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Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany in the Domestic Church

Book cover: 'Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany in the Domestic Church'
Author(s): 
Catherine and Peter Fournier
ISBN: 
898 708 591
Copyright: 
2001
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Spiralbound
Number of pages: 
101 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This book is an outgrowth of the authors' longstanding website www.domestic-church.com and is a great companion to the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. It is divided into four parts: Family Activities, Saints of the Season, Crafts, and Coloring Pages. The purpose is to provide families with activity ideas that foster a spiritual climate in those seasons.

While the book does have activities that other seasonal books contain, such as the Advent Wreath and Jesse Tree, there are some engaging original projects such as patterns for playable manger figures, cross-stitch patterns, instructions for making gift boxes, and a playdough recipe to make tree ornaments. One of my favorites in the book is an explanation of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is an often overlooked feast in the Church as it sits in the Octave of Christmas. Another totally unique project is the one entitled "Hidden Life--Forcing Bulbs" in which the family plants bulbs and then forces them in the spring. This provides great metaphors for the connection between Christmas and Easter, the hidden life of the childhood of Jesus, and the coming of his light into the world. The coloring pages include pictures of the saints that are featured in the book, manger scenes, angels, and a decorated alphabet.

Another really nice feature of this book is that the pages have a single line of scriptural text printed around the margins. I didn't notice this the first time I used the book last year. It is a lovely touch.

Recommended for the whole family!

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
8-29-05
Reviewed by: 

Adventures of Saint Paul

Author(s): 
Oldrich Selucky
Illustrator(s): 
Zdenka Krejcova
Translator(s): 
Marianne Lorraine Trouve, FSP
Copyright: 
2008
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
86 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

In this house, all I have to do is leave out a book with a bright, colorful, intriguing cover like Adventures of Saint Paul and someone will ask, "Hey, Mom, can I read this book?"

For the emerging reader, who has a few words under his or her belt, Adventures of Saint Paul relates the fascinating story of St. Paul on a simple level without the dumbed down language of the early reader.

Meeting children where they are, the story opens with St. Paul as a young boy, who would rather ask the Rabbi questions than make tents with his father. But he doesn't remain a boy for long.

The story moves quickly through his adventurous life as he travels extensively from one town to the next with his many different companions: Luke, Timothy,Barnabas, etc.

The story focuses on his untiring love in bringing the message of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible under the most trying of circumstances. The story paints an accurate picture of how some Christians were wary of him and others, who were not Christian, were not sure about this man, Jesus, even to the point of driving Paul out of their town.

Keeping in mind the young reader, the story omits the gruesome details of his persecuting Christians, his sufferings, and his death.

Adventures of Saint Paul offers a lighthearted look at Saint Paul for the younger child. With a pleasant balance of text and dialogue, it would also make an ideal read aloud as the engaging story moves quickly along with colorful, lively pictures.

There is a pronunciation guide and a prayer to St. Paul at the back of the book.

Touching on the highlights of his life, this would make a first-rate introduction to the life of St. Paul for young children, especially during this year dedicated by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to St. Paul.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

For the learning reader, you will want to assist the child with some of the words they will struggle with like Macedonia and synagogue.

Review Date: 
9-13-2008
Reviewed by: 

Akimbo and the Lions

Author(s): 
Alexander McCall Smith
Illustrator(s): 
LeUyem Pham
Copyright: 
2005
Publisher: 
Bloomsbury Children's Books
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
66 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Akimbo is a young African boy whose father is a head ranger of a game park. When his father announces that he is going to one of the farms in the south because of reports of a lion attacking cattle, Akimbo convinces his father to let him tag along with the promise that he will be good and help.

True to his word, he does help his father in more ways than one. On the night they set the trap, they are in for a big surprise. Akimbo's quick-witted actions and bravery save his father's life. In the end, they don't catch a lion, but a lion cub, which Akimbo begs his father to keep. The cub grows faster than anyone expects, causing lots of interesting situations.

Beautiful pencil drawings add drama and interest to this easy-to-read, short chapter book set in Africa.

There are many nice qualities to this simple story for emerging readers. Foremost is the wonderful relationship between the father and son. It is apparent that they love and respect one another.

This book is part of a series of books with the main character of Akimbo. The book would be of interest to children between 3rd and 6th grade.

Review Date: 
7-3-2007
Reviewed by: 

Algebra I: A Teaching Textbook

Book cover: 'Algebra I: A Teaching Textbook'
Author(s): 
Greg Sabouri
Shawn Sabouri
Copyright: 
2004
Publisher: 
Teaching Textbooks
Binding: 
Spiralbound
Number of pages: 
654 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Over the years I have used several different Algebra programs with my children. With Peter, this is the fourth Algebra program we have tried. For various reasons, they have never met our expectations. At long last with Teaching Textbooks Algebra I, we have found one that works.

Before writing a review, I wanted to wait until Peter had completed most of the textbook, so that I would avoid any unpleasant surprises. Right now, he has completed about 2/3rds of the text and my opinion has not changed. This program is a homeschool mom's dream come true.

Designed for homeschool students, there are many reasons to like this program. The material is written in a friendly, conversational tone. The text is laid out in an easy to understand fashion without dumbing down the problems. The pace is not rushed. The story problems often use silly examples, which keep the student's interest as he learns important concepts. The best part of the program are the Solutions CDs. They are like having your own personal Algebra tutor.

Algebra I covers 18 Chapters with 129 lessons for a total of 654 pages. This book is long because the authors take the time to thoroughly explain each new lesson. A sampling of chapter topics includes simple equations, negative numbers, longer equations, powers, and roots. Much more is covered. Lesson 85, for example, is "Completing the Square."

Each "lesson" includes the lesson, practice, and problem set. Each lesson portion presents a new topic written in a conversational tone. Important points are highlighted (literally slightly darkened). The lesson material also covers sample problems of the topic introduced in the lesson. In other words, he does not just talk about the topic; he walks the student through the problems step by step. Similar to any other good Algebra text, the lessons build on previously learned knowledge. The lesson may also include a humorous story problem.

For Peter, he just reads the lesson. There is a lecture CD available for the student to watch and listen to the teacher go over the lesson material. This would be helpful for the student who learns best by hearing or incorporating as many senses as possible. This is the same material as in the lesson.

The next section is the "practice," which includes problems that review the material just covered in the lesson. The last section is the "problem set." This includes previously covered material from other lessons. Just like Saxon Algebra, the problem set covers a variety of topics. The last problem in the "problem set" is a silly story problem. For example, here is the story problem in problem set 7. "The husband and wife toy makers named their son Ken and their daughter Barbie. If 19,125 people in the couple's hometown--exactly 75% of the population--think the couple is crazy, what is the total population of the town?"

What makes this Algebra program a homeschool mom's dream come true are the Solutions CDs. These allow the student, for the most part, to work independently, freeing me to work with my other children. Now there are times when my son does ask me questions. He may want to know if he is doing a problem correctly or why a problem is coming out wrong. He could ask me or he could go to the Solutions CD, which explains the problem. The times he asks me, however, are few and far between. And if he asks me a question that I can't answer (I'm terrible with story problems) or if I am busy working with another child, he can always pull out the Solutions CD.

There are Solutions CDs for all the problems: the practice problems, the problem set problems, and the chapter test problems. If a student doesn't know how to work out a problem, or after correcting his lesson or the chapter test, the answer is wrong and he doesn't know why, he pulls out the CD he needs and pops it into the computer. There is a menu and he chooses the exact lesson and problem. He doesn't waste time looking for the answer. The answer begins with the problem displayed. The teacher then builds the answer from there, explaining the answer line by line. It is as if the teacher is standing at the head of the classroom, working through the problem. You hear the teacher's voice as he writes out the problem step by step on the "board" (screen). His voice is pleasant and very relaxed, which helps when you are dealing with a frustrated student.

Since the answer key only includes the final answers, the Solutions CDs are essential. There is no solutions manual. The answer key book includes practice set answers, problems set answers, and chapter tests with answers.

I won't say Peter doesn't get frustrated at times. Algebra and math are not his favorite subjects. But I will say his frustration level is far less than if he had used some of the programs we had used in the past. Also, I will add that this program won't work, just like any other math program, if the child does not correct and redo his work daily, since new material is based on previously learned concepts. If foundational concepts are learned incorrectly, the student will dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole. Sometimes, all that is necessary is for a parent to ask the student to show her his daily corrected work to see that he is on task.

This Algebra program has made my job as a homeschool mom so much easier. It is like having an Algebra tutor whenever I need him. Teaching Textbooks now has available Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. You can preview sample lessons, sample lectures, sample solutions, the table of contents, and more at www.teachingtextbooks.com. The complete package includes spiral bound student textbook, answer key & test bank, lecture and practice CDs, Solutions CDs, and Test Solutions CD.

A comment from another reviewer (Suchi Myjak):

The book's explanation of the associative property as given for both addition and multiplication is wrong. The property described in the book as the "associative property" is actually a combintation of the associative and the commutative properties. Please see my post on Unity of Truth for more details and the correct definitions of the properties.

In Lesson 26, page 126, the book explains the associative property of addition in these words:

You already know the rule that two numbers can be added in any order (the commutative property of addition). Well, it turns out that this rule can actually be extended to longer strings of numbers. ... So our new rule is that a string of numbers (however many) can be added in any order. The technical name for this rule is the associative property of addition.

This, unfortunately, is wrong. The associative property is not the commutative property "extended to longer strings of numbers." It is a completely separate and independent property. Nor is it the rule "that a string of numbers (however many) can be added in any order," although it is one of the properties that makes that rule possible.

After the above quote, the book correctly lists the equation defining the associative property, but then goes on to say things like:

That means the expression 3 + x + 4 + 1 can be rearranged any way you want and its value won't change. So 3 + x + 4 + 1 and x + 3 + 4 + 1 and 1 + 4 + 3 + x are all equivalent.

This example concretely shows the confusion on this topic by moving the operands around. This is possible only with the commutative property. The associative property does not allow rearranging of operands.

Later, page 131 (Lesson 27), says the following about the associative property of multiplication:

In fact, no matter how many numbers are in a string, they can be multiplied in any order without changing the answer. This rule is called the associative property of multiplication.

This is also wrong, and for the same reasons.

Please see an explanation on the commutative and associative properties here. You may wish to print it out to share with your student.

Additional notes: 

Answer Key & Test Bank, 111 pages, softcover

8 CDs total - divided into Lecture and Practice CDs and Solutions CDs (over 120 hours total)

Review Date: 
5-5-06
Reviewed by: 

All Ye Lands

World Cultures and Geography
Book cover: 'All Ye Lands: World Cultures and Geography'
Author(s): 
Rollin Lasseter et al.
Copyright: 
2002
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press/Ave Maria College
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
352 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

I've had a chance to skim the book briefly and read the chapters on the Greeks and on the Aztecs and found them helpful and enlightening. There is a distinct effort to be fair to our Catholic legacy without whitewashing faults. (e.g. I noticed that Charlemagne is treated very favorably with the exception of one paragraph that honestly and without sensationalism explains a terrible thing he did in killing a large group of people who refused to be baptized. It also clears up the false rumors regarding the "evils" of Spain while still criticizing where there is fault).

It is quite specifically Catholic in mentioning many great saints and Catholic figures and the role of Christianity in shaping Western Culture (without ignoring the contributions of the Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans) and being written from a Catholic point of view even where Catholics aren't specifically mentioned. There is a significant focus on World Cultures including chapters on many non-Christian cultures - eg. Japan, China, India and the Middle East - as well as a great deal about the largely Christian west. I think it is important for our children to understand these cultures and it is so helpful to have a book that honestly highlights the good and beautiful things from these cultures without acting like it doesn't matter that they weren't Christian (In other words, it's NOT in any way new-age or modernist in presenting these other cultures). I think this is an excellent antidote to modern multiculturalISM.

The book is very visually appealing without being overly-busy. It has beautiful full-color pictures throughout with informative captions. There are some fun features as well, such as a "Let's Eat" segment for each culture with information on what people ate and some simple recipes. The book is intended for 6th grade, but would be profitable and enjoyable to anyone wishing to get a better sense of history and culture. This is the first book being published in a series of Catholic history textbooks. (6-21-03)

The book describes the "Legend" of Samson which some have taken as unnecessarily calling into question the historicity of the Bible. Since there is no other indication of a flawed theology in this regard, I would encourage people to simply interpret this as one of the other meanings of "Legend" which is simply "Story".

There's a confusing typographical error on pg. 133 referencing the life of St. John Chrysostom as "(A.D. 550-407)" I believe it should read "(A.D. 350-407)".

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
9-16-02
Reviewed by: 

Along the Paths of the Gospel Series

Book cover: 'Along the Paths of the Gospel Series'
Publisher: 
Pauline Books and Media
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
71 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

These little saint stories, beautifully illustrated by Augusta Curelli, are very appealing to children because of the nice hardcover format and the full-color pictures on each page. The moderate amount of text (about 4-10 lines per page) makes it fairly accessible to beginning or reluctant readers. We found this series to be an excellent help to our eight year old son who was struggling with reading. I was delighted at how much he enjoyed reading about the saints and he didn't even mind reading about the girl saints. :) The sewn binding (so unusual even in hardcover books nowadays) make the books very sturdy for heavy family use. Children may need help reading the names of people and places.

Individual Titles:

  • Saint Angela Merici: Leading People to God by Sr. Maryellen Keefe, OSU
  • Saint Anthony of Padua: Proclaimer of the Good News by Marie Baudouin-Croix
  • Saint Catherine Laboure: Mary's Messenger by Sister Marie-Genevieve Roux and Sister Elisabeth Charpy
  • Sister Colette: In the Footsteps of Saint Francis and Saint Clare by the Poor Clares of Poligny and Sister Elisabeth
  • Saint Francis of Assisi: God's Gentle Knight by Francoise Vintrou
  • Saint Therese of Lisieux and the "Little Way" of Love
  • Saint Vincent de Paul: Servant of Charity by Sister Catherine Ethievant
Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
2-18-04
Reviewed by: 

Alvin Fernald, Foreign Trader

Author(s): 
Clifford B. Hicks
Copyright: 
2007
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
181 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Alvin returns in another thrilling adventure in Alvin Fernald, Foreign Trader. This time his “Magnificent Brain” has created the prize winning tasty concoction of "Fernald’s Fireballs" that propels him, his friend Shoie, and his sister Daphne on a whirlwind European tour.

Together they have entered a recipe contest. The grand prize is an all-expense-paid trip to Europe. Since they concocted the recipe together, they all three get to spend an exciting summer vacation with the company owner, his wife, and the Director of Public Relations, Mr. Bixby B. Beasley. The excitement mounts when a mysterious Mr. X turns up threatening harm and causing mayhem. Not to be intimidated, Alvin outwits the Mr. X and his thug partner on more than one occasion.

As Alvin, Shoie, and Daphne explore the beauty of Europe, they also learn some practical lessons about foreign trade, making an otherwise dull subject to grade school students real and relevant to their lives.

Alvin Fernald, Foreign Trader is a fun adventure story that teaches the value of friendship, family and foreign trade.

Review Date: 
4-13-2007
Reviewed by: 

Alvin's Secret Code

Author(s): 
Clifford B. Hicks
Copyright: 
1963
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
168 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Alvin’s Secret Code is another Bethlehem Books winner. I confess; I polished it off in one day (It helps if you are stuck in an airport for a 2 ½ hour layover without any interruptions). My 8-year-old, Kateri, also polished it off in record time. She was so completely absorbed in it that she read it in two afternoons.
In this fun, mystery story, Alvin, his best friend Shoie, and Alvin’s younger sister combine their talents to unlock a secret message to buried treasure.

There are some great moral lessons in this story, but you don’t have to tell your kids that. After Alvin and Shoie accidentally find an encoded message, they are convinced that a lonely old man is a Russian spy passing on military secrets. They soon find out that overactive imaginations can lead to false assumptions.

In the process of decoding their mysterious message, they meet a World War II veteran who shares with them his knowledge of codes and ciphers. In our modern culture that segregates age groups, it is great to see these age barriers broken and different generations spending time together and communicating with each other respectfully.

For me the most touching moment occurs when Alvin generously offers to help someone in desperate need, but I can’t give away all the details. For my daughter, her favorite part of the story is when Alvin gives his sister a medal, allowing her to become Secret Agent Z 13 ½. Even though Alvin refers to his sister Daphne as “the pest” throughout the story, he allows her to tag along and is never nasty to her. In fact, he does appreciate her contributions to solving the mystery and in the end rewards her. She idolizes Alvin as her older brother and that is why she wants to tag along.

If you are looking for an interesting as well as informative read, you won’t be disappointed with Alvin’s Secret Code. With a mysterious stranger in town, a damsel in distress, and the three “secret agents” looking for a mystery to solve, Alvin’s Secret Code is the perfect recipe for a fun adventure. After reading this book, don’t be surprised if your children start writing messages in ciphers and codes. There is an appendix in the back of the book with an explanation of ciphers and codes along with samples.

Review Date: 
5-11-06
Reviewed by: 

Amata Means Beloved

Book cover: 'Amata Means Beloved'
Author(s): 
Sister Mary Catharine Perry, O.P.
ISBN: 
595 300 243
Copyright: 
2003
Publisher: 
iUniverse
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
108 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Sister has given us a beautiful look behind the closed doors of a cloistered convent in this little gem set in post 9-11 America. It is the story of a young woman who feels called to religious life but struggles to understand God's workings. This woman had been discerning her vocation to religious life when her life is shattered by the death of her brother, a seminarian, who is killed by terrorists. She has been unable to get over the loss of this beloved brother and although she wants to, cannot forgive the men that killed him.

She enters the convent as planned and the struggle to come to terms with her grief blends with her journey to find her place in the community of sisters. Her superior gives her the religious name of Amata because she wants the woman to know that she is beloved of God.

When the convent is gifted with a really fine bell, the rest of the monastery rejoices. Sister Amata, however, reveals that her brother had been the bell ringer at the seminary and she hates the idea of hearing the bells ring at the convent. However, not only must she hear the bells and be reminded of the pain of losing her brother, the novice mistress assigns her the job of actually ringing the Angelus bell. As she conquers her fear of the bell, she finally accepts God's will and the death of her brother, and is able to forgive his killers. This is stated so simply here, but Sister Catharine's writing is very moving. I cried through the whole last half of the book. She captures the movement of the heart as it leaves itself and the world and turns to God.

While the story of the young woman's conversion is lovely, one of the best things about this book is the view of religious life. The nuns order pizza or ice cream on special occasions, have talent shows, and work with sheep. Their conversations over the cleaning of the wool are joyful and witty. One of the nuns even translates documents for the Holy Father.

Sister Mary Catharine distributes this book to young women who might be interested in a religious vocation to give them a perspective on the life. However, this would be a good book for a high school girl to read whether she is considering a vocation or not.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
4-29-04
Reviewed by: 

Amazing Saints

Amazing Stories of Catholic Saints
Author(s): 
Mario D Macari
Illustrator(s): 
Mario D. Macari
Publisher: 
cartoonmario.com
Binding: 
Stapled Softcover
Number of pages: 
32 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Our local Catholic Archdiocesan paper has a wonderful kids' section. The first thing my kids do when the Catholic Herald (Milwaukee, Wisconsin Archdiocese) comes is to go to the kids’ section. There they fill out the word games, puzzles, and read the saint story.

Now the creator of “Amazing Saints” has produced his own saint book, Amazing SaintsVolume 1, highlighting 27 saints. Covering an eclectic mix of saints from the unknown to the familiar, St. Joseph to Bl. Karl Leisner, each biography is a short page.

Packed with information, each fascinating saint story holds the reader’s interest. I love this intro to St. Francis. “St. Francis of Assisi is often pictured at peace, surrounded by animals and enjoying nature. But his early life was far from peaceful.”

Since the illustrations are cartoons and the summaries short, this kid-friendly layout will appeal to those who otherwise might not be interested in reading about the saints. At the same time, Macari does not dumb down the stories or pretend everything is happy-happy.

If you are looking for a fun alternative, that packs a punch (giving even adults something to think about), and that is short and sweet, then Amazing Saints fits the bill. Even children too young to read would enjoy listening to the stories and looking at the illustrations.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Available from www.amazingsaints.com.

Review Date: 
2-24-2010
Reviewed by: 

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