Friday, October 31, 2008

Luther as Father

In the Van Neste household here today is celebrated as Reformation Day and the kids love it. We do well to remember our roots in the Reformation and the blessings in many areas which have come to us as a result of this historic renewal of the church.

There are many important things which grew out of the reformation, but one that is often missed is the raising of the value of the family. This can be seen in many ways, but one way (as with much in the Reformation) is simply to look at the life of Martin Luther. One standard book on the Reformation makes this comment about Luther:

“The Luther that survived in the memory of Germany was not Luther the friar but Luther the father of a family.”*

From the Reformation doctrines emerges the idea of the father shepherding the flock of his family, teaching the scriptures to his children and leading them in prayer and singing. The church today desperately needs renewal once again and reclaiming this role of fathers, mothers and families will be one key aspect in such a renewal.

* Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (Hist of the Church) (Penguin Books, 1972), p. 74.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iron Scouts of the Confederacy

Iron Scouts Of The Confederacy, by Lee McGiffin
(Christian Liberty Press, 1993), pb., 157 pp.
Ages 6+

This was a fun book which also introduces the reader to some key leaders in the Confederate cavalry who are often overlooked today. According to the foreword, this book “chronicles the true adventures of two teenage brothers who grew up during the War Between the States as orphans and soldiers.” The fact that the main characters are boys themselves always adds to the interest level of my boys. Then, the fact that these are true stories adds even more to the interest.

The main characters, Gant and Ben Fane, boys aged 14 & 16, have been left orphans due to the war and are left in charge of the family farm. Eventually they end up involved in the war travelling from their home in Alabama to Virginia to serve under General Wade Hampton. Along the way they meet and serve under John Mosby as well. Hampton and Mosby were key figures both during and after the war though they are often forgotten today. I appreciated the opportunity to introduce them to my boys in this way. The story follows the adventures, sufferings and lessons Gant and Ben encounter through the war. Nobility, courage, character, perseverance, and loyalty are encouraged in the book.

We had a great time reading this book and commend it to you.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Roger the Ranger

Roger the Ranger: A Story of Border Life Among the Indians
, Eliza Pollard
(Inheritance Publications, 2008; originally published in London, S. W. Partridge & Co., 1893)
pb., 210 pp.
Ages 6+

This is an exciting story following the fortunes of two families in colonial America who have been very close for years but end up divided by the French and Indian War. My boys enjoyed the action and suspense. I also appreciated a good portrayal of life and issues of the time. Pollard gives a positive assessment of British and French leaders (Wolfe and Montcalm, as well as Howe). There is a fairly balanced view of both sides in the war which is valuable.

This book is a good representative of 19th century children’s historical fiction. Key virtues such as bravery, nobility, loyalty, faith, and family are stressed. War, at times, does seem to be presented as a good in itself, though.

In the end, this was a fun, informative read which encouraged key virtues. We enjoyed it and would commend it to others.

(The Amazon link says this book is out of print, but it is not. It is still available from the publisher).

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reading and Family Bonding

“But anyone who has had children knows that reading (especially reading together) lies at the heart of familial bonding.”
- p. 12 in Seth Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2008

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

New Bond Book on Calvin

Over at my pastoral ministry blog [which has now moved to a new site] I have commented on a forthcoming historical novel on the life of John Calvin. I commented on it there because this book is intended for adults, but I mention it here since readers will know how much my family has enjoyed Bond’s books. You can see my comments on this book at the other blog.

I read this one to my boys as well, but it did require some editing on my part since in writing for adults Bond accurately portrays the degradation of the times.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stories We Tell Our Children

The Stories We Tell Our Children: How the Past Is Made Present in Children’s Literature,
by David Thomas
(Royal Fireworks Press, 2008), pb., 156 pp.

David Thomas is a friend and colleague at Union University where he teaches history. He and his wife Nan are also parents who have made purposeful, joyous reading to their children a part of their lives. This book, it seems to me, is an outgrowth of this connection between professional and family life.

This book is not an annotated list of recommended books like The Book Tree. Rather, it is a discussion of how we can learn history from picture books intended for children. Thomas says:
This book is for people who enjoy children’s literature. It unpacks the complex historical features in books known for their simplicity. … I hope to benefit parents who enjoy reading and thinking with their children, teachers and librarians who are looking for new ways to introduce historical thinking to their students, home school parents who formally combine the roles of parent and teacher, and others who are interested in history, literature, and education. (p. 1)
Thus the goal of this book is demonstrate historical elements found (often implicitly) in children’s books and to discuss how these elements can be used to increase historical awareness and appreciation. The book succeeds in this goal and is thus helpful for parents who read to their children as Thomas intends.

Thomas comments further on the idea behind the book stating:
At the core of this book is the conviction that historical thinking is fundamental to human life and identity. Every aspect of human culture is historical; the more skilled and perceptive we are, the better. We need to see the past is as much of its power and curious fun as our imagination can handle. (p. 3)
I agree with and really like this statement. Especially since we live in a culture that is increasingly unaware of and apathetic towards the past, Thomas’ assertion is important. Historical awareness helps us know who we are and helps us to live well. And, to appreciate history we need well trained, expansive imaginations!

In the chapters Thomas walks through different ways in which we can notice historical clues embedded in these books and what we can do with them. Some of this information will be of less interest to parents and of more interest to those specifically teaching history. However, it is very useful for all of us in learning to read better and in making the most of our reading. He also comments on a number of books along the way providing helpful recommendations of books the reader might want to pursue.

Let me conclude with a two more quotes form the book.
The earlier our historical imagination and curiosity are awakened, the better. (p. 7)

Expose your children to good literature and they will recognize it in the future. They will pursue the authors they know and love and be encouraged to explore further on their own. (p. 13)
This last quote is one of the key convictions behind my own reading to my children and of this blog, which is the result of that reading.

I commend Thomas’ book to you than as a resource for book recommendations and stimulating thoughts on using your reading a way to teach historical awareness.

NB: This book is listed at Amazon though apparently it is currently unavailable there.
You can find the book at this page on the publishers website (scroll to bottom of the page)

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