Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Another Wycliffe Bio

The Beggars Bible , Louise A. Vernon
(Herald Press, 1971), pb., 135 pp.

Following the Thomson biography of Wycliffe, we read this one by Louise Vernon, The Beggars’ Bible. Whereas the Thomson bio began as Wycliffe first went to Oxford, this book picks up well in to Wycliffe’s career.

This story centers around a young peasant boy, Arnold Hutton, who wants the chance to go to Oxford along with his noble born friend, Timothy. Arnold was given the opportunity to learn alongside his noble born friend due to the encouragement of Wycliffe and due to Wycliffe’s influence he eventually enters Oxford. This bio makes more of Wycliffe’s hot temper as an example of his humanness. There is also more mystery and intrigue as people plot against Wycliffe and Arnold and Timothy try to discover and foil the plots.

This book is overall more of a compelling story than the Thomson bio, though my boys enjoyed both. The mystery element in Vernon’s book probably was the big difference. However, Vernon’s (like too many children’s stories it seems) ends quite suddenly which was disappointing. I also thought the Thomson story provided more overall information about the life and times of Wycliffe. Thomson provides some clarity about what is fictional, but Vernon does not. Vernon though does provide a nice glossary of words form the era that are less common today.

Overall, the books complement each other well, and I would recommend using them both.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Beautiful Feet Books Catalog

We have recently come across another helpful catalog for children’s literature. The folks at Beautiful Feet Books, like a number of others, both publish books of their own and offer books sold by others. We appreciate having several catalogs like this because it gives us access to books discovered by various people rather than leaving us simply with what one group has found or liked.

The Beautiful Feet Catalog is put together as a resource for teaching children history through literature, which is exactly what we are trying to do. It is a good approach whether you homeschool or send your children to school. The little essay on this topic in the catalog is well worth a read. They make the point that literature was the typical way of learning history for years until someone got the bright idea of writing books stripped of story and containing merely the facts- enter the standard textbook and the association of boredom with history! My boys will currently say that history is one of their favorite things because they love stories, and truly history is simply the story of humanity through various eras and situations. Now, I intentionally started them years ago with stories of battles and adventures because I knew that would be more appealing, but there is nothing wrong with meeting them where they are!

Anyway, this can be a helpful resource. They list age appropriate books by historical era which is very useful. I obtained a copy of the catalog for free by requesting it from their website, http://www.bfbooks.com/.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Children's Bio of John Wycliffe

Morning Star of the Reformation , Andy Thomson
(Bob Jones University Press, 1988) pb., 134pp.

This is a kid’s biography of John Wycliffe. The author has created a fictional account of Wycliffe’s life from the time he first came to Oxford as a student. I was a bit frustrated with this book at first because the editor’s note at the beginning did not clarify what intended to be factual and what was created by the author. However, along the way I discovered the “Author’s Note” at the end- yes, I should have checked more carefully when we began! :) The “Author’s Note” made clear that the young friends of Wycliffe were fictional but that all the key events were factual.

While I was still uncertain about the book, my boys were already talking about how much they liked it. It is not at the level of Allen French or C. S. Lewis, but it was a good read. I always wonder in books like this how much the main character is molded into our own expectations, but this book does provide a good introduction to the problems of the medieval church in England and the efforts of Wycliffe to address these. The book really ‘got good’ towards the latter half as you see Wycliffe encountering pressures and persecutions. His steadfastness was a powerful example for us, and lead to good conversation, especially as we talked about the continuing need for reformation in our day and the costs that will come our way. At this point knowing that some of Wycliffe’s associates in the book (as pointed out in the Author’s Note) eventually recanted under pressure, made it even more poignant.

One should know that a children’s bio of this size will not be the place for a definitive treatment. However, the aim of this book is to present an accurate portrayal of life in the time, the issues and pressures of the day and the basic work of the person. In these goals this book succeeded very well. We would warmly recommend this book.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Magna Charta, James Daugherty

The Magna Charta, James Daugherty
(1956; 1984, Beautiful Feet Books), pb. 181 pp.

This is another book we bought because we found it in the Veritas Press Catalogue. The backcover blurb notes that the author is a Newberry Award winner. However, this was not a compelling book. The book starts like a textbook relating data rather than telling a story. It told us information that we had already learned (almost without realizing it) while reading good stories. However, this format was much less enjoyable to read.

Eventually the book settles into more of a story format as it relates the story of King Richard and the eventual rise to power of his brother King John. The story gets better here, but does not rise to the level of other good books we have read. The importance of the topic is clear, but such an important story deserves to be told better.

Lastly, the book continues to trace what the author thinks is the continuation of the trajectory of the Magna Charta. One’s own understanding of politics and principles will be key here in what you make of the book. Daugherty sensibly connects the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independence to the Magna Charta. However the connections to transnational agreements (some not even affirmed by governments) is less than compelling.

In the end, I would say you could safely give this book a pass.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle

Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle
(originally published 1891)

I have looked forward for some time to reading this book to my boys because I have heard high praise from various quarters. However, this was disappointing. The book starts slowly, and it took some perseverance to go on. Eventually though the book did pick up, and there were some great scenes. However, it did require a fair bit of work throughout to make it intelligible to my boys. That may be one issue- perhaps the book would be better for a slightly older audience (my boys who were listening are 9, 8 and 6).

The main figure in the story is Myles Falworth, and the setting is early 15th century England. Myles’ father Lord Falworth has fallen out of favor with the king, eventually being branded a traitor. Myles therefore grows up away from the finer things of life but eventually is taken in as a squire in the household of Lord Mackworth, a friend of his father’s. The main thrust of the story which gradually unfolds is the attempt by Myles to restore his father’s honor.

Early on in the story I was a bit concerned about the portrayal of the main character. Typically in these books the main character is presented as a role model for the young readers (or listeners). However, Myles is rebellious and strong-willed. It is primarily directed at authority which he does not respect, but it is not a positive picture. At first I was not sure what to do with this, not knowing what exactly the author was going to do with this- e.g., Is the author going to portray this as positive? Is this perspective going to be corrected eventually or will this persist throughout the book? My 9 year old son would ask frequently in this portion of the book, “Was it ok for him to do that, Daddy?” This did present some opportunities for discussion, but I did not want to read a book to my boys that presented as heroic a boy who consistently challenged authority. It would have been helpful for me on the front end to know that the author would eventually come around to show that this behavior was not right. Eventually you learn that Pyle is presenting Myles as a strong-willed young man with many admirable traits but who also needs to learn to submit appropriately to the yoke of proper authority. If you know that going into the story it can be very helpful. Eventually, when this was made clear and we discussed it, my 9 year old said, unprompted, “Oh, this story shows that the main character does not always do what is right. In the other stories they usually do, but we can’t always do right can we, Daddy?” He was not excusing sin, but grasping that this provided an honest assessment of the struggle with self discipline.

In the story there are a number of moving portraits of honor and courage, of loyalty, of a son’s love for and devotion and loyalty to his father, etc. There are parts that read well and are exciting. The biggest negative in the end for us was that it was not as compelling a read as many other books we have read (see for example the previous post and links there to other books by Allen French).

Lastly, the edition we have is an abridged edition. I do not typically favor abridged editions, but this just happened to be the copy I found in a bookstore in Scotland. So it was what we have. Perhaps some things would be improved in reading the full edition.