Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Week 4: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

In the Garden of the Beasts is a factual retelling of the lead up to World War II, when Hitler had a free hand in Berlin and the rest of the world was ignoring the situation, or purposefully choosing to discount the various stories that were coming out of Berlin. This is, of course, a book that is read knowing the ultimate outcome, but that does not take away from the desperate tone of the communications of William E. Dodd, then the United States' Ambassador to Germany. Ambassador Dodd was not part of the State Department "establishment," instead he was a university history professor with no diplomatic experience. This background, in the end, is what allowed him discern what the future would hold as he watched the events in Germany unfold in real time. 

This New York Times bestseller, authored by Eric Larson, is at times cumbersome to read due to it's many details. However it is that detail, taken directly from correspondence and witness accounts,  that provides the much needed context for World War II. It also allows us, the readers in the United States, to realize the ramifications of  having an isolationist viewpoint toward international events. It also brings home the fine line we walk - when is involvement in the affairs of other nations considered interference and when is it considered to be humanitarian? Perhaps more relevant, though, is whether or not we have learned from our mistakes. Are we listening to each other and to the world around us? 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reading Challenge Week 3 - Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust's Hidden Child Survivors

"So, you were in Poland during the war?" asked author R.D. Rosen, making conversation with a likable woman in her seventies during a Passover seder. With her affirmative answer, he then asked a question that set him on a journey: "What were you doing?" Her quiet reply: "Hiding." With that, the author considered his "suburban bubble" to have been popped. 

Mr. Rosen is an excellent storyteller. In Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust's Hidden Child Survivors, he traces the history of three Jewish girls, each unable to escape their home country  (Poland, The Netherlands, France) during World War II. However, unlike many stories we have heard, the girls were able to escape the concentration camps and go on to live to have careers and families of their own. The details of the way in which the children hid, who hid them and some of the cruelties they endured are in the book, but equally compelling is his exploration of the effect the trauma had on the development of the hidden children as people. He explores what it means to live a lie - to use a new name, practice a new religion and be a part of a family that is not your own. Not only did the hidden children live a lie, they did it so well, they often did not remember what the truth really was. Through various worldwide gatherings of hidden children, several commonalities among them, all now adults, have become apparent. Common experiences include problems with memory, particularly as it relates to family and faith, having to grapple with the question of whether or not to identify as a Christian or a Jew, and whether or not, and when, to tell their stories. By exploring these commonalities, Mr. Rosen skillfully leads the reader through a minefield of tragedy and endurance. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reading Challenge Week 2: I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle is a lovely book to escape into, written by none other than Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmatians.

The story consists of the musings of Cassandra Mortmain, a young woman who has as her goal to become a writer, as her father is.  Towards that end, she sets out to write about her days living in a castle in the English countryside with the rest of her impoverished family. Her journal tells of how they stretched each shilling they had to the most, her father's difficulties with writer's block and their affect on the family, and how the young residents of the house fall in love, though not always with the person who loves them. Through the use of beautiful descriptions of the surroundings as well as the humorous descriptions of the events and characters in the book Ms. Smith has created a book that tells of a family's sophisticated naiveté.

One of my favorite aspects of the book are the character descriptions, as seen by Cassandra, of course. Of one family member, she relates "...there were moments when my deep and loving pity for her merged into a desire to kick her fairly hard" and of another "wonderfully patient - but I sometimes wonder if it is not only patience, but also a faint resemblance to cows."

I'm afraid that my description of the book isn't doing it justice, honestly. Suffice it to say, if you want an enjoyable read that also makes you think, you will have found it should you open the pages of this book!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Week 1: 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge

Every year Robin McCormack hosts a reading challenge. The goal is to read at least one book per week throughout the year and she is gracious enough to host a blog for participants. If you take a look at the 52 Books in 52 Weeks blog, you will find an enormous number of book suggestions. Robin provides many challenge ideas each week and posts about her own reading as she goes. Readers are encouraged, but not required, to blog a review of sorts about the books they read and Robin provides Mister Linky widget so that we can have all of the reviews in one place. Let me know if you decide to join in!

This first week in January, I read The Murder House by James Patterson and David Ellis. I thought the premise was really good - a beach house with a history of murders going back for hundreds of years. I've noticed that when Mr. Patterson has a co-author, his books have a different vibe to them. This one was a bit repetitious with the characters thought patterns and there were a few too many details left out leading directly up to the climax of the story. One result was that the character of the Chief of Police ended up being a bit undeveloped. I did like the main character, Jenna Murphy, quite a bit and I would like to see her in more books. However, there is no indication that this is intended to be a series, unlike the "Women's Murder Club "series. This is a pretty good read and I'd recommend it if you'd like something in the casual reading category.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Free Homeschooling Resources for Middle and High School

I remember "way back when" we first entered the middle school years as a homeschooling family. Suddenly the websites that I had routinely visited to create a special activity or worksheet seemed too young for Rocket Boy. However, I had a hard time finding new sites to visit that would help us in this new phase of homeschooling. There was either too much information, meaning I had to wade through a lot of sites to find age appropriate information, or there was too little information, meaning that I had to conduct extensive searches to find what we were looking for.

So, throughout our middle and high school years, as I found free online resources, (either on my own or through my friends and contacts) I maintained a master list so that I would be able to find these wonderful sites again.  This list now has hundreds of resources listed on it.  I've been happy to share this list through email with dozens of people, and now I'm excited to say that I am making the full list available as a page on this blog. You can find this list by selecting the "Free Homeschooling Resources" tab at the top of the page. Resources are divided by subject, with two "catch all" sections. One of those is for sites that cover multiple subjects and the other is for sites that cover subjects or topics that don't neatly fit into the subject categories. Look at the bottom of the page, too. That's where you'll find a few resources that are just for us homeschool teachers - some things I hope will make your days go a little easier.

If you find any dead links, do let me know so that I can update the list. Enjoy the variety!