Friday, April 15, 2016

Over Home

Every place has a story.  The photograph above is part of the story of my place.  These are my momma's people.  The man in the center is my great-grandfather McGee.  To the left is my great-grandfather Scalf.  Reclining on the log is my grandfather Scalf.  The woman standing in the door is my great-grandmother Scalf and the girl inside the cabin is my Aunt Nadine who is now nearly 90.  My people are Appalachian Mountain people, born and raised in the mountains of upper East Tennessee.  They were poor, hard-working folks like all those in the hills and hollers.  They were uneducated by our culture's current standards but had a grit and determination (as well as common sense) rarely seen today.

My place is known as "Over Home."  Even though my parents moved to the other side of the mountain after they married, our roots still run deep there.  I still live in the little town on the other side of the mountain and "Over Home" is just a short distance away.

In honor of my place, I thought I'd share some titles that tell its story, or at least the story of area locations whose story is similar.  These are favorites from my own shelves but if you are interested in learning more about these people you can check out this incredible list.  I see many here I will be adding to my collection.

Picture Books

Daniel's Duck by Clyde Robert Bulla is an early reader about a boy growing up in rural Tennessee during pioneer times.  My parents and grandparents grew up much like this and I spent many 'a night in my grandparent's cabin around the pot-bellied stove, sleeping my my granny's feather bed, even until the 1970's.  This is a Five in a Row title.

Journey Cake, Ho by Ruth Sawyer is a fun tale.  Hard times and a great chase brings Johnny home again.

Appalachia:  The Voices of Sleeping Birds by Cynthia Rylant - This was my childhood.  I love this book.

When I Was Young in the Mountains is another Cynthia Rylant tale of growing up as a mountain child.  This is also a Five in a Row title.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs is a rollicking tall tale of Appalachian life.

Down Down the Mountain by Ellis Credle is yet another Five in a Row title relating life for folks living in the Appalachian mountains.

My Great-Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston is the delightful true story of this beloved teacher in one-room schoolhouse in the mountains.

Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston - another Five in a Row gem.  Amber wants to learn to read.  Finally she gets a friend and her heart's desire.

Dolly Parton is a world-renowned country music star whose humble childhood in these hills is chronicled in her music.  Her song, Coat of Many Colors, which tells of her mother sewing a coat for her of fabric scraps, was beautifully illustrated in this tender volume.

I have fond memories of Christmases past spent with family Over Home.  In order to provide her children with a Christmas, my granny would gather walnuts, crack them and sell them to get enough money for a stick of candy, maybe an orange and a small gift.   A few precious books relate these hard yet joyful holidays.

A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree:  An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston

Silver Packages:  An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant

Chapter Books

Tree of Freedom by Rebecca Caudill tells of a Kentucky family during the  American Revolution.

The Guns of Shiloh by Joseph Altsheler relates the story of the War Between the States through the eyes of a Tennessee volunteer.

May Justus was born in the Smoky Mountains and wrote many books telling of growing up in the mountains.  The Other Side of the Mountain is one such title.

Andy Finds a Way by Jesse Stuart tells of a Kentucky boy and his heifer.

William O. Steele was a prolific Tennessee author and many of his titles relate the history of this area.

Christy by Catherine Marshall is a beloved story of a woman who leaves her home to teach in the Smoky Mountains.

The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman is a lesser known but equally excellent book telling of the harshness of Appalachian life post War Between the States for older readers.

Daughter of the Legend by Jesse Stuart - My best Over Home friend, Deb, introduced me to Stuart's writings.  This book tells of the mysterious people known as the Melungeons.   This book takes place in my daddy's home county.  Because it is presented as a romance, I recommend it for older readers.

Many of the people of this area, including myself, are descended from the Scottish Covenanters who endured tremendous religious persecution in their native land.  Many of them fled to America and settled in this area.  A few titles that tell their story are:

How Sleep the Brave by James Hunter

Hunted and Harried by R.M. Ballantyne

Against the Tide by Hope Irvin Marston

Crown and Covenant series by Douglas Bond


Did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains is home to more species of salamanders than anywhere else on earth?  You can learn more about them in The Great Smoky Mountain Salamander Ball by Lisa Horstman.

The Tennessee mountains is also home to many black bears.  The Moon of the Bears by Jean Craighead George tells their story.

Counting on the Woods by George Ella Lyon is a unique counting book which reveals the flora and fauna of Appalachia.

A Water Snake's Year by Doris Gove - Water snakes are native to the Smoky Mountains so if snakes are your thing, you might enjoy this.

Folk Tales

Mountain people were known for their stories told on front porch swings and under shade trees.  I remember the stories my granny would tell me on cold winter nights or while breaking beans of haints and goblins, legends, and of times long past.  Here are some literary choices.

The Jack Tales:  Folk Tales from the Southern Appalachians by Richard Chase

Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase

Tall Tales from the High Hills by Ellis Credle


The Foxfire Books series is a marvelous chronicle of life in the Appalachian mountains.  These books are almost always checked out in my library, especially by those who wish to resurrect these long lost skills.

These books and many others tell the story of my place, the people who lived here, the hardships they endured and braved, and the laughter they shared.  I hope you will discover the story of your own place.  The diversity of the cultures of the world, past and present, makes for a plethora of great literature.  In this transient culture when people are moving from location to location, we all need somewhere to put down roots.  Somewhere to call our own.  Our own "Over Home."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

I am joining the rest of the world in wishing Beverly Cleary a happy 100th birthday!

 I remember as a young girl receiving my copy of Ramona the Pest from the Scholastic flyers that went around our classroom each month.  Ramona Quimby was a girl much like myself.  I read that book so many times it became worn and tattered.  I still have that well-read book on a special shelf reserved for such treasures, my name childishly scrawled inside the cover.  I recall being so disappointed that my name didn't have a Q so that I could draw kitty cats from it!

As my boys have grown, they have all enjoyed many of her titles.  I think Mrs. Cleary must have remembered what it was to be a child because her books have been enjoyed by children for many decades.

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for enriching our lives with fun, humor and adventure.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Taking Up Residence

When we moved into our current home several years ago, I was very unhappy.  It was a nice house on a lovely piece of property with a one-acre pond and 12 acres of lush grass.  However the home we left was built by us.  I chose the house plans, made changes in the floor plan to suit our family, chose paint, flooring (oh, how I miss my Brazilian cherry floors.)  This new house did not feel like home to me.  It was someone else's idea of what a home should be.  It wasn't until I brought in those unique touches that were meaningful to our lives that I could really say I belonged there.  Now I am part of this place.  I have taken up residence.

It is the same with the books we read.  These books were written by another person, probably living in another time or place.  We may have nothing in common with them except for their words.  But when we bring to the book our own unique touches, the experiences of our lives that set us apart, the ideas take up residence in us and become part of us.

Ideas are powerful things.  They are not, in and of themselves, tangible.  They are not something we can see, smell or taste.  But they can change lives and change the world far more than those tangible things we put so much stock in can do.  The volatile thing about ideas is that they are unique to each person.  Each time I read a book, I bring to the table my own life, experiences, presuppositions. Those ideas mix and mesh with those of the book and become my own in a way unlike those of anyone else who has ever read that own personal culture.

The same is true for books shared with family.  My family has shared so many books together.  We each make our own connections in the reading because we are all distinct individuals.  But in living with the book together it becomes part of our family's identity.  It becomes casual discussions around the dinner table, knowing eye contact across the room, shared reminisces even years later...a family culture.

Ideas are so influential, however, that we don't even have to share the same book to be changed by them.  Often when my oldest son comes home to visit, we inevitably get into an informal discussion, usually spawned by world events or something much less lofty, about something he has read but we haven't.  As we discuss the ideas in a book that the other hasn't read we are stretched beyond our own personal experience.  That, again, becomes part of our personal and family culture and ripples its way into the culture at large.

There is so much to be gained by reading.  The ideas that take up residence in our hearts are the most life-changing reasons to pick up a book.

Friday, March 25, 2016

But I Don't DO Charlotte Mason!

Recently I had an inquiry regarding library membership.  This is the season when many families start making plans for the upcoming year so this is not unusual.  This particular inquiry took me off guard, however, and distressed me a little.  The mom wanted to know if she would be welcome in my library because, she said, "I don't DO Charlotte Mason.  I heard you have to DO Charlotte Mason to belong to these libraries."

No, no, a thousand times, NO!  I have been a Charlotte Mason homeschooler for 20 years now in some form or fashion.  In the early years when I was learning and homeschooling was not quite the phenomenon it is now, I did Charlotte Mason-y things...reading living books, narration, nature study, etc., without really understanding her philosophy.  I'm still learning after all this time.

And yet, I'd be willing to venture that the families in my library who DO Charlotte Mason have homeschools that look very different from mine.  Some are in a fabulous CM co-op.  We are not.  Some align their schedules to match as closely as possible Charlotte's own schedules while my planning philosophy is simply...turn the page.  Some meet together for a nature study club.  Often we are lucky to just take in what we can on our farm (which, I admit, is a lot.)  Some have daughters who quietly and thoroughly give their narrations.  My youngest son, who is my champion narrator, has been known to LEAP out of his chair and give a resounding (i.e. noisy) rendition of the exciting passage he just heard.

And it's all OK.

I have families who are active in Classical Conversations.  Others do unit studies.  I even have a few who rely solely on textbooks for school and use the library for wonderful literature or supplemental biographies.

And it's all OK.

We all need living ideas.  While my library is a ministry for Christian homeschool families, I would love to see each and every classroom in each and every public school spend a few minutes a day reading living ideas from living books.

So if you are hesitant to approach a living books library in your area because you do not DO Charlotte Mason (or ______________), please don't be afraid to contact them.  I'm sure they would say, like I do, "Welcome!!  Great adventures await you on your chosen path!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

New Living Science Curriculum!

Giving my children a living education through living books and ideas is so important to me.  I'm constantly scouring my shelves for the best of the best on any topic to ignite my sons' imaginations and fill their minds with wonder.  I'm pretty comfortable in most subject areas making engaging choices.  But as my boys get older, I feel the stress and pressure of the looming high school years in the sciences.  I see this same anxiety in the moms who come into my library.  If we ourselves are not strong in the sciences, how can we possibly prepare our children for college science classes, especially in this STEM-driven world?  Must we give up living ideas in favor of dry textbooks in order to adequately equip them for university?

I am so excited and pleased to let you know about an incredibly well done living science curriculum!  My friend, Nicole Williams of Sabbath Mood Homeschool, has produced Living Science Study Guides:  A Charlotte Mason Resource for Exploring Science, a Vast and Joyous Realm.  Her first guide deals with Biology for middle school.  She also plans to release guides for the elementary and high school years.

Nicole has such a wealth of knowledge in the field of science and the philosophy of Charlotte Mason.  She has combined her passions to create a science guide which utilizes Charlotte's assertion that "where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value."  The guide includes readings from the fascinating spine, Men, Microscopes and Living Things, by Katharine Shippen as well as other living books, activities and experiments and exam questions.

In case you have doubts that students can be properly equipped for college, especially in science, with this type of education, I encourage you to listen to this Read Aloud  Revival podcast.   This Harvard PhD attributes her success in college to her liberal arts education.  It is very encouraging and enlightening!

I hope you will head over to Nicole's blog and get this excellent resource.  While you're there, explore her site and find many treasures to help you in creating this wonder and admiration in science with your children.  Also take time to listen to the podcast, A Delectable Education, especially the last few episodes where Nicole, Liz and Emily have focused on science in Charlotte Mason's schools.  

Thank you, Nicole, for your contributions to the Charlotte Mason community!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Celebrating World Book Day!

The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man.
Nothing else that he builds ever lasts.
Monuments fall; nations perish;
civilizations grow old and die out;
and, after an era of darkness, new races build others.
But in the world of books are volumes
that have seen this happen again and again,
and yet live on, still young,
still as fresh as the day they were written, 
still telling men's hearts
of men centuries dead.

~Clarence Shepard Day~

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Series ~ Fiction ~ Mystery

Now for the last genre of series books I will cover...but not the last list.  After browsing my shelves for fiction series, I realized that it would be a ridiculously long list.  So I've decided to sub-divide it into categories.  The first I will tackle will be mysteries.  These  books are probably the most sought after in my library.  Everyone loves a good "whodunit."  Here are some your children (or you) might enjoy.

We will start with the most obvious.  The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have thrilled young readers for decades with their mystery escapades.  I've been told that newer versions have been revised with less desirable character qualities so you might want to search out older editions

I still have the exact volume of Trixie Belden that my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Elkins, gave me as an award for perfect attendance in  1972.  This book set me on a path of reading voraciously.  Many in my library have rediscovered Trixie and her friends as they have adventures and solve mysteries.

A few years ago, a new family came into my library.  Young 9 year old Cara asked if I had a series of books called The Happy Hollisters.  Her father had devoured them as a boy and he wanted to share them with his children.  She was thrilled to find I had several and she and many others have enjoyed them again and again.

Another popular series for children is The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  Four orphans siblings living in a boxcar, solve fun mysteries.  It's important to note that there are dozens of Boxcar Children titles but only the first 19 were written by Warner.

The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope is another wholesome vintage series featuring child mystery solvers.  This link takes you to 15 titles for Kindle for only 99 cents.

Cherry Ames by Helen Wells is yet another older mystery series.  Follow along with Nurse Ames on her mysterious adventures.

Encyclopedia Brown is a boy detective who has been thrilling young readers for many years.  These are great for reluctant-reader boys.

Nate the Great is a favorite boy detective series for beginning readers.  When my oldest son, now 25, was learning to read, he devoured these fun titles.

What would a list of mysteries be without the legendary Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion, Dr. Watson?

Dorothy Sayers is best known in the homeschooling world as friend to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien as well as her thoughts on the classical Trivium.  However she is also famous for her excellent mystery writing.  Lord Peter Wimsey is featured in both novels and short stories.

It seems some of the greatest minds contributed the most intriguing mystery stories.  G.K Chesterton's endearing Father Brown mysteries are filled with both wit and literary power.

If you love history and mystery, you shouldn't miss the Brother Cadfael  titles by Ellis Peters.  Set in medieval England and Wales, this exciting series is addicting.  There are many titles in this series and should be read in order.

There are so many mystery series, I'm sure I've missed some favorites.  Please share in the comments any you have enjoyed.  Choose a good mystery and match your wits with some of the best crime solvers.