to understand the importance of stories in a child's spiritual and intellectual formation. Mr. O'Brien explains how mythology, fiction, fantasy and fairy tales help children understand the real world - both what we can see and what we can't see. Stories help teach children the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Unfortunately, many fiction stories give the wrong messages about good and bad. Mr. O'Brien gives parents the tools to tell good from bad and includes his own analysis of some popular stories and several Disney movies. Some of the work is rather scholarly and perhaps even heavy-handed at times. In particular, his theories about good fantasy, which even the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings can't quite live up to, seem overly particular to me.

Because of all the problems with offensive content in modern books and movies, I think it's easy for parents to fall into judging books and movies JUST by whether or not they are "clean." The problem with this is that some materials that appear to be non-offensive have problems of a more subtle nature. Conversely, there are some really fine books and movies that have some unfortunate scenes or even some scenes that seem offensive but are important to the story. A Landscape With Dragons helps sort out what's good and what's bad in a meaningful, rather than superficial way.

This book also contains an extensive recommended reading list compiled by the staff of Bethlehem Books. It's a very helpful resource categorized into Picture Books, Easy Readers, Short Chapter Books, Books for Intermediate Readers, and Adult Titles which are suitable for older teens. Included are many good secular titles that you can probably find in your local library. Also, titles are marked to let you know which ones are currently in print.

In keeping with the notion of deciding for yourself on some of the finer points (and remembering that good Catholics will disagree on some of these details), it is interesting to note that there are a few discrepencies between Michael O'Brien's recommendations and those present in the recommended book list from Bethlehem Books.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

A Life of Our Lord for Children

Author(s): 
Marigold Hunt
Illustrator(s): 
Ted Schluenderfritz
ISBN: 
1 928 832 644
Copyright: 
2003
Publisher: 
Sophia Institute Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
189 pages
Review: 

Sophia Institute Press has reprinted another gem! In an easy conversational manner, Marigold Hunt tells the story of the Life of Christ. She begins by spending one chapter on the time before Christ, the promise, and the prophets. Then she tells of his birth and young life, his preaching and miracles, and his death and resurrection. The last chapter, His Kingdom is the Church, tells of the Pentecost.

The pictures make this edition really special. There are thirty, done in an almost icon-like style. I have two favorites. The first is of the storm on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus sleeps and the apostles panic. The view is from above. The second is a picture that has a small drawing of each apostle with some symbol to represent who he is. The spot for Judas is darkened. My children had a fun time deciding the name of each apostle based on the symbols. Another interesting detail is that the artist is a homeschooling dad!

When I first saw the book, I wondered at the need of it. If you wanted your children to know the story of Christ, I thought, why not read the Bible. But as I read it I saw that the way Mrs. Hunt tells the story makes a big difference. She claims that she is not telling everything that is in the bible, but a little, so that the children understand and can someday read the bible themselves. It is almost like a conversation she is having, with stops for explaining things, just as I would tell my children about something. For example when she talks about the coming of the Messiah, she explains why He is called the Messiah and the Christ and the King. I thought the storytelling fashion, the second person manner of writing, must be what it was like in the early days of the Church when the story of Christ passed to people by word of mouth, or like in later ages when not everyone read, but yet knew the story of Christ. For this reason I think it would make a great read aloud.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Copyrights 1939/2003

Review Date: 
8-10-04
Reviewed by: 

A Life With Karol,

My Forty-Year Friendship with the Man Who Became Pope
Author(s): 
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz
Gian Franco Svidercoschi
Translator(s): 
Adrian J. Walker
Copyright: 
2007
Publisher: 
Doubleday
Binding: 
Glued Hardcover
Number of pages: 
260 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Absolutely fascinating! A Life with Karol offers an intimate portrait of Pope John Paul II.

Written by his personal secretary of 40 years, Cardinal Dziwisz, we are privileged to partake of an up close and personal view of Pope John Paul II and we are not disappointed.

Together with Gian Franco Svidercoschi, they discuss the life and times of Pope John Paul II, beginning with the first time the Cardinal met Pope John Paul II until his death. Gian Franco Svidercoschi asks provocative questions, sets the scene, or provides political commentary, while Cardinal Dziwisz shares anecdotal information. Together the conversation flows back and forth.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Pope John Paul II's life is absolutely riveting, because of the extraordinary feats he accomplished during his lifetime. In looking back at Pope John Paul II's years as a young archbishop of Krakow, we feel the tension mount as he challenges the authority of the Polish communist government with his desire to build the church at Nowa Huta. We follow him across the world as he reaches out to many countries with his many missions of love. We experience perhaps the biggest surprise and disappointment of his life as he meets with his attempted assassin, Ali Agca. These are just a few of the many topics touched on.

More than a biography of what he accomplished, we also witness his hopes and dreams, the reasons why he did the things he did. We also witness his disappointments and confusion that people would misunderstand his purposes.

Through it all, we are inspired to follow his heroic example of love and to also fearlessly proclaim the truth of Christ's transforming love. Through his lived example of daring love, Pope John Paul II gives the world a blueprint of how to address the many controversial topics of contemporary society.

Take the time to read a story of inspiration and love, the life of Pope John Paul II. A Life with Karol will allow you to see a new and intimate side of Pope John Paul II. It may even inspire you to enthusiastically follow his example and set the world on fire with the love of Christ.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
8-22-2008
Reviewed by: 

A Litany of Saints

Book cover: 'A Litany of Saints'
Author(s): 
Ann Ball
Copyright: 
1993
Publisher: 
Our Sunday Visitor
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
224 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

When I see Ann Ball's name on a book, I expect a treat. This book is no exception. A Litany of Saints begins with an introduction to the Communion of Saints and Catholic practices regarding their veneration. This section is clear and easy-to-read, including the changes instituted as a result of the Second Vatican Council. The footnotes provide many sources for additional reading. Next comes a history of litanies in general and the text of the formal "Litany of the Saints". Following this is the bulk of the book: a fascinating, documented collection of information about 26 well-known saints as well as shorter summaries of 17 more saints. This book contains prayers, photographs, legends, and the stories of these saints. It is written in a titled-paragraph style that makes it easy to pick up, read a few pages, and put down again---perfect for a busy person to read in those few available minutes each day.

Do you know why we should ask the saints to pray for us? Do you know what happened to St. Christopher? Do you know who is the protector from cancer? If not, then you need to read this book and have your questions answered!

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Imprimatur (1992) and Nihil Obstat

Many thanks to Saint Gabriel's for donating this book for review.

Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 

A Little History of the World

Book cover: 'A Little History of the World'
Author(s): 
E.H. Gombrich
ISBN: 
78 617 286
Copyright: 
2006
Publisher: 
Blackstone Audiobooks
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This is the kind of book that is written for children and yet any adult will enjoy it immensely. We listened to it during a summer trip, and all of our children, from 6 to 20 years old, were enthralled. Reader Ralph Coshan won an audio award for the reading of the book and we have truly grown to love the sound of his voice.

Gombrich's A Little History of the World is right up there with Hillyer's A Child's History of the World, but even better--which I never thought I would say, as A Child's History of the World has been a favorite of mine for years. Gombrich himself revised and translated his 1930's text into English before his death in 2002. This is why we have a recent publication in English of a European bestselling history text for children from the 1930s! The text is geared to children a bit older than the Calvert School classic, which is good for a homeschooling family.

I love the way the author dealt with a huge Catholic theme: the Reformation! And I love the fact that there is a whole chapter on the Counter-Reformation, which is largely ignored by the American public when studying European history. His account of Saint Ignatius Loyola's story and the founding of the Company of Jesus (Jesuits) makes this volume very Catholic-friendly indeed, which is something to be said for a history book from any major secular publisher. The way the author refers to God, and to the person of Jesus Christ, and to His teachings, is very respectful and wonderfully done. In my research about Gombrich's faith life, I learned that he converted to Christianity from Judaism early in his life.

I am currently leading a History 3rd/4th grade small class using Hillyer's text and comparing/complementing it with Van Loon's Story of Mankind. I believe these three volumes together can make up a superb World History curriculum for elementary school! Hedgeschool's First Timeline, done in first and second grades, would be a great place to start.

Highly recommended. This will be a great addition to your homeschool audio library.

Review Date: 
9-20-2007
Reviewed by: 

A Long Way from Welcome

A Mystery in Paris
Book cover: 'A Long Way from Welcome: A Mystery in Paris'
Author(s): 
Echo Lewis
Copyright: 
2002
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
182 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

In this story Echo Lewis takes us from the small town of Welcome, Indiana, all the way to Paris, France alongside Maggie, a shy teenager who would really rather stay at home in her comfortable small town surroundings. Maggie is visiting her new step-dad's sister in an ancient convent in the heart of the city. There she becomes wrapped up in her new home and friends and in a mystery involving a series of art heists plaguing Paris.

The story is a fun quick read for ages 12 and up. The convent itself is fascinating with its hidden panels and secret passages. The experience would be further enhanced by checking out some guide books of Paris and architecture books (that include the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Beaubourg) from your local library.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

This title was donated for review by Bethlehem Books

Review Date: 
2-4-03
Reviewed by: 

Pages