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rivendell frodoI have just been re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and tonight I came to the account of the banquet given by Elrond in Rivendell to celebrate Frodo’s recovery from the knife-wound he suffered at the hand of the Black Riders at weather-top. There is a marvelous description of Elrond seated at the head of the table with Glorfindel seated on his right and Gandalf on his left in places of honor. And under a canopy, Arwen Undomiel. It is achingly beautiful.

In comes Strider, also called Aragorn and hailed as the Dunadan by Frodo’s uncle Bilbo who has retired to Rivendell. Bilbo and Aragorn retreat to a corner where they put their heads together over a new song which Bilbo has written. And then, Frodo hears him singing it. When I was younger, I tended to race through the poetry in order to get to the next section of narrative that moved the story along. Tonight, I savored the poetry.

And I pondered what a glorious way to spend an evening: at a banquet of elves with the wise Gandalf and the deep and brave Aragorn. It touches a deep longing.

I can’t believe how blessed I am to have found a calling where I am expected to read such great literature every year and guide young students through it, many of them reading it for the first time.

And I long for the banquet feast…

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and it has nothing to do with socialism or Usborne books.

Do the Common Core Standards Flunk History?

published on the History News Network, written by Craig Thurtell, a former teacher at Ardsley High School in Ardsley, New York.

Well worth reading.

For the past several years, Cyndy has been preparing the Sunday School lessons for our church. There are about two dozen children, ages 6 to 12, all in one class. Needless to say, this has been a challenge. Cyndy has been committed to preparing lessons that teach children the stories from scripture, systematically, both Old and New Testament. I think she’s done a marvelous, creative, inventive job. And  of course, I’m completely unbiased!

Today’s lesson was from the book of Genesis. During the next 8 week segment, the kids will be going over both the Tower of Babel and the Flood sections, but today was the introductory material. You might not think there would be much for kids in the passages from Genesis 4 & 5 that cover the genealogy of the Patriarchs – but there is! There are ten figures named starting with Adam and ending with Noah. For each one the text gives their age when their son was born and how long they lived. From these figures, it is possible to construct a timeline showing how much time elapsed from Adam to Noah and the Flood.

If we take the year of Adam’s birth as 0 and then add the ages of each Patriarch to the age of their father in the year of their birth we come up with a total of 1,656 years from Adam’s birth to the Flood. But there’s more to think about here than just how much time passed. It’s also intriguing to look at how much the lives of the Patriarch’s overlapped each other. There’s also the fascinating story of Enoch, who did not die, but was taken by God directly into heaven.

To help kids see these relationships, Cyndy planned and laid out a “living timeline” for the kids on the floor of our fellowship hall.

At the start of the lesson, ten children sat in ten chairs and picked up the name of a randomly assigned Patriarch. The teacher called the first name, “Adam.” The student started walking the taped timeline at Adam’s birth, paused when Seth was born, and then continued to walk the rest of the years of their life. Then Seth was called, and so on.

There were two lines drawn across the lifelines of the Patriarchs. A blue ribbon marked the year of Adam’s death. At the conclusion of the class the students were asked, “How many of the other nine Patriarchs could have talked to Adam?” The answer is eight. The tenth Patriarch, Noah, is the first one born after Adam’s death.

When we got to Enoch, by the way, rather than walking to the end of their lifeline, we had one of the teachers wheel the student out in a chair to show that the end of Enoch’s life was different.

The second line drawn across the lifelines was red crepe paper marking the year of the flood. A very concrete illustration of the meaning of Methuselah’s name which is “after me it comes.”

The kids had a good time and the visuals really drove the point home. I was in the sanctuary doing communion at the end of our morning worship service, so I challenged the adults to go find a child from Sunday School and find out how many of the Patriarchs could have talked to Adam.

Here’s what Cyndy wrote the teachers in the teachers’ guide to the lesson:

What we want the kids to take away from all this:

An appreciation for the historicity of Scripture.

Understanding that ALL Scripture, even the “begats” are profitable.

That the genealogies show us that there an eyewitness to Eden was alive for 900 years.  This means that Noah could not have talked to Adam about what it was like before the fall, but Noah’s father could have.

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It will be some time before we are able to get these printed, but in the meantime we wanted to make them available to anyone who is interested. You can browse online here or download a .pdf to your own computer. You can even print your own copy if you’d like.

Our history study packages are typically designed for use in one semester, so now’s the time to order for the new year. Break out of the textbook box. Give your children real stories about real people. Reclaim history for them and for yourself.
Greenleaf Press 2010 Retail Catalog

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0756617685Sad news reached us today. Another one of the great Eyewitness books from Dorling Kindersley has gone out of print. This time it was Da Vinci and His Times.

DK had a meteoric history as a book developer, packager, and then international publisher. They fell on hard times in 2000 – wiped out over several foolish marketing decisions when they signed on to do the Star Wars Visual Dictionary. The Phantom Menace didn’t do as well as expected at the box office, a new manager – unfamiliar with the book business- make grandiose promises about sales and printed several million copies more than what could be sold. In the end, DK was sold to the Pearson Group (which also owns Penguin Books). I was cautiously optimistic that the management at Pearson would realize what a resource they had in the Eyewitness Series. Sadly, it appears they do not. The series has been slowly dying, title by title over the past five years. Renaissance is gone. Da Vinci is gone. Shakespeare is gone. Everest, India, & Russia are gone. Perspective, Monet, & Impressionism are gone.

I hope they’ll keep the remaining titles in print, but odds are that many of them will not be reprinted when the current stock sells out. Greenleaf carries them all. I suppose they will become collector items like the old Landmark series from Random House.

Peter the Great, born 1672, Tsar of Russia 1682-1725

Below, I have linked in a sample chapter from my current writing project, Famous Men of the 18th Century.

Like the previous Famous Men books, this one will include about 30 short biographies of key figures whose lives will collectively, tell the story of the period from 1700-1800. The target audience is students in the 6th-11th grades. In our scope and sequence, we’d recommend parents use this book with their sixth or seventh graders, and then again in the junior year of high school.

Comments and feedback will be most appreciated. This chapter began as part of the original series by Poland and Haaren, but if you compare their text with mine, you will see that I have made large alterations and added a great deal of additional material.

My target is to finish these chapters by the end of next summer. I’m looking forward to taking a crack at the American founders as well as key figures from Britain and France. Though I must confess that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how interesting Peter and King Charles XII of Sweden have turned out to be.

– Rob Shearer

Famous Men-18th Peter the Great

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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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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