A Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle. Originally published in 1962. 228 pages.

While Peter Pan was our 4th grader’s latest literature class assigned book, this was our 6th grader’s most recently assigned literature book. I think I was the only mother in the class who hadn’t read it as a girl, but I’ve read it now and I’m glad I did.

While the dominant motif of this story is quite familiar, Madeliene L’Engle presented it in a fresh way that was sure to appeal to her young readers in 1962. It was a time of domestic and international political tensions paralleled with a transformation of cultural norms and mores aimed specifically at the youth of that era. As I read it I wondered how the younglings of that time viewed it compared to the young readers today. It is a book with timeless themes, like any one still worth reading 56 years after it was originally introduced to the public.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of the Murry family, whose father has disappeared for the last two years. No one knows exactly where he is or when he will return. His wife, Mrs. Murry, along with their four children: Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and the younest and most exceptional Charles Wallace, are an oddity and source of gossip in their community for a variety of reasons.

Meg, the Murry’s teenage daughter, is the central character through whose lens the reader views most of what occurs. Charles Wallace, largely regarded by the townspeople as a dunce due to his self-imposed silence, is exceptionally intelligent and insightful but keeps this knowledge between himself and his family. Until the nearly equally exceptional Calvin O’Keefe joins him and Meg on an adventure to save the world from a darkness which trying to absorb everyone into itself and make the world a place of one consciousness and “unity”, but void of uniqueness.

They get a little help along the way from three immortal beings known only as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These are three colorful, quirky characters whom only Charles Wallace really understand. You’ll have to read the book for more lest I spoil the plot and the ending.

One of my favorite passages, which captures the heart of the story, is this:

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”

Grade: A-

Age level: 10+, though as usual, I am open to a different take. These books are a part of a series, and as I read the next two, I hope to review them here.





Peter Pan

peter pan

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Originally published in 1902. 151 pages.

This book was assigned to our fourth grader, who is a very strong reader, but the language and some of the themes have proven to be a bit more advanced than 4th and 5th grade. She is still reading through the book, reading the chapters as assigned by her teacher, but I forged ahead and finished the book. Firstly because I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but also because it will be easier to work through the narrations with our student having familiarized myself with the story.

The interesting thing about this book is that it is far less innocent and far more intense than the Disney-tized version of Peter Pan most of us were exposed to from chidlhood. This one is more violent, with more mature themes. It does contain a mixture of adventure and whimsy missing from the Peter Pan I was famliar with, however.

This quote from Peter, however, is the common thread we are all familiar with, and was one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
The characters were all engaging and entertaining, and even the villains, such as the pirate Smee, confidante and first mate to the fearsome yet ironically cultured Captain Hook, were the types that stick with you long after you close the last page.
Peter, the ultimate bad boy crew leader, was the character you rooted for because you were supposed to, but was not without less than endearing qualities. His Lost Boys were wonderfully innocent and faithful to him, while all of the female characters surrounding Peter were written with a coquettishness that was completely lost on Peter Pan. Nevertheless, Peter seemed to know exactly when and how to exploit the affection his charges and the ladies (Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Wendy) felt for him.
At the end of it all is the great and violent showdown between Peter and his Lost Boys and Hook and his pirates. Peter is the ultimate victor, while Wendy, John and Michael wrapped up their adventure, and headed home to their griefstricken parents. Parents who had kept a window open in anticipation of their return one day. J.M. Barrie had an interesting way of expressing what the narrator considered the heartlessness of the three children who flew away on an indefinite adventure, leaving their parents behind to fret:
Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.
I found that quite funny, second only to Wendy’s exasperation with being the mother to the Lost Boys (Peter was their “father”):
Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied!
She says this several times, and although I heartily disagree with her, it is funny nonetheless.
There is actually plenty to be said about this book, but I recommend that you take the time to read it yourself as it is enjoyable on many levels. It is a perfect example of this quote from C.S. Lewis which I have always loved:
No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally -and often more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
Grade: A
Age range for this book,which is the original, unabridged version I’d put at 12+. I chose that not because of reading ability, but because of the violent content, adult language (nothing overly offensive, but still), and general level of maturity required to appreciate the themes and subtexts of the book.


The Highest Education

I’m currently preparing to teach a relatively low-key, six-week course of short stories and readings to middle schoolers. To that end, I was perusing my collection of classic short stories.

As I searched my Kindle library, I noticed that I had highlighted large portions of a particular chapter in Booker T. Washington’s Character Building. The chapter is titled The Highest Education, and as I re-read the highlighted sections, I thought they were worth sharing here.

He starts by indicating how education is most commonly viewed:

We are very apt to get the idea that education means the memorizing of a number of dates, of being able to state when a certain battle took place, of being able to recall with accuracy this event or that event. We are likely to get the impression that education consists in being able to commit to memory a certain number of rules in grammar, a certain number of rules in arithmetic, and in being able to locate correctly on the earth’s surface this mountain or that river, and to name this lake and that gulf.

Now I do not mean to disparage the value of this kind of training, because among the things that education should do for us is to give us strong, orderly and well developed minds. I do not wish to have you get the idea that I undervalue or overlook the strengthening of the mind. If there is one person more than another who is to be pitied, it is the individual who is all heart and no head. You will see numbers of persons going through the world whose hearts are full of good things – running over with the wish to do something to make somebody better, or the desire to make somebody happier – but they have made the sad mistake of being absolutely without development of mind to go with this willingness of heart. We want development of mind and we want strengthening of the mind.

He continues by making clear why the above is important but incomplete:

But, after all, this kind of thing is not the end of education. What, then, do we mean by education? I would say that education is meant to give us an idea of truth. Whatever we get out of text books, whatever we get out of industry, whatever we get here and there from any sources, if we do not get the idea of truth at the end, we do not get education. I do not care how much you get out of history, or geography, or algebra, or literature, I do not care how much you have got out of all your text books:-unless you have got truth, you have failed in your purpose to be educated. Unless you get the idea of truth so pure that you cannot be false in anything, your education is a failure.

These were originally lectures which were later compiled into book form. Washinton ended this session by impressing upon his students that their aim should be finding the true and the beautiful -ultimately from God- in their educational pursuits:

Education is meant to make us appreciate the things that are beau-tiful in nature. A person is never educated until he is able to go into the swamps and woods and see something that is beautiful in the trees and shrubs there, is able to see something beautiful in the grass and flowers that surround him, is, in short, able to see something beautiful, elevat-ing and inspiring in everything that God has created. Not only should education enable us to see the beauty in these objects which God has put about us, but it is meant to influence us to bring beautiful objects about us. I hope that each one of you, after you graduate, will surround himself at home with what is beautiful, inspiring and elevating. I do not believe that any person is educated so long as he lives in a dirty, miserable shanty. I do not believe that any person is educated until he has learned to want to live in a clean room made attractive with pictures and books, and with such surroundings as are elevating.

In a word, I wish to say again, that education is meant to give us that culture, that refinement, that taste which will make us deal truthfully with our fellow men, and will make us see what is beautiful, elevating and inspiring in what God has created. I want you to bear in mind that your text books, with all their contents, are not an end, but a means to an end, a means to help us get the highest, the best, the purest and the most beautiful things out of life.

The entire chapter can be read here.

Not your parents’ homeschooling.

One of the things we still get questions about on a regular basis are the scope, accountability, or limitations of homeschooling. Given the way the practice has exploded in recent years, this surprises me, but the reality seems to be that most people are still fairly committed to the conventional public school system, with private school close behind for those who can afford it.

The perception of homeschoolers as isolated, socially awkward, and lacking educational rigor or responsibility is far removed from our particular homeschool experience. In fact, we have run across a lot of things and people in our Christian homeschool community that dovetail and overlap pretty closely with the secular school world. For example:

  • A strong emphasis on acquiring the tools to test well enough to get into college
  • A trend toward insuring kids have credit transferable to the state system
  • A marked increased in the use of tools like the public virtual school network to tackle subjects the parents can’t or don’t want to tackle.

Those are just three that initially occur, not including some of the peripheral issues concerning culture and modesty that many families are dealing with, largely as a result of the fact that church youth groups and ministries contain a mixture of kids from all educational backgrounds. Additionally, there are different standards on many of these things held by parents as well.

So when people ask me questions that I thought were already well plowed in the general culture and with answers I think are well known, I am surprised. Our homeschool experience is far removed from the days when the clarion call was “Heaven, not Harvard!” To be sure, the wonderful Christian homeschool parents we encounter and enjoy fellowship with are definitely more invested in their kids’ eternal end than their temporal one. They have simply decided that a top notch education can be included in those plans.

We are such parents, and our homeschool life reflects that. We have always been crystal clear on the reality that not all socialization is good socialization, so that basic question has never been something that moved us. However, for the sake of accountability, rigor and fellowship, we have included a few outside educational components to our homeschool life. I’ll list a few.

When our 11-year-old started her middle school years this fall, we knew that we wanted to add some extra rigor and accountability to her education, and so set out to research the many venues we are blessed to have in our area.

These are venues more structured and yes, more expensive, than your typical homeschool cooperative that most people think of when they consider homeschool enrichment. That is not what we were looking for, having already been connected to such a cooperative for several years.

What we did was enroll our kids in what can only be considered a part-time Classical Christian school, where the teachers are paid and the high school level students receive credit for the work they do. In our area, there are many alternatives available for homeschoolers to avail themselves of such services and it’s one of the reasons why we have, unlike may communities, a fair number of families to share community with for the past 5 years, forming lasting friendships.

Socialization? Check.

As for the question of curriculum and state accountability, the curriculum our kids are working on are, in most cases, more rigorous than the public school curriculum, but in the areas where a student might need more time or developmental berth, homeschooling provides the opportunity to provide it. Having paid teachers who often grade assignments more strictly than parents or conventional teachers has been instrumental to our daughters’ academic development.

Accountability? Check.

Rigor? Check.

I realize that not every homeschool family has access to the resources that we enjoy in our particular situation and geographic region. The point of this post is to point out that homeschooling has evolved in myriad ways. Many of the ways are for the better, and some are for the worse.

One thing is for sure. It’s not the same Christian homeschool most often thought of by those only familiar with the kind of Christian homeschooling called to mind in people who are familiar with the homeschool movement popularized in the 1980s.

This is a new generation of Christian homeschooling.




The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare. Analysis and synopsis here.

I only read this play -reportedly Shakespeare’s shortest- because our middle school aged daughter was recently a part of its production as a part of the classical education program our children are enrolled in. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare. However, I am a huge fan of comedy and this play is really quite funny.

The language, as anyone who read Shakespeare in high school can attest, is cumbersome and often frustrating. I know for certain that there were parts of the dialogue that our daughter didn’t quite grasp and for that I am thankful. Our drama instructors, a wonderful couple who love the Lord dearly, are former New York theater people who stayed true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original play and Shakespeare had a ribald sense of humor.

My  kid is down there in one of these outstanding costumes that a very talented mother put together from blankets, duvet covers, and other miscellaneous scraps of fabric.

comedy of errors

Adam and His Kin

adam and his kin

Adam and His Kin, by Ruth Beechick. Originally published in 1990. 176 pages.

When our sixth-grade student was assigned this book for her literature class, I’d never heard of it. It is basically the characters and stories of Genesis framed as historical fiction. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it when I picked it up. Apparently, it is well known in homeschool circles, and opinions on it are mixed. A positive take can be found here, a negative one here, for those interested in both sides of the issue.

As I began to read it, my initial reaction was a mixture of apprehension and horror. It seemed sacreligious to me to fictionalize Scripture. What, I thought, would possess anyone to do such a thing? However, I kept reading and allowed our daughter to keep reading primarily because I fancy myself open to new ideas and I genuinely trust the heart, intentions, and faith of the administrators and staff of the program where we have  our kids enrolled and taking classes.

After I got over my initial reluctance to the very idea of Ruth Beechick’s project, I began to see it differently. It gave us opportunities to go back and study Genesis closer, note contradictions and parallels, and remember that what we were reading the author’s attempt to help the reader see these people as more than just Bible story characters.

On the whole it was a decent read, when kept in proper perspective. The literature teacher who assigned it was careful to make the distinction between the Bible and this book, and even gave the children opportunities for class discussion on the pros and cons of reading such a book.

If there was one thing I appreciated about the book more than any other, it was that the author tried to capture the universality of human nature, that it is as it has always been over time. The sin nature that motivated Adam, Eve, Cain, Ham, or the builders of Tower of Babel was as evident then as it is today. Greed, jealousy, lusts for power and self-aggrandizement are as old as humanity itself, despite our tendency to believe that people are uniquely horrible in our time compared to times past.

That said, it certainly needs to be read with caution, and an eye toward the Scriptures.

Grade: B-

Content advisory: I wouldn’t recommend this book to any child under middle school age and certainly not to anyone without an in depth knowledge of the Book of Genesis.


Farmer Boy

farmer boy

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally pulished in 1933.

This review was written by our 9-year-old daughter. I do minimal editing to her writing when I post her reviews. Like Paddington, this book was part of assigned reading for her literature class.

Farmer Boy is a nonfictional classic by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband Almanzo Wilder, and his childhood.

It is very engaging and entertaining. I have not read many classics yet but this has to be one of my favorite’s. Once you start it is very hard to stop.

It is also very easy to read. Some of my favorite chapters are Birthday, Independence day, and also The Fair.

In The Fair Almanzo enters the biggest pumpkin contest. He fed his pumpkin milk  everyday. It was so big Father had to put in the wagon the night before.When he got to the fair he won the contest and everbody asked him what he had done to make it so big. He was going to lie but his father was standing there, he thought that he would get disqualified and get his ribbon taken away, but he had to tell the truth so he did. He had a wonderful day at the fair.

I highly recommend this book. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.