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Unlike some of Sarah Palin’s critics, I’ve waited until I actually read the book from page 1 to the end (page 413). It’s a good read. The subtitle is “An American Life.” It is an autobiography, not a political manifesto. It would be a mistake to judge it for not doing things the author never intended. As biography, I found it fascinating – and funny, and sad.

The book is divided into six sections. In chapter one, Sarah tells the story of her parents’ lives and their decision to move to Alaska when Sarah was two. She talks about her experiences growing up in a close-knit family on America’s northern frontier. Her dad was a high school science teacher and a coach – and a hunter and avid outdoorsman. The whole family grew up hiking, hunting, and fishing. Sarah played several sports in high school, but freely admits she was not as talented an athlete as her older brother or older sister. But she worked hard, and in her senior year she led her high school basketball team to the state championship. She talks about meeting and marrying Todd, whose background is equally fascinating. Todd has to have the toughest work ethic of anyone in his generation. If you’ve ever caught an episode of “Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel, that’s Todd.

Chapter two describes her decision to enter politics and her terms on the Wasilla city council and then as the full-time mayor of Wasilla, finishing with an unsuccessful run for Lt. Governor and her service on the state regulatory board which oversaw oil and gas exploration. Chapter three recounts her run for Governor of Alaska and the challenges she faced as the first woman governor.

These three chapters make up the first half of the book. The second half of the book is a retelling of the 2008 election campaign, from the time she was selected as the nominee for Vice President through her decision to resign as governor of Alaska. Her inside view of the campaign doesn’t fully explain what went wrong, but there are plenty of clues. The VP’s campaign is run separately from the Presidential nominee’s with few joint appearances. But it’s clear that Sarah was a different sort of Maverick from Senator McCain – and that neither the Senator, nor his staff – especially his staff – ever understood her, or knew what an asset she could have been in rallying popular support for the ticket.

Palin has nothing negative to say about Senator McCain. What comes through in the book is her sincere admiration and respect for him. They had met before the campaign – McCain had made appearances at the National Governor’s Conferences and they seem to have liked each other. It is McCain’s staff who come off badly, especially campaign manager Steve Schmidt. He seems to have been a stubborn, profane bully who regarded Palin as an annoyance and a distraction from the beginning.

There are a couple of funny anecdotes (and a few shocking ones) from the campaign trail. Just before her debate with Joe Biden,

“. . . a campaign consultant whispered some last-minute advice on voice inflection. I hated to drop a bomb on her, but I’d been talking the same way for forty-four years and doubted our few moments alone would miraculously reform my style. Besides, I thought of all the money Tina Fey was making imitating me; I didn’t want to screw up her SNL thing by changing up on her midstream. I’m all about job security for the American worker.”


That anecdote catches the flavor of the book. Palin is not afraid to poke a bit of fun at herself. She appreciates the absurdities of politics. She has a wry sense of humor.

As an autobiography, this is a great read. She gives us lots of stories about her childhood, her marriage, and her children. It’s very clear that she loves being a mom and loves her children. Her description of receiving the information that their youngest child, Trig, would be born with Down ‘s syndrome is emotionally charged and very moving. In short, she’s a real authentic person. Reading about her as a daughter, a wife, and a mother – as well as her stint as an athlete, competing in the Miss Alaska Pageant, and working part-time as a sports journalist – makes it clear that she has an identity and a sense of who she is quite apart from her forays in the political realm.

I have no idea if she intends to run for another office. This is NOT a political manifesto, it is autobiography. We hear about politics as she experienced it growing up in Alaska. She admires Reagan and Thatcher and describes herself as a “commonsense conservative.” She’s in favor of not just slowing the growth of government, but in reducing its size. This hasn’t always been a radical position. It clearly resonates with a large segment of the American electorate. She’s not an ideologue, driven by a passionate commitment to a philosophical or political system. She’s a daughter, a wife, and a mom who got involved in local and then state politics, and knows a thing or two about what’s wrong and what could be done to improve things.

The genius of the American political system has always been the opportunity for the citizen-legislator to run and serve, and then return to private life. Professional politicians – people who have spent their whole lives in the business of politics and whose deepest drive is to acquire political power – do not have a particularly stellar track record. Will Palin run and serve again? We could do far worse.

– Rob Shearer, publisher

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We’ve always been big proponents of the study of art history as a part of the study of any historical time period. Along with literature, art provides abundant opportunities to explore what people in another time thought, valued, believed, or were interested in. Art can be studied with students in any age or grade level. The kind of discussion you will have will vary with the age of your students, but even first and second graders will find the Pyramids, the Parthenon, and the Pantheon fascinating.

For younger students, we highly recommend the Mike Venezia series – with 47 separate short, quirky books on artists from Giotto to Warhol. For older students, there are several good survey books, but if you and your students are interested in going a bit deeper, we have some wonderful new resources to recommend.

The first is a very handy reference book, 10,000 Years of Art from Phaidon Press published in 2009. It is VERY reasonably priced, at $11.95 and includes color images of 500 works of art. Best of all, they are arranged in chronological order.

Here’s an example: Circa 800AD, photographs of a cast bronze figure from Sri Lanka and the Book of Kells (an illuminated Bible) from Ireland. Along the header of the pages are the dates and location of each work of art. The text underneath each image is a concise, well-written summary of why each work is important.

A few pages later, with dates of 1072 and 1075 are a silk painting by the Chinese artist Guo Xi, and a panel from the Bayeaux Tapestry (which tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066).

In 1303 we have Giotto’s masterpiece, Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua) and facing it the 1308 Sienna Altarpiece by Duccio.

And then, a more modern example, from 1930, Grant Wood’s American Gothic and on the facing page Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory from 1931.

There are 500 images overall, with many familiar and famous names (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Chagall, Klee, Picasso, Van Gogh for example). Included are a large number of pieces of sculpture and more than a dozen illuminated pages from Europe, Arabia, India, & China.

The Phaidon book is extremely useful in giving teachers, parents, and students an overview of key pieces and getting them in sequence and context. If you want to study a particular work of art in detail, then you’ll want a reference book with a larger format, but as a guidebook/reference book, the Phaidon 10,000 Years of Art is a superb place to start. The book is a 543 page paperback and quite economical at $11.95 – available directly from Greenleaf Press.

For those who would like a more in-depth look at medieval architectural styles, I have run across a wonderful series of oversize hardbacks from Parkstone Press. While there are ten volumes in the full series, I would recommend in particular the volumes on Romanesque Art and on Gothic Art. For a study of the Middle Ages, these are the two broad important schools. The Parkstone volumes are gorgeous. They are oversize (9.75″x11″), and all pages are color on glossy paper. At 200 pages each, I would have expected them to cost $40 to $50 each but was quite pleasantly surprised to find that they are priced at a very economical $19.95.

Romanesque Art
covers the architectural style of churches and monasteries built in the early Middle Ages (in Italy and in northern Europe) in the first 2/3 of the book and then devotes the final third to Romanesque sculpture and painting.

Gothic Art introduces the distinctive elements of Gothic art and architecture and then covers dozens of the great gothic cathedrals with beautiful color photography of both interiors and exteriors. Like the Romanesque book, it has a complete section on sculpture and painting as well.

Both of these volumes are excellent reference works. The color photography is beautifully done. I could sit and browse through them for hours. Your students will be captivated as well. If you’re studying the Middle Ages, these are two reference books you really should have.

Published in 2008, Romanesque Art is a hardback, 200 pages, $19.95 from Greenleaf Press.

Published in 2008, Gothic art is a hardback, 200 pages, also $19.95 from Greenleaf Press.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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There’s never been a shortage of children’s books on the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, of course. But over time, fashion and political correctness have influenced how the story is told and what details are included, emphasized, or omitted. I’m happy to report that some of the recent titles are returning to a more straightforward account that recognizes the Pilgrim’s deep faith in God and their practice of setting aside a day of thanksgiving to thank and honor Him for His specific care and provision as they reaped a bountiful harvest before heading into their second winter in the new world. I’m pleased to highlight three such books.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas goes the furthest of the three. Squanto is usually afforded a small but significant role in the traditional account. He arrives after the terrible dying-time of the first winter and moves in with the Pilgrim settlers and teaches them how to farm and fish. But Squanto’s story is itself a remarkable example of the providence of God. Squanto was kidnapped by European sailors in 1608, taken to Spain, and sold as a slave. But something remarkable happened at the slave auction. Squanto was purchased by a group of Spanish monks who devoted themselves to redeeming and freeing as many slaves as they could. The monks taught Squanto Spanish, and told him about God. They encouraged him to trust God. After five years in Spain, the monks arranged for Squanto to travel to London where they had made an arrangement with an English merchant who promised to help Squanto find his way back to Massachusetts. In 1618, Squanto, now aged 22 sailed back across the ocean to his home. When he reached the site of his village, it was deserted. A neighboring tribe told him the sad news that his entire village had perished in an outbreak of sickness. For two years, Squanto lived with the neighboring tribe. Then came word from one of the braves that a group of European families had arrived and built a small settlement where Squanto’s tribe used to live. Squanto went to visit them and greeted them in English. He told them his story of kidnapping and slavery, his redemption in Spain, and his return with the English fishing fleet. The Pilgrims told Squanto their story – leaving England seeking a place where they could worship God and serve Him. Squanto told the Pilgrims he would come and live with them and teach them how the Indians farmed and fished. Governor Bradford told Squanto that his story was like the story of Joseph – taken from his home and sold into slavery. And then Joseph was used by God to save a whole nation from starvation. The final third of the book tells (and shows) the story of Squanto helping the Pilgrims culminating in the celebration and Thanksgiving given to God by the Pilgrims and by Squanto in the fall of 1621.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
is a hardback, 32 pages. It is available for $9.99 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Squanto’s Journey by Joseph Bruchac tells Squanto’s story in his own voice. Bruchac is a Native American and his text is clear and sparse – tinged with understandable sadness, but not bitterness. Squanto has endured kidnapping, slavery, long absence and the loss of his entire tribe to sickness. And yet he remains friendly towards the Pilgrims and seeks earnestly for peace. The illustrations are beautiful, with the bright orange, yellow, and brown shades of a New England fall.

Squanto’s Journey is a paperback, 32 pages. It is available for $6.00 directly from Greenleaf Press.

110609_2004_Squantoandt4.jpgPilgrim Cat
by Carol Peacock is a delightful take on the Pilgrim story inspired by an encounter the author’s daughters had with a present-day cat at Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum in Massachusetts. There were eleven girls on the Mayflower, and there were cats. From these tidbits, Peacock weaves a story that certainly might have happened. If my daughters are any guide, the cat will certainly capture children’s attention and imagination and provide an opportunity to study the story of the Pilgrims with an intriguing twist. The cat, named “Pounce” is both a companion and a comfort through the “dying time” of the first winter. With a litter of kittens, Pounce is quite happy sampling tidbits under the table at the first Thanksgiving.

Pilgrim Cat is a paperback, 32 pages. It is available for $6.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Don’t forget our classic Thanksgiving titles: the Landmark Landing of the Pilgrims, N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims, and Samuel Eaton’s Day .

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Just published last month! National Geographic has added another title to their outstanding series of photo-books which use re-enactors to depict early American history. 1776: A New Look at Revolutionary Williamsburg
joins earlier titles 1607: Jamestown; 1620: Mayflower; and 1621: Thanksgiving. I hope they will do a companion book on 1775: Lexington & Concord, but perhaps it’s just as well that this volume was published first. Most Americans are unaware of the large role that Williamsburg and Virginia played in the American Revolution. Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia Colony, of course. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry all spent considerable time there. All three were members of the colonial legislature which met there. Henry and Jefferson were both governors, elected after the colony declared its independence.

This large-format picture-book is divided into five major sections, with an introduction and an afterword. Part one is a section describing the founding and growth of Williamsburg as the capital of the colony of Virginia. Part two recounts “A New Spirit” and describes the opposition to British rule which grew in the 1760s and had its dramatic high point in Patrick Henry’s speech denouncing the Stamp Act in 1765. Part three is titled “Revolution” and begins with the attempt by the Royal Governor Dunmore to seize the powder reserves of the militia from its storehouse in Williamsburg. It concludes with the passage of the “Declaration of Rights” (written by George Mason) by the Virginia Convention in June of 1776.

Part four describes “The City at War.” Patrick Henry, the first popularly elected governor, replaced Lord Dunmore. The militia assembled and remained camped on the green lawns of Williamsburg, protecting the colonial government from attack by British troops. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson was elected governor and the capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond. Part five, “A Hard-Won Victory” describes the arrival of British troops under Benedict Arnold, who sailed by Williamsburg up the James River and sacked Richmond in January of 1781. Arnold retreated through Williamsburg and was then joined by General Cornwallis and his larger body of troops in June. By the end of the summer, Cornwallis had moved his army to Yorktown, about ten miles away from Williamsburg and was soon besieged there by American and French forces under Washington and Lafayette. In October, Cornwallis surrendered.

This volume, like the previous three from National Geographic, makes excellent use of historical settings and dedicated re-enactors who take great pains to get all of the details of their clothes and possessions correct. Colonial Williamsburg is a 300 acre park where the foundation has very carefully restored original buildings from the colonial era. There is something about these stunning color photographs which makes the events much more real. The faces of individuals in the crowd forces us to realize that these were ordinary real people – and that the iconic events of the American Revolution were felt by individuals from all stations of life.

There is a great deal of attention paid in the text and photographs to the ways in which colonial life and the events of the Revolution were experienced differently by the slave community in colonial Virginia. Rightfully so. Without lapsing in a predictable political correctness, there is a refreshing honesty in reporting the reality of the institution of slavery. The tension between the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights is also noted.

Along with the other titles in this series, National Geographic is doing a fantastic job of making early American history accessible to younger readers. The publisher lists the target age group for this book as “8-12.” The text seems to me to be pitched a little bit older. I’d estimate more like 10-15, but the pictures will certainly grab the attention of younger readers. The content is far more engaging than the accounts in the standard textbooks. I’d certainly recommend this for students up through grades 8 or 9.

1776: A New Look at Revolutionary Williamsburg is a hardback, 48 pages. It is available for $17.95 directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking on any of the links in this review.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Franklin truly was a genius. He set an example for American ingenuity and advances in science that inspired generations of entrepreneurs and self-taught inventors.

This is the latest title in the excellent series of titles from Chicago Review Press which also includes George Washington for Kids, The American Revolution for Kids, and Abraham Lincoln for Kids.

The subtitle on this volume follows the same formula as the others, “His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities.”

The book is, first of all, an excellent illustrated biography of Franklin – whose life is perhaps the most remarkable of all the founding fathers. Part 1 – “As a Young Genius” provides us with Franklin’s family history. His father was a Puritan, who left England in 1683 and migrated to the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Boston. Benjamin was born in 1706, the 12th of fourteen children. Ben grew up in colonial Boston. He was a bookish lad, but didn’t much like school. At ten he apprenticed to his father as a soap and candle-maker. This he apparently hated even more than school. At twelve, his father decided to apprentice Ben to one of his older half-brothers, who was a printer. Ben liked work in the print shop, but hated working for his brother. In 1723, at the age of seventeen, Ben slipped away from Boston without a word to his family or his parents. There are five activities for this section: Grow Crystal Candy; Shoot a Game of Marbles; Pour a Bar of Soap; Dip Candles; Hasty Pudding.

Part 2 – “A Young Man of Promising Parts” follows Ben’s move from Boston to New York and then to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia he found work in a printer’s shop, but was ambitious to establish his own business. In 1724, he sailed for London with a friend, thinking he had the backing of the Royal Governor of Pennsylvania. Sadly, the Governor had misled Ben with a promise of a letter of credit. The truth was, the Governor had no credit to lend. Ben went to work for a printer in London. In two years he had saved enough to return to Philadelphia. Back in Philadelphia, two more years of hard work finally enabled Ben to start his own business. In 1729, he published the first issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Most of the articles were written by Ben. There are three activities for his section: Create Your Own Paper; Make a Leather Apron; Start a Junto.

Part 3 – “Any Opportunity to Serve” details the twenty years in Franklin’s life when he worked as a printer, and author, and then, towards the end as a natural scientist and inventor. The short version is that the print shop prospered and Franklin got rich. His newspaper sold well, and when he added an annual Almanac, it proved very popular and quite profitable. By 1750, Franklin had invested in other print shops in New York and New Jersey, he was perhaps the largest manufacturer of paper in the British Empire, and he had invested wisely and profitably in real estate. During the 1740s he became the official printer of the colonial government of Pennsylvania. He founded the American Philosophical Society. He was appointed postmaster. He organized the Militia Association and the Union Fire Company. He was also attracted to the preaching of George Whitefield and intrigued by the revival then sweeping the colonies known as the “Great Awakening.” He befriended Whitefield and became his publisher, though he never was personally converted to Christianity. By the end of the decade, at the age of 45, he decided to retire from his business ventures and devote himself to further education, exploration of the natural world, and writing. His investigations and publications on electricity made him famous in Europe as well as the colonies, and he was awarded honorary degrees by both Yale and Harvard. There are four activities for this section: Design and Print an Almanac Cover; Create Charged Cereal; Roll that Can; Fly a Kite.

Part 4 – “A Firm Loyalty to the Crown” In the 1750s, Franklin wrote and published dozens of essays, most of them devoted to promoting the development of the American Colonies. He predicted the population would double every twenty years, and that there were many fortunes to be made. He was appointed one of two joint deputy postmasters for all the North American colonies – a task he undertook with energy and enthusiasm. During the French and Indian War, he again organized the colonial militia and was elected Colonel of a 1,000-man regiment. Ben and his eldest son, William, traveled to the frontier and supervised the construction of forts. In 1757, the Pennsylvania legislature sent him to London to negotiate with the Penn family over amendments to the colonial charter. Franklin found himself a celebrity in London – well known from his writings and his experiments with electricity. In 1761, Franklin attended the coronation of George III. After five years in London, Ben returned home to Philadelphia. He stayed only a year, and then was sent back to London a second time to request the King and Parliament end the rule of Pennsylvania by the Penn family. He was to spend the next ten years in London, representing not only Pennsylvania, but eventually being named agent for New Jersey, Georgia, and Massachusetts. He was in London when Parliament passed the Stamp Act, and also when, after violent opposition, they repealed it the next year. He stayed in London through the rest of the decade, and then on into the 1770s. When Boston radicals dumped tea into the harbor rather than pay a tax imposed by Parliament, Franklin was summoned to appear before King George’s privy council and listened for more than an hour while he and the colonists were denounced and insulted. He worked with William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, to introduce a measure whereby Parliament would voluntarily renounce any authority to impose a tax on the colonies’ internal trade. Pitt’s proposal was rejected. Shortly thereafter, Ben left London and returned to Philadelphia – the city he had left eleven years before. There are two activities for this section: Dig into Your Family Tree; Play a Glass Armonica.

Part 5 – “Snatching the Scepter from Tyrants” When Franklin arrived in Philadelphia, he learned that while he’d been at sea between England and America there had been a battle between the British Regulars occupying Boston and the Massachusetts Militia at Lexington and Concord. A day after his arrival, Franklin was elected as a delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress, which was already meeting in Philadelphia. The next spring, he was appointed to the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. In the fall, he was commissioned by the Congress to travel to Paris and seek an alliance with the French. In Paris, Franklin found he was a much a celebrity as he had been in London a decade earlier. In 1778, he met Voltaire who proclaimed himself one of Franklin’s admirers. Franklin not only worked towards a formal, open alliance with the French, he also worked quietly on many of the practical needs of the colonial government and the continental army. After Washington forced the surrender of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown in 1781, Franklin (along with Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens) helped to negotiate the treaty with Great Britain which recognized the independence of the colonies. There are three activities for this section: Make Fancy Shoe Buckles; Cook a French Feast; Learn French Words and Phrases.

Part 6 “Something Fit to end With” Ben stayed on in Paris until 1785, when he was succeeded as the United States Ambassador to France by Thomas Jefferson. His sojourn in Europe this time had lasted for nine years. In May of 1787, Pennsylvania sent Franklin as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. At the age of 81, he was the oldest delegate. It was Franklin who nominated George Washington as the presiding officer over the convention. It was Franklin who was instrumental in crafting the compromise between large states and small states that was solved by creating both a Senate and a House of Representatives. After the ratification of the Constitution, Franklin’s last cause was the abolition of slavery. He was already president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He urged the new Congress of the United States to end slavery, but his appeals were ignored. In April of 1790, at the age of 84, Benjamin Franklin died surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Thus ended a remarkable life which began as a younger son of an English Puritan emigrant to Boston and included a decade of service in London and a decade in Paris. There are four activities for this section: Design a Turkey Seal for the United States; Make a Barometer; Make a Walking Stick for Your Gout; Cast Franklin’s Rising Sun.

Aside from being an excellent biography of Franklin, this book (like all of the Chicago Review Press titles in this series) is unique in its incorporation of practical, hands-on activities for kids. The publisher indicates the text is written for students in grades 3 through 6, and that’s certainly the age range that most of the activities will appeal to – but I suspect that even junior high and high school students will find the biography of Franklin an excellent introduction to his impressive and varied accomplishments.

Ben Franklin: American Genius is a paperback, 128 pages. It is available for $16.95 directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking on any of the links in this review.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

Other books from Chicago Review Press in this series:

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“. . . his methods of therapy have proved on the whole, costly failures, more suited to cosset the unhappy than cure the sick. We now know that many of the central ideas of psychoanalysis have no basis in biology. They were, indeed, formulated by Freud before the discovery of Mendel’s Laws, the chromosomal theory of inheritance, the recognition of inborn metabolic errors, the existence of hormones and the mechanism of the nervous impulse, which collectively invalidate them. As Sir Peter Medawar has put it, psychoanalysis is akin to Mesmerism and phrenology: it contains isolated nuggets of truth, but the general theory is false.”

– Paul Johnson, Modern Times, p. 6

The reading assignment for the Year Four students at the Schaeffer Study Center this week is chapter one, “A Relativistic World.”

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Galileo Galilei is one of the key figures in the history of science. One of his most famous exploits occurred when he was a young man of 26 at the very beginning of his career. In 1589, he had just been appointed as a Professor at the University of Pisa. Refusing to take Aristotle’s word as final on the behavior of falling bodies, Galileo climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa (actually the bell tower for the cathedral) and dropped various objects of different sizes and weights to test the idea that all bodies fall at the same rate. As it turned out, Aristotle was wrong – a fact which Galileo almost certainly knew before he conducted his very public demonstration.

This is a delightful children’s book by Wendy Macdonald of Australia and illustrated by Paolo Rui of Milan, Italy. It tells the story of Galileo’s famous experiment and makes the story accessible to children by introducing the character of Massimo, who looks to be about eight or nine. Galileo meets Massimo as he crosses the bridge where Massimo has been stationed with a mission to drop food onto the boat owned by his uncle as it passes underneath. Galileo stops to chat with the boy. He is intrigued as he observes that a heavy wheel of cheese and a much lighter loaf of bread land on the deck of the boat passing beneath the bridge at the same time. Massimo is surprised to discover that the young man talking to him is a professor at the University.

Watching Massimo drop food to his uncle from the bridge leads Galileo to begin questioning Aristotle, who stated that heavier things fell faster than lighter things. Massimo thinks about what Galileo has said and conducts his own experiments from the roof of his family’s farmhouse. This leads to a visit by Massimo to Galileo’s offices at the university. From there, it is only logical that Massimo will be Galileo’s assistant when he stages his very public demonstration from the top of the “Leaning Tower.”

Massimo is fictional, but Galileo’s observations and experiment from the top of the Tower are well-documented. The publisher lists this book’s target audience as children, ages 4 to 8. The text could certainly be read to younger children, but I think the history and science involved will be of interest to students through upper elementary and age 10-12.

The illustrations capture the feel of late Renaissance / early modern Italy and the excitement and optimism of the young Galileo as he studies the natural world directly and challenges Aristotle. It was a very important moment in the history of science – and a worthwhile story told in a very entertaining way.

Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment is 32 pages, available as a hardback for $16.95 or as a paperback for $7.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Highly recommended for your study of the Renaissance, the Age of Explorers, or to go along with Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century (which has a chapter on Galileo).

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Usborne has been producing quality color reference books for children for several decades now. Their books have always featured lots of original color artwork along with short, explanatory paragraphs which function as expanded captions. Medieval World joins two other classic titles that we have long recommended, The Greeks and The Romans. Like them, it is a 96 page paperback, with color art-work printed on high-gloss pages.

The sequence of topics is arranged in chronological order, with broad coverage of cultural topics and details. The book opens with a 2-page spread on The Byzantine Empire, and then a page on The Barbarian Kingdoms, and a page on Return to Christianity which mentions the Irish monks, Augustine’s mission to the Angles, and an illustration from the Book of Kells. These are followed with coverage of the Rise of Islam and the Vikings.

In the middle third of the book, there are spreads on Living in a Castle, Living in a Village, and Living in a Town. There is also extensive coverage of church history, with pages devoted to The Power of the Popes, Enemies of the Church, Building a Cathedral, Going on a Pilgrimage, and Monks and Monasteries.

The High Middle Ages are well covered, with pages on The Rise of Burgundy, The War of the Roses, Triumphs of the Turks, The Rise of the Russians, and the Struggle for Spain.

The final third of the book takes a more global perspective with coverage of Africa, India, China, Japan, North America, Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and Incas during the Middle Ages.

There are a few concluding spreads which introduce the developments which marked the transition from the later Middle Ages into the Renaissance. Topics include Artists of Italy, Ideas and Inventions, and Voyages of Discovery.

The reading level on the text is approximately grades 5-8. Younger children will enjoy looking at the pictures and having the text read to them. Older students (including high school and adult) will find a wealth of information here that goes well beyond what is covered in traditional textbooks (much more interesting, too!)

I highly recommend all of the books in this series. Medieval World makes a great companion to the Famous Men of the Middle Ages.

Medieval World is a paperback, 96 pages. You can order it directly from Greenleaf Press for $14.99 by clicking on any of the links in this review.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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We sometimes forget that, in pre-Revolutionary America, the religious landscape was dominated by churches that rested on legal establishment: the Congregationalists in New England, and the Episcopalians in New York, Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. What exactly did legal establishment mean? It is so far removed from our own experience that we may not realize what an intensive role the government playing in administering the churches.  the state collected tithes (which all citizens were legally required to pay, whether they attended the established church or no). The state also laid out new parish boundaries, subsidized new church construction, maintained parish properties, paid clergymen’s salaries, hired and fired them, and even took measures to suppress dissenters. Baptist preachers, for example, were sometimes jailed and beaten. Yes, here in America! Finally, in many states, government positions were limited to church members – there were religious tests for office.

[. . .]

[a] key to success on the frontier is that you have to be there. You have to be willing to sacrifice the comforts of the settled cities in order to minister among rough people living rough lives. As a rule, the established clergy were not willing to do that. In the state-supported churches (and in wealthier churches generally), the training for pastors was a long, expensive process that led to a chronic shortage of clergy, thus giving them considerable bargaining power over salary and location. Many simply refused to go to the unsettled frontier areas.

By contrast, the Methodist circuit preachers became a legend on the frontier. They traveled constantly, virtually living in the saddle.

– Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth , pp 263-264

She has some fascinating statistics that show that the rate of religious affiliation in the US has increased since the revolution, while at the same time, the “market share” of the older mainline churches has been decreasing since the First & Second Great Awakenings. The 19th century was the Age of Methodism. The 20th century has been the Age of the Baptists (with pentecostal/charismatics coming on strong towards the end of the century). During this entire time, while the number and percentage of Americans who indicate that they are affiliated with a church has increased, the numbers of Congregationalists, Episcopalians, & Presbyterians has been declining.

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I admit it. I am a sucker for pop-up books. I find the engineering fascinating, and take great delight in watching how a 3-dimensional scene pops-up when  you unfold the pages. The genre began in the late 19th century (when children’s books first began to develop as a separate category) and there were for a time several London publishers (Dean & Son and Raphael Tuck & Sons) who competed with each other in producing elaborate “movable books.”

I was delighted when Julie Salmon called my attention to this stunning pop-up book in an email last week. In the Beginning – The Art of Genesis
contains some of the most elaborate and stunning examples of paper engineering that I have ever seen. The book is a collaboration between author and designer, Chuck Fischer and “paper engineer” Bruce Foster. Fischer is a muralist, trompe l’oeil master, product designer and published author working out of his studio in New York city. Foster studied art at the University of Tennessee and has designed more than 40 pop-up books.

There are seven 2-page spreads in this book, each with an elaborate pop-up, three-dimensional design. The opening pop-up is a framed image from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The 2nd spread is an overview of the Seven Days of creation which reads from bottom to top. Each day is represented by a separate disk. Each disk has a small pull-out circle in it which gives the biblical reference describing what was done on that day.

The 3rd spread is a mosaic style triptych which depicts the creation of eve, the temptation, and the expulsion from the garden.

The 4th spread tells the story of Noah’s Ark, choosing the moment at which the ark has come to rest on Mt. Ararat and the animals are emerging, with a rainbow arched overhead. There is a detail of Noah and his family offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving at an altar in the foreground.

The 5th spread is the most elaborate I have ever seen in a pop-up. It features a Tower of Babel which jumps to a full eighteen inches high. Quite a feat for a book which is itself, only eleven inches by nine inches!

The top of the tower encircled by clouds and thunderbolts and there is an impressive level of detail as we see the workers and materials being prepared at the base to push the top of the tower still higher.

Perhaps the most visually interesting is the 6th spread, which depicts Jacob’s ladder and the dream-vision of the patriarch as he saw angels going up and down a ladder to heaven. Most of the artwork of this scene is reproduced on acetate layers which gives it an overall “stained glass window” effect.

The final scene is set in the Egyptian court of Pharaoh and depicts Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. To either side of Pharaoh there are rotating disks which transform from the image of the seven fat cows to the seven lean ones, and the seven full ears of grain and the seven withered ones. There are fold-out panels with the text of the full story of Joseph from the last twelve chapters of Genesis.

This is NOT a book for small children to handle on their own. It IS a book that they will take great delight in looking at WITH an adult. And if you’re like me, you’ll have quite a good time opening and closing each spread, reading the text, and admiring and exploring the details.

This is a book that really cries out for a video of its own, and thankfully, the publisher has created one. Click on the play button below to see most of the spreads in this remarkable book as they unfold.


In The Beginning – The Art of Genesis is a hardback, with seven pop-up scenes and 15 bound-in mini-books of text. It is in-stock and available directly from Greenleaf Press for $35.00

Fischer and Foster have collaborated on two earlier pop-up books, also quite impressive. The first, published in 2006 was Christmas in New York, A Pop-Up Book. Christmas in New York has six pop-up spreads, depicting Radio City Music Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Angel Tree, Rockefeller Center, The Nutcracker, Fifth Avenue and New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Here’s a video that shows the remarkable scenes “popping up”:


Christmas in New York is $35.00, and also available directly from Greenleaf Press.

In 2007, they released Christmas Around the World, A Pop-Up Book, with fourteen pages of stunning pop-ups, pullouts, and booklets about celebrations in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Latin America, Russia, Scandinavia, and the United States. Here’s a video showing off Christmas Around the World.


Christmas Around the World is $30.00 and also available directly from Greenleaf Press.

Any or all three of these would make great Christmas presents!

– Rob Shearer, publisher
Greenleaf Press

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