a couple of good things to report

     In this blog, I report a lot of bad things that are going on in our society and especially in the public schools in hopes that attempts can be made to better them.  But now and then there are good things to report!

     Something good to report: Chelsea Schilling of WorldNetDaily reported on February 16, 2009, that despite facing threats of disqualification, a 12-year-old girl took first place in a speech contest when she eloquently argued for the rights of unborn children – after an offended judge quit. The girl, a student at a Toronto school identified only as "Lia," said, "What if I told you that right now, someone was choosing if you were going to live or die?" the seventh-grader begins in a video recording of her speech on YouTube. "What if I told you that this choice wasn’t based on what you could or couldn’t do, what you’d done in the past or what you would do in the future? And what if I told you, you could do nothing about it? Fellow students and teachers, thousands of children are right now in that very situation. Someone is choosing without even knowing them whether they are going to live or die. That someone is their mother. And that choice is abortion." Despite Lia’s enthusiasm for her topic, her teacher "strongly encouraged" her to select a different one for her class presentation or she would be considered ineligible for an upcoming speech contest. "[S]everal teachers discouraged her from picking the topic of abortion; she was told it was ‘too big,’ ‘too mature’ and ‘too controversial,’" her mother wrote. "She was also told that if she went ahead with that topic, she would not be allowed to continue on in the speech competition." Lia’s mother continued, "Initially, I tried helping her find other topics to speak on, but, in the end, she was adamant. She just felt she wanted to continue with the topic of abortion. So she forfeited her chance to compete in order to speak on something she was passionate about." Lia’s teacher was so impressed by the speech that she allowed her student to advance as the winner. Lia presented her speech to judges in front of her entire school on Feb. 10. The school principal and teachers called Lia’s presentation the "obvious winner" – but the judges suddenly disqualified her the following day "because of the topic and her position on abortion," her mother said. Lia’s father later revealed that the judges had a "big disagreement." One was offended by the speech and voluntarily stepped down while the others reversed their earlier decision – declaring her the winner. It is always good to read of young people who stand up for their convictions!

     More good news to report: The Feb. 22-28, 2009, issue of American Profile magazine had an article "Lifting Our Language" about McKay Hatch, 15, of South Passadena, CA. It begins with a quote from McKay. "Words mean something. Words affect things. They’re not ‘just words.’" The sophomore at South Pasadena High School "has been on a crusade to lift our language since he insisted that his peers stop cussing in his presence five years ago." He said, "After a while I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I challenged my friends: ‘If you want to hang around me, I don’t want to hear cussing. They stopped, which I thought was really cool." The article continues, "That positive experience gave Hatch and idea. If his friends were up to the challenge–why not the rest of his classmates? In 2007, Hatch organized the No Cussing Club to encourage students to stop using foul language. By the start of the next school year, more than 120 students had joined." Senior Dominique Butler, 17, said, "Those words aren’t good to hear or be around. A lot of people who do cuss are trying to stop–especially when McKay comes around. They’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s the no-cussing kid!’" Also, Cary Inouye, a father of five in Canyon Country, CA, hopes reactions like that will spread. He joined the club too, along with his wife and children. Way to go, McKay!!!!! Like Abou Ben Adhem, "may his tribe increase."

a couple more interesting items, this time from Reader’s Digest

     Grammar: I have read responses on e-mail lists to questions about what is the best grammar program to use in which homeschooling parents said that grammar was unimportant and too much emphasis was placed on it. Well, each person is entitled to his own opinion, but the truth is that grammar relates to how we communicate, and that is a very important subject. Either we can communicate according to the established rules that everyone recognizes and thus speak or write so as to be best understood by all, or we can communicate according to our own little world of things and thus risk a greater likelihood of being misunderstood in our speaking or writing. Have you ever tried to read some modern text messages? Furthermore, most colleges have entrance requirements that demand English courses with substantial emphasis on grammar. Most likely, they have seen the messes that have appeared on entrance essays by many high school students, some of them "star pupils." With that in mind, I was especially interested in a Reader’s Digest article from the Mar., 2009, edition (pp. 22-23) about 28-year-old Jeff Deck, a self-styled "professional typo hunter and fixer," who goes around the country correcting mispellings, incorrect punctuation, and bad grammar on signs. The fellow may have gone a bit overboard when he corrected, without permission, womens’ (incorrect–if a plural does not end in s, the possessive is made by adding ‘s) to women’s on a Grand Canyon sign which had unfortunately been done in the 1930s by a celebrated architect. The National Park Service was not impressed. But I like his emphasis on trying to get things right ("Cars towed at owners expense"–possessive, should be owners’; billboard advising tourists to bring their "camera’s"–not possessive, no apostophe; "Express lane 12 items or less–less mass, fewer things).

     Something else from Reader’s Digest: One of the big debates among homeschoolers over the past few years has been the use of standardized tests. Of course, most colleges have required some kind of standardized test (SAT or ACT) for admission, although this is apparently changing. Well, now, there is another test for schools to "teach too." Joseph K. Vetter began an article "Quick Study: Standardized Tests" also in the Mar., 2009, issue of Reader’s Digest, saying, "If you think your kids need to spend more time penciling in answer bubbles, the College Board has granted your wish. In October, it presented a new, SAT-style exam–for eighth graders. Critics pounced, blasting it as a cynical ploy to make more money by extending the angst of college-bound teens to mere tweens. The College Board insists that the test, known as RediStep, isn’t meant to predict how students will do on the SAT but to help guide ‘the course of a student’s instruction.’" I would tend to agree with the critics. It sounds to me like more leftist "womb to the tomb" social planning.

a couple of items of interest for your consideration

     Response to Homeschool Family on Wife Swap tv Show & all homeschoolers (Wed., Feb. 4, 2009): (Apparently, homeschooling was featured on the tv show Wife Swap .I don’t watch the show–and wouldn’t even if someone paid me to! But I think that I remember hearing something about this elsewhere. Here is a response that was posted on a national homeschooling leaders e-mail list). Dear Heather Martinson: I know how this tv show portrayed you was wrong. I am so sorry…you don’t deserve it! But at least we know the truth as homeschool families. I grew up in the industry. Every childhood star in my neighborhood has struggled one way or another by media ways. As a 20 yr. homeschool-lifestyle family, we have seen the brunts of attacks: The 1st generation of homeschoolers had to hide for their freedom and wanted no outside peer influence to "stain their fruit." When the 2nd generation of homeschoolers came on the scene, they expected and opened more public learning opportunities and acceptance. The 3rd generation are here and they have been able to "just be" and enjoy. But now the world has taken notice at our numbers and power and looks at us under a microscope. When my oldest 2 sons decided to go to college (we did not raise them to think college was the end of all learning–so they had that choice) I watched the pull "Higher educational thinking" from 2 different prestigous Christian colleges had on them as they were told homeschooling was done to them not for them. We still have ground to water and weed to keep homeschooling alive and well respected unfortunately. I find my time is better spent creating memories,the love of learning and living with neat people given to me for a short time that passes so quickly. Lisa Lyons."

     High School Student Newspaper Explores Debauchery with Public Funds: Here are some excerpts from an article by Laurie Higgins, Division of School Advocacy Director with Illinois Family Institute, with good reasons to keep even high school students at home rather than send them to public schools. Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL has found itself in the midst of a mini-tempest as a result of a recent article in the student newspaper, Statesman, on the topic of hooking-up. For the uninitiated, hooking up refers to casual sexual encounters between individuals who are not in committed relationships. Hooking up is a relatively new euphemism for an old phenomenon. It’s euphemism for what in the days when people discriminated between moral and immoral behaviors would have been called profligate, promiscuous, or slutty behavior….I want to suggest that the entire topic is inappropriate for a student newspaper that is written by students enrolled in a curricular class. Public relations spokesman Jim Conrey has stated in multiple contexts that the administration has no opposition to Statesman addressing controversial topics, citing a previous Statesman issue that took on the topic of oral sex as evidence that the school is not interested in censorship. But that raises the thorny question: Should there be topics that are off-limits in public school newspapers that the taxes of diverse people subsidize and that minor students will be reading? I would argue that there are topics that school administrations should prohibit, and fortunately the Supreme Court has decided that they may, indeed, do just that. In the 1988 Supreme Court Case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, schools were granted a significant degree of authority to limit student speech in school newspapers. If the context (e.g. student newspaper) is school-sponsored and not considered a public forum, then school administrations have a fair amount of leeway for circumscribing content….When school administrations permit school newspapers to discuss topics like oral sex and hooking up, they have abandoned their responsibility to establish appropriate boundaries for students, to civilize students, and to demand standards of decency that our increasingly debased culture is abandoning with nary a backward glance. The Stevenson administration, or perhaps just the journalism adviser Barbara Thill, is allowing a base culture rather than some objective standards of decency to determine the permissibility of content. A Chicago Tribune article entitled "A Teaching Moment" extolled Statesman‘s "long list of awards," implying that exceptional journalistic skills mitigates the offense of offensive, inappropriate content. That’s analogous to the teacher at Deerfield High School who last year attempted to justify the teaching of an egregiously obscene, graphically sexual play by asserting that the play is a "heartbreaking, inspiring play, one that challenges us as much emotionally as it does intellectually. It is . . . harrowing and mystical, lyrical and beautiful." Somehow, all taxpayers are expected to accept–and fund–the philosophical view that concerns with standards of modesty or decency are automatically subordinate to other assessment criteria…Those adolescents who want to enlighten the world about the intricacies of hooking up are certainly entitled to do so, but they are not entitled to government money for their endeavors. They may freely research any ideas that pop into their fertile minds, freely employ their exceptional journalistic skills, and freely fund a newspaper that will illuminate both young and old on this new manifestation of debauchery. But unencumbered access to Illinois taxpayers’ money is something to which they are not freely entitled.

several items for your information

     New teaching unit for homeschoolers: Natalie Bishop passed along this information from Patricia Leonard ( pel27@cornell.edu ). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s inquiry-based curriculum program, BirdSleuth, has released its first module just for homeschoolers! Our Science Investigator’s Kit for Homeschools will help you bring science alive for your family with hands-on, engaging activities involving birds. Your curriculum kit includes books, lesson plans, a journal, resource pages, CD-ROM, online resources and support, PLUS free participation in Project FeederWatch and the FeederWatch kit. Through Project FeederWatch, kids collect data about the birds they see at their feeders and submit their observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Scientists use this information to understand more about the distribution and abundance of birds across North America. Children like knowing their work is really useful….I believe it will keep your children engaged in science activities for months and perhaps spark a lifelong interest in birds. To learn more, please visit www.birds.cornell.edu/birdsleuth/homeschool . Or contact Jennifer Schaus Fee, Project Leader at birdsleuth@cornell.edu .

     Christ-Centered Online Classes: Home School Enrichment Magazine passed on the following information from Greg Landry, M.S., a13-Year Veteran Homeschool Dad and Director of Human Anatomy and Physiology Lab. "I’m a 13-year veteran homeschool dad, teach college Anatomy and Physiology, and I’m director of a university Human Anatomy and Physiology Lab. I offer residential fall, spring, and summer anatomy and physiology camps (using human cadavers) and one and two semester online science classes for 6th-12th grade homeschooled students nationwide.

Forensic Anatomy CSI

Biology and Pre-Biology


Anatomy and Physiology

Sports Medicine / Exercise Physiology / Athletic Training

Please visit our website for photos, letters from parents and students, and class and camp details.

http://www.HomeschoolScienceAcademy.com ."

There are also free Online Classes for Students & Parents–For 6th – 12th Grade Students. These classes meet one time for 45 minutes . "The Urge" (to go).. and other complex (but rarely thought of) characteristics of the human body that couldn’t have happened by accident. "There’s Life in the Blood".. An anatomical and physiological look at the blood. "The Physiology of Blood Clotting".. You’ll be amazed – cool stuff! "Revelations from the Cadaver Lab".. What I’ve learned from human cadavers. "Working Toward Academic Excellence" A practical and Biblical guide for students. To register for these free classes, visit the website, http://www.HomeschoolScienceAcademy.com . For more information, call office: 828-265-4101 or cell: 828-964-1662.

     Nomad Backcountry Adventures: Peggy Letson sent me the following information. "Nomad Backcountry Adventures, an Alabama based, wilderness adventure program invites you to join us. Exploratory and free-spirited in nature, our trips are designed to foster stewardship, empowerment, community and fun. We specialize in facilitating fun learning experiences in spectacular non-traditional settings. Our 2009 Adventure Schedule is now posted on our website: http://www.nomadbackcountryadventures.com . We also have new and exciting custom trip options for groups just like yours: http://nomadbackcountryadventures.com/customtrips.htm . Please feel free to give us a call or email if you would like to receive an information packet, or would like to reserve dates for next summer. Thank you for your time; we hope you will consider a Nomad Trip for your homeschool group." For more information, contact Peggy at Nomad Backcountry Adventures: peggy@nomadbackcountryadventures.com or 802-376-9603

     You might wish to share this with your language arts students: (Whit Sasser, gospel preacher and homeschooling father, sent me the following item.) Look at how the adverb "only" can change the meaning of a sentence depending upon where it’s placed:

Only I poked him in his eye with my stick.

I only poked him in his eye with my stick.

I poked only him in his eye with my stick.

I poked him only in his eye with my stick.

I poked him in his only eye with my stick.

I poked him in his eye only with my stick.

I poked him in his eye with my only stick.

I poked him in his eye with my stick only.

So use your "only" choices carefully, pilgrims.

— from Rob Kyff…"The Word Guy"

Movie recommendations

     Awhile back I gave some movie warnings.  I don’t do movie reviews, but I do pass along what others have said. Jill Pena reported, "After watching the link below for the movie, Fireproof, I decided to see the movie. It was extremely powerful and I highly recomend it for anyone, teenager and above that is married, or ever will get married. Everyone that I could see in the theatre laughed and cried througout the entire movie. One quote that I will never forget from the movie is, ‘Never leave your partner, especially in a fire.’ New one from Facing the Giants Director: http://www.fireproofthemovie.com/ ." Karen Walker (yes, that’s my wife), reported, "I have a site that sends news and this news title caught my eye, Homeschoolers take on Roe vs Wade. I looked into it and it is about a movie/DVD called Come What May. The article tells what the movie is about and what they hope to accomplish. I just thought there might be others who would be interested in it. Here is the website: http://onenewsnow.com/Culture/Default.aspx?id=297500 . It comes from One News Now, afflitated with American Family Association. I have not seen this movie so this is not a recommendation." And Home School Enrichment Magazine reported, "Burns Family Studios presents Pendragon: Sword of His Father, a Christian epic feature film set in Britain’s Dark Ages. Filmed in five states with a cast of over four hundred actors, Pendragon is the first independent Christian film of its kind. With riveting action and stunning visuals, Pendragon’s story of faith, courage, and vision is sure to inspire your family for generations to come." Aaron Burns, Homeschool graduate and character of Artos in Pendragon: Sword of His Father, said, " For the past four years, my family’s goal has been to inspire Christians to embrace God’s purpose for their lives—to take up the world-changing task that God has for them. To carry this message, we chose the medium of film… Through Pendragon’s epic battle scenes and horse chases shines the story of a young man whose life was changed when he submitted himself to God’s plan. Although it is set in a distant time and a faraway place, Pendragon is more than just an exciting fantasy – it tells a story that is essential to Christian families today." Pendragon has already been selected as one of eight finalists in the Feature Films category of the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, alongside such already-popular films as Expelled, Fireproof, and others!

more on going to college

     More reasons to be concerned about where your children go to college: Many homeschool families are sending their children to local community colleges because it is cheaper and often there are fewer objectionable matters than on larger campuses. But communiny colleges are not immune from problems. Charlie Butts and Jody Brown of OneNewsNow reported on 2/16/2009 that less than a month after voters in California decided to amend their state constitution and protect traditional marriage, Jonathan Lopez — in a public speaking class — shared his beliefs on faith and marriage. David French of the Alliance Defense Fund picks up the story. "Jonathan talked about his faith — and one of the things he talked about in context of his faith was…marriage," says French. "He read from the dictionary definition of marriage. The professor stopped the class, called him a ‘fascist b_____d’ — [he] used the expletive — [and] told the class that anyone who wanted to could leave if they were offended…." According to an ADF press release, when no one got up to leave, the instructor simply dismissed the class, effectively ending Lopez’s speech — which violated the student’s free-speech rights, adds the attorney, especially since other students made speeches on other subjects. Religious speech, notes French, apparently was excluded from the open-ended speech assignment. "You just cannot shut down student speech like that," states French, who explains that Lopez was well within the confines of his professor’s assignment, and that the professor’s actions not only constitute viewpoint discrimination but also comprise "retaliation" because he disagreed with Lopez’s religious beliefs. According to the ADF attorney, the professor was not yet finished. "When [Lopez later] complained about what was an obvious act of censorship, he was threatened with expulsion by that same professor," he says. The speech professor is identified as John Matteson of Los Angeles Community College. ADF reports that after Proposition 8 (the marriage-related constitutional amendment) was approved on November 4, Matteson told his entire class: "If you voted yes on Proposition 8, you are a fascist b_____d." Ultimately Matteson refused to grade Lopez’s November 24 speech, and wrote on the evaluation: "Ask God what your grade is." Yes, we recognize that things like this go on in our society and we hope to prepare our children for them, but at the same time, we send them to college to be educated for their life’s work, not to be assaulted, attacked, and abused like this.The new idea of continuing "homeschooling" through college (via distance learning, CLEPing, and other such means) starts sounding pretty good!

     And one more item on this topic: Pete Chagnon of OneNewsNow reported on 2/9/2009 that the University of Cincinnati’s "UC Sexploration" week was sponsored by Pure Romance and the University of Cincinnati Wellness Center. The event featured lectures by so-called sex experts, free sex kit giveaways, and a "Pizza and Porn" night. David Miller, the Vice-president of public policy with Citizens for Community Values (CCV), an Ohio-based family advocacy group, said, "The Wellness Center’s program director, his name is Reagan Johnson, said this very thing. [He said] ‘We’re using this to showcase that porn is not necessarily a bad thing.’" The CCV spokesman says concerned students and parents need to make their concerns known to the University of Cincinnati. He points to a recent study that shows 75 percent of UC students have had one or more sexual partners in the past year. "If anything, the school ought to be discouraging that kind of activity instead of encouraging it with these kinds of seminars," Miller suggests. The final event of the "Sexploration" week was called "sexcapades." Participants were invited to test their "sex smarts" in a series of physical and mental challenges and win "great prizes."  Should Christians send their children (even though a little older but still impressionable) to a place that sponsors things like this?

Time to think seriously about where you send your kids to college

     In an item headlined "Young woman booted from team for being straight" Pete Chagnon and Jody Brown of OneNewsNow reported on 2/13/2009 that Central Michigan University is being sued after one of its women’s basketball players said she was kicked off the team due to her heterosexuality. Brooke Heike was a high school basketball star who was aggressively sought after by several colleges that wanted the league MVP from Washington Township, MI, to continue her record-breaking rebounding and shot-blocking skills on their campus. After leading her team to its first conference title in 18 years as a high school senior, the 6-foot-2 forward decided to attend Central Michigan University, which offered her a full scholarship. But Heike says she fell out of favor in 2007 with CMU’s new women’s basketball head coach, Sue Guevara, and was eventually kicked off the team. She claims the coach, who is allegedly lesbian, took issue with her heterosexuality. Cindy Rhodes Victor of the Victor Firm, PLLC is representing Heike. "She was not only kicked off the team, but her scholarship was taken away because the coach kept telling her that she wasn’t her ‘type,’" Victor explains. "And when Brooke would ask what was that, [Guevara] would say ‘I don’t want you to wear makeup, you have a boyfriend, I don’t want you to have a boyfriend…you’re too girly girl’ — that type of thing." Victor says Heike was an excellent basketball player. She adds that her teammates liked her, but still Heike’s coach refused to help her out. Heike ended up hiring independent trainers to help her. According to Heike’s attorney, cancellation of elementary education major’s scholarship came as a surprise. "She wasn’t even told ever that her scholarship was in jeopardy or that her position was in jeopardy," says Victor. "Out of the blue she gets a letter from the financial aid office that says your scholarship’s gone." A teammate then told the 20-year-old that "the coach announced yesterday that you were off the team because you’re not happy." CMU representatives refused a request for an interview, but instead emailed OneNewsNow a statement saying they are familiar with the allegations and that they will defend their position in court. According to the case file, the coach in question was fired from a coaching job at another school in 2003. Team members at that school accused Sue Guevara of similar actions.

10-year-old dies, was found hanged at IL school

      Barb Frank of The Imperfect Homeschooler (Cardamom Publishers) called attention to this item by Michael Tarm, an Associated Press writer, who reported from Evanston, IL, on Feb. 4, 2009, that a 10-year-old boy died after he was found hanging from a hook in a bathroom at his suburban Chicago school, and his mother said Wednesday that school officials haven’t given her an explanation for what they described as an accident. Aquan Lewis, a fifth-grader at Oakton Elementary, was found unresponsive and hanging from a hook in a bathroom at about 3 p.m. Tuesday. He was pronounced dead Wednesday morning at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. An Evanston/Skokie School District 65 spokeswoman, Patricia Markham, said Tuesday that the death was an accident. "We don’t believe it was anything other than that," Markham said. Several commenters noted one statement in the article that did not make a whole lot of sense. "Aquan’s mother, Angel Marshall, told WBBM-TV that she knows her son had unaccounted for at the school for a time because ‘he was dead too long.’ But she says police and school officials have told her very little." One Homeschooler commented, "Guess this is the socialization that my son is missing by being homeschooled." The Imperfect Homeschooler e-newsletter is published by Cardamom Publishers, P. O. Box 4, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235. To learn more about homeschooling, or for homeschool encouragement, visit http://barbarafrankonline.com . Obviously, things like this can happen anywhere, even in the home, but school officials in most places bend over backwards to convince us that schools are wonderfully safe places for children, yet these things keep occurring.

book reviews

     NOTE:  Taken from the 2/09 issue of Biblical Homeschooling, a free e-mail homeschooling newsletter ( biblicalhomeschooling-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling ).


     (Note on language levels: 1. Nothing objectionable; 2. Common euphemisms; 3. Some cursing or profanity; 4. A lot of cursing or profanity; 5. Obscenity or vulgarity.)

     Barrow, HaliymaSammy the Panda’s World of Colors and Shapes (Published by Author House, 2008; Related websites:  www.sammythepanda.com – book, www.authorhouse.com – publisher).  Little Sammy Panda is sad.  His cousins Milly and Tilly have misplaced the different colored shapes of his favorite toy set, "The Ship of Shapes."  His Mommy seems to know what will cheer him up, so she helps him look for the one gold star, the two green triangles, the three orange circles, and so forth.  Will they find them all?  And will Sammy be happy again?  What a neat idea!  My wife and I have homeschooled our children, and when they were little we were always looking for fun and colorful tools to help them learn their numbers, colors, and shapes.  Whether you plan to homeschool your toddlers or prepare them for traditional school, this book is a great resource for accomplishing that very purpose.  With striking full-color illustrations on every page that youngsters should find appealing, this is probably one of those books that they will ask to be read to them over and over.  Parents who are interested in developing bilingualism will appreciate the added benefit that the text at each opening is in both English and Spanish.  I give this book two thumbs up!  Language level: 1.  Reading level: ages 4-6.  EXCELLENT.

     Beaton, M. CAgatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (published in 2003 by Minotaur Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY  10010).  Agatha Raisin is a mid-50ish divorced woman who has retired from public relations, now lives in the Cotswold village of Carsely, and helps to solve mysteries.  The new curate in the village, a devastatingly handsome single young man named Tristan Delon, is murdered, and the suspicion falls on the local vicar, Alf Bloxby, who was reported to be jealous of Tristan’s charm.  Mrs. Bloxby is one of Agatha’s best friends, so Agatha agrees to look in on the case to help clear Mr. Bloxby.  However, the police do not always appreciate her interference.  I enjoy classic English detective mysteries, such as those by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P. D. James, P. G. Wodehouse, and Edith Pargenter, so when my father gave me this one, I looked forward to reading it.  Well, ahem, let the reader beware–especially if you like good (emphasis on GOOD) English detective stories.  The Buffalo News said, "The Miss Marple-like Raisin is refreshingly sensible and wonderfully eccentric."  I have read every Miss Marple mystery and enjoyed them all.  Agatha Raisin is NO Miss Marple.  Jane Marple, and her creator Agatha Christie, had some scruples.  Agatha Raisin, and one would assume, by the writing, her creator M. C. Beaton, apparently do not.  While there is no graphic sex portrayed, the book is filled with sexual references, such a local woman’s gentleman friends (some of whom are married), a woman who is an "easy lay," getting "sexual vibes," and such like.  In fact, the whole plot revolves around whether Curate Delon was "gay" or not; he apparently "came on" to both men and women.  Someone remarks that if he is, "There’s nothing wrong with that."  Furthermore, the language is quite raunchy, with frequent cursing, profanity, taking God’s name in vain, and vulgar terminology (the word p*n*s even appears once).  Plus, there are plenty of references to drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and gambling.  It is a very racy book.  If you like mystery stories with all these worldly features, then you may enjoy the book, but I certainly did not and would not recommend it at all.  This is the thirteenth Agatha Raisin book.  It is going in the trash, and I have no desire to read any of the others.  Language level: 5.  Ages: for adults only!  NOT RECOMMENDED.

     Caterine, Linda RThe Adventures of Songha, The Amazing Savannah Cat (Published by Author House, 2009; Related websites: www.authorhouse.com – publisher, www.savannahcat.com – more about Savannah cats).   Songha is a Savannah cat, a relatively new breed that is part African Serval Wildcat and part domestic cat.  Her temperament is basically that of a traditional domestic cat, but her restless wildcat blood drives her to seek out adventure.  The book relates how her father was brought from the Kalahari Desert in Africa and how she was taken from her father to live with her new family in Las Vegas, NV, that not only includes her masters but their children and two other cats, Simba and George.  Told from Songha’s own viewpoint, the story explains how, disappointed about being kept inside the house, she longs to go outside and roam free, so she begins to search for ways to escape for just a while.  Will she make it?  If so, what might the results be?  And what happens when a Savannah cat meets a coyote?  Linda Caterine and her husband, who live in the Las Vegas area, became interested in Savannah cats a few years ago and now breed them.  After acquiring Songha, she felt that the cat’s experiences would make a wonderful children’s story.  The Walkers are a family of cat lovers, so this book is a hit at our house!   Linda’s portrayal of Songha, who considers herself the "African Leopard Queen" not only of the house but of the entire neighborhood,  is in perfect keeping with the typical cat personality.  The importance of family and the virtues of courage and bravery are emphasized.  Each chapter ends with a poem summarizing its contents.  As this is the first ever children’s book about Savannah cats to be published, the reader cannot help but learn a lot about this rare breed and be amazed at their antics.  This book is definitely a keeper!  Language level: 1.  Reading level: ages 9-12.  EXCELLENT.

     Cote, Jenny LThe Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud (Published by AMG Publishers, 2008; Related website: www.maxandliz.com ).  Max is a Scottish terrier who lives a quiet and peaceful life in the glen, but one day he hears the voice of the Maker speaking through a mysterious humming of the reeds telling him to follow the fire cloud.  On the way, he meets Al, an Irish cat, and Kate, a West Highland terrier from another part of Scotland, both of whom have also heard the voice of the Maker.  After they cross the English Channel, they meet up with Liz, a French cat, and several other animals who are following the fire cloud too, while animals from all over the world have been called as well.  The fire cloud leads every one of them to a place in the Middle East where a man named Noah is building a big boat.  I shall let your imagination figure out the rest of the story, except to say that during the voyage there is much mystery afoot in that someone aboard the ark is causing trouble, and attempts are made on both Max’s and Noah’s lives.  Will Max and Liz be able to find out who is behind the plot and protect the humans?  What an ingenious and attention-catching way to tell the story of Noah and the ark, giving the viewpoint of the animals!  The book is identified as "Juvenile Fiction-Fantasy."  One would almost hesitate to call it "fantasy" because there are those of us who believe that the basis of the story, the Biblical account of the worldwide flood in Genesis, was a real event, but, of course, animals do not talk and exhibit human emotions.  A note at the beginning says, "This is a work of fiction based on truth."  The author wrote, "You may think I’ve taken great liberties with the Noah story, and I guess I have.  Could God have transformed the ark into the natural habitats of the animals?  Of course, but did He?  Who knows?  It’s fun to think about what could have been, while holding true to what we do know."  This book is well written and easily kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.  In addition to being a fun story to read, there are important character traits exhibited, such as loyalty to friends, overcoming fears, exhibiting courage in the face of danger, and trusting in God, as well as an underlying depiction of the battle of good versus evil in the world.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would recommend it highly to everyone.  It is the first book in "The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz" series.  The author is already writing the second volume, The Dreamer, The Schemer, and the Robe, in which Max and Liz return to help Joseph.  Future books are planned which will take Max and Liz to important events in both Biblical and world history.  Children who like stories about animals, and anyone who likes good fantasy fiction, especially something based on Bible stories, should appreciate this book.  Language level: 1.  Reading level: Ages 8 and up.  EXCELLENT.

     Dasef, MarvaTales of a Texas Boy (Published by Texas Boy Publications, 2007; Related website: http://marvadasef.com/ ).  This book is a collection of twenty stories told by Edward Perkins (Eddie) who lived during the Depression with his Pa, Ma, younger sister Dorothy (Sister), and little brothers James and John, on a 640-acre farm near Hereford, TX, in the panhandle of the state.  It gives a picture of days when life was simpler as viewed by an eleven-year-old boy, whose experiences are reminiscent of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Tom Sawyer.  A note in the front of the book says, "All characters and events in this book are fictitious."  However, a note on the back cover says, "The author’s father is the real Eddie narrating the stories inside this book."  In fact, at the end of one story about how Eddie’s Pa asked a fairly well known amateur detective named Frank Norfleet to help find a con man who had cheated him, a note says, "Frank Norfleet and Burke Mathes were real people.  Eddie and his father did not actually meet them.  In other words, this is a Texas Tall Tale."  Thus, we may conclude that the stories in the book are perhaps based on some real events but many have been fictionalized.  I found the book to be very entertaining.  Children, and adults too, should get a lot of laughs out of reading all about Eddie and his exploits–whether they are from Texas or not.  Parents who try to be careful about the language in the books their children read will just want to be aware that the "d" word is found once in a story where a stranger uses it to describe his daughter who had tried to steal something from Eddie and his Pa on a trip, but Pa soundly criticizes him for saying it and it is very minor.  Tales of a Texas Boy is a lot of fun.  So you are invited to sit down, take your shoes off, and hear all about  Dad Boles with his tame bear Sophie, Bucephalus (Beau) the jackass, skunks in the corn patch, the mammoth bones at Clovis, the rather strange Luck twins, Cage McNatt’s prize sow, Mae West, and many others.  Language level: 3 (unfortunately).  Reading level: ages 9-12, Senior Citizens too.  EXCELLENT.

     Jeffers, SunniA Puzzling Occurrence (published in 2007 by Guideposts, 16 E. 34th St., New York City, NY  10016).  This is another in the "Mysteries of Sparrow Island" series about Abby Stanton, an ornithologist who returns to Sparrow Island where she grew up to live with and help take care of her wheelchair bound sister Mary.  In this book there are actually several mysteries.  What is causing the suspicious noises in the bed and breakfast owned by Chinese immigrant friends Martin and Terza Choi?  Why does Mr. Clark, one of the Choi’s guests who seems to be very secretive, disappear in a freak winter snowstorm?  Who is the other, rather rude guest that seems to know all about Mr. Clark but says that he does not actually know him?  And how do the jade tiles, some of which have been left in a room at the Choi’s house and others arrive through the mail, fit in?  During some of these problems, Martin Choi seems to return to the old pagan superstitions, but ultimately his faith in the one true God overcomes.  It is always nice to read books that, instead of glorifying worldliness or exemplifying secularism, demonstrate people’s living their everyday lives with faith in God.  Aside from the mention of a few religious practices with which those of us in churches of Christ would disagree (instrumental music in worship and using the church building for social functions), these books are wholesome, and in fact, the end of this volume is one of the most heartwarming conclusions that I have read in a while.  Language level: 1.  Ages: suitable for anyone but probably of most interest to women and older teen girls.  EXCELLENT.

     Krause, Gayle C.   Rock Star Santa (PUBLISHER: Scholastic Inc., 2008).  "’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…," except…. Donner is playing an electric bass, Dancer is doing hip-hop, Dasher croons into the mikes, and Cupid jingles jazzy kisses, all of which serve as the opening act for the main event.  Santa Claus, whose snow white hair is pulled back in a pony tail, comes out, grabs the mike, takes a step back, and POOF!  The Christmas stage goes black.  Was the boy just dreaming about the Christmas concert and then woke up, or did something really happen?  At this point Rock Star Santa is not available through bookstores or online. It is a Scholastic Book Club selection and a seasonal purchase that is available from October to February each year. Perhaps a number of the young people who get Scholastic Book Club books, and probably a lot of their parents too, have been to rock concerts at one time or another.  If rock music is your thing, then you will undoubtedly like this children’s picture book by Gayle Krause and its humorous take on Christmas Eve.  Those who don’t care much for rock music may not appreciate it.  But I suspect that a good number of people will find the story, with the caricature type drawings of Will Terry, quite funny.  In fact, "head-bangers" (and I do not use this term in a bad sense but just mean folks who really enjoy rock music), and others too, may want to make reading it a holiday tradition in their houses.  LANGUAGE LEVEL:  1.  READING LEVEL: age 1.5.  FAIR.

     Lundquist, SueI’m Thankful: A Collection of Thoughts for Bedtime, for a Lifetime (Published by Halo Publishing International, 2008; Related websites: www.ImThankful.com – author, www.halopublishing.com – publisher).  This unique little book is exactly what the title and subtitle say that it is.  The author, who is a wife, mother, and charity advocate, asks two questions, "What was your favorite part of the day?" and "What are you Thankful for most" then makes several observation likes "I’m thankful I have my toys."   These questions are adaptable to any situation in life and can be adapted in a car, at the end of a football game, or whatever.  Next, she provides two or three pages on which the reader can journal his thoughts about the question or statement and also gives some good advice for maintaining a positive attitude.  Encountering some very challenging situations in her life, Sue wondered how to maintain gratitude through stressful times and how to  teach her children fortitude.  She hopes that these questions and statements will be a staple in mainstream family communication, saying, "I initially created this journal to instill values in my children….The I’m Thankful Journal is a teaching and sharing experience for everyone."  It is very easy to grow up being selfish, so as parents, we want to raise our children to be appreciative.  This journal can serve as a great tool for parents and children to sit down with each other at the end of the day (or at any other time which is convenient), think of things for which they can be thankful, and write them down together–or draw pictures, or do whatever will remind them of their blessings.  It is designed to facilitate quality conversations between parents and children as opposed to mere yes and no answers.  The adorable black and white photographs, mostly of children engaged in various activities, should assist in stimulating such thought and conversation.  Hopefully, this practice will instruct individuals from a young age about the importance of compassion and gratitude beyond "please and thank you."  I highly recommend the book.  Language level: 1.  Reading level: both children and adults.  EXCELLENT.

     Magi, ToulaWhat Can We Do Next?: The Adventures of Lexie and Lolly (published by Outskirts Press Inc., 2008; Related websites: http://www.ToulaMagi.com – author, http://www.outskirtspress.com – publisher).  If you are an adult, can you remember back to those days when you were a kid and it was raining so you could not go outside to play? What did you do to entertain and amuse yourself? Lexie is a little girl who finds herself in that very situation. She remembers that her Mommy once told her that she had an imaginary friend when she was a little girl and they did all kinds of things together. So Lexie decides to use her imagination to create a little friend of her own.  Her friend fits into the palm of her hand and wears many colors. She names him Lolly because his different colors remind her of lollipop flavors. What will Lexie and Lolly do? Where will they go?  This picture book for children is a wonderful reminder of how imaginative kids can be when given the freedom to do so, and thus will serve as a great encouragement for them to conjure up their own fun at any time and in any place which they choose. Oh yes, there are television and video games, but sometimes it is actually more fun just to pretend. The author says that she was inspired to write the book when watching her daughter, named Lexie, play with her own imaginary friend. The colorful illustrations will be very helpful in enabling children to visualize the story. What Can We Do Next? is truly a keeper!  Language level: 1.  Reading level: Ages 4-8.  EXCELLENT.

     Menge, DawnQueen Vernita’s Visitors (Published by Outskirts Press Inc., 2008; Related website: http://outskirtspress.com/DawnMenge ).  Vernita is the Queen of the Oceaneers Kingdom and lives in a beautiful castle.  She has many wonderful friends from the land of Quails but has not seen any of them for a whole year and misses them.  So she invites twelve of her good friends to visit her for one month each.  Debbie comes in January, Tommy comes in February, and so forth.  Vernita and her monthly friends do something different each day of the week, but everything that is done is related to the season, such as snowball fights in the winter, miniature golf in the spring, sleeping outside in the summer, and picking apples in the fall. The author has a Masters Degree in Special Education and has worked with the severely handicapped population.  The story is woven around her own friends and family.  This is a great tool for parents or teachers to use in helping students, perhaps even including many with various kinds of learning disabilities, to understand the months of the year, the days of the week, and the seasons in a fun way.  The sumptuous, full-color drawings are eye-catching and help to illustrate the action of the story for the reader.   All children should love it.  Even my twelve-year-old found it appealing.  I give it a high five!  Language level: 1.  Reading level: first and second grade–independent readers; preschool and kindergarten–read to.  EXCELLENT.

     Morris, Eileen (Ei).  The Original Shnoozles Starring in "And Next Came a Roar" (published by Shnoozles LLC, 2005; Related websites: www.shnoozles.com , www.shnoozlesedu.com ).  "Shnoozleland is not too far from anyone you know.  It’s up a hill and down a spell from anywhere you go."  Shnoozles are these incredibly cute little creatures who will appeal to kids everywhere.  In "And Next Came a Roar," the Shnoozles are playing ball after school near the big apple tree, which was next to the barn which was used as third base.  Whenever the ball is hit into the nearby forest, it comes back in half and red hot with flames.  They are down to their last ball and Bubu hits the ball into the forest again.  This time they go to search for it and find it in front of a cave with a sign that reads "Bud."  All of a sudden, the Shnoozles hear a loud roar!  What will happen next?  This is just a really fun picture book for children to read or have read to them, but it also extols the beauty of friendship and demonstrates the need for children to learn about being inclusive in their play.  It won the "Benjamin Franklin Award" from the Independent Book Publishers Association.  At the end, there is an interactive "Scavenger Hunt" to help use the book as a teaching tool.  "And Next Came a Roar" is available both in printed format and also on a CD that includes the theme song and can be done as a read-along adventure.  In addition, you can visit http://www.shnoozles.com to download free pages with follow-up activities.  I imagine that most all kids will surely enjoy Shnoozles.  I know that I did.  Language level: 1.  Reading level: read-to-ages 3-5, reading ages 6-7.  EXCELLENT.

     Rahaman, EdenOur Brother and His Chair (published by Xlibris Corporation, 2008; Related websites: http://www.Xlibris.com/OurBrotherandHisChair.html – book), http://www.Xlibris.com/EdenRahaman.html – author).  Put a little boy in his roller chair.  What can he do?  Where can he go?  This picture book, with full color photographs, some of which include the little boy’s older sister and brother, is a recollection of the joys of childhood and a chronicle of family love.  Small children are absolutely fascinated with looking at even smaller boys and girls, whether in person or in picture, whom they can view as "babies."  It is fun for them to see a baby do the things that they used to do as babies–eat, drink, play, ride, and so on.  The photographs are quite good, and the text, while simple, is appropriate for the targeted age group.  Who can resist such a cute smile?  This would make an excellent book for a parent and a small child to sit down and look at together.  Language level: 1.  Reading level: Ages 3-6.  EXCELLENT.

     Pagratis, Maggie. You’ve Got Me Wishing for Wishes Again (published by Athse Publishing, 2006; Website: www.athsepublishing.com ).  The lyrical message and the soothing illustrations of this book combine to remind us that while we may face many situations in life that could work to take our dreams or hopes away, the very first step to any kind of success, freedom, or healing is daring to wish.  The young boy who is pictured in the book’s illustrations and who says, "You’ve got me wishing again" about rainbows and stars and other things, reflects the desire for thoughts of goodness and love today and for a better tomorrow with love, family, and freedom.  Children who are growing up in a world where, unfortunately, everything is not always as we should like it to be certainly need to be encouraged in their wishes and dreams for the future.  However, those of us who are older can use some encouragement for our hopes as well.  You’ve Got Me Wishing for Wishes Again offers this kind of encouragement for children and adults alike and even points us to sources where we can find such encouragement.  I especially like the picture where the boy is hugging someone whom I assume is his mother.  This book is a keeper.  Language level: 1.  Reading level: ages 2 to 8, but anyone can enjoy it.  EXCELLENT.

     Warren, Susan May, and Downs, Susan KThe Sovereign’s Daughter (published in 2005 by Barber Publishing Inc., P. O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, OH  44683).  Set during the Russian Revolution of 1917, this book tells the story of Olga Nikolaevna Romanov, daugher of the Imperial Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, who escapes from Alexander Palace at Tsarkskoe Selo, just south of Petrograd, disguised as her look alike chambermaid Oksana Nikolaevna Terekhova.  Her father trusts that God will protect her, and the Russian ruler assumes that she has a better chance of survival than he and others in his royal family from overzealous revolutionaries, especially the Bolsheviks, but he still fears for her life.  In order to keep her and her secrets safe, he asks a Mennonite merchant named Anton Johannovich Klassen to escort her to a safe haven.  Although the task is dangerous, the young Mennonite accepts the assignment that he hopes will bring honor to him and his family. However, dangerous adversaries seem to know where Olga/Oksana is and make efforts to capture.  To protect her, the two decide that they will marry, in name only, with the intention to annul the marriage when they are safe, and Anton hides her inside his family’s South Russian farm.  However, the insecure young man from the steppes Russia’s Mennonite farmland is no match for enemy forces, who stop at nothing to seek out and destroy his charge.  Only faith in the promises of God can save the sovereign’s daughter and those responsible for her safekeeping.  Will the two actually escape, and if so can they learn to love one another and make their relationship a true marriage?  The book is historical fiction, but as the authors observe in their end note, "This is a story of ‘what if,’ not ‘as was’–not a chronicle of history but a fictional parallel to historic events.  In all likelihood, the real-life grand duchess Olga Nikolaevna Romanova died with her family in the Yekaterinburg cellar of the house where they spent the last three months of their captivity.  However, many rumors and theories abound concerning the purported escape plans hatched to save the tsar and his family."  It is well written and filled with sufficient mystery and suspense to keep the reader’s interest at a high level.  There is nothing objectionable, and in fact the hero and heroine exhibit the highest degree of moral character, and faith in God is emphasized throughout the story.  However, it is probably not suitable for small children.  There is one episode where Yulia, Olga’s travelling companion and servant, is raped–nothing graphic or detailed, but it is there.  Both of the authors are familiar with Russia.  Susan K. Downs has frequently traveled to Russia as an adoption coordinator. Susan May Warren served with her family as missionaries in Khabaraovsk for past eight years; she is also a homeschooling mother of four children.  There are four sequels in the "Heirs Of Anton" series:  Oksana, which continues the story of Olga and Anton; Marina, about their daughter who was widowed and pregnant as Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Russia; Nadia which takes place in 1970, when former CIA spy Nadia "Hope" Moore must sneak behind the Iron Curtain, spring her estranged husband from a Russian gulag; and Ekaterina, who boards a plane to Russia, her ancestral home, to seek some answers while she must flee the Russian underground.  The Sovereign’s Daughter is still available, but the others are listed as "Out Of Print (Limited Quantity Available)."  Language level: 1.  Ages: adults and older teens.  EXCELLENT.

     [Note:  Many of my book reviews can also be found at http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org and http://homeschoolbuzz.com .]

2009 Greater St. Louis Area Home Educators Expo


First Evangelical Free Church of St. Louis County

1375 Carman Road, Manchester, MO 63021

March 26th, 27th, and 28th, 2009

Featured speakers include:

     Dr. Jay L. Wile

Founder of Apologia Educational Ministries, well-known speaker, scientist, teacher, homeschool advocate, and author of many books, including the award-winning Apologia junior high and high school science curriculum. Dr. Wile holds a PhD in Nuclear Chemistry from Rochester University, and has published numerous research articles as a graduate student and university professor.

     Ray and Charlene Notgrass

Authors, historians, artists, homeschool parents, and founders of the Notgrass Company, a family business that produces a variety of original curriculum and resources, including the best-selling Exploring America, Exploring World History, Drawing to Learn and Learning to Draw. Oldest son John Notgrass is an author and speaker, known for his first-person historical narratives.

     Dr. Stephen Guiffanti

Successful medical doctor, lecturer, author, learning specialist, and homeschool parent. He and wife Mary are founders of Children’s U.com and creators of the scientifically validated Rocket Phonics reading curriculum. “Dr. Phonics” is also a dyslexic and kinesthetic learner that speaks and writes from personal experience. The Purpose of Passion is his latest book.


  Thursday night will offer:


Free admission to the Curriculum Exhibition Hall! (5:00 – 9:00 p.m.)


Free admission to our Annual Homeschool Variety Show! (7:00-8:30 p.m.)


Free admission to the New Homeschooler Seminar! (6:00 p.m. AND 7:30 p.m.- same topics at each)


  Friday and Saturday will showcase:


Speakers, Seminars, and Workshops – for all types of homeschoolers!


Curriculum Exhibition Hall – 3 floors of exhibitors!


Special Needs Speakers – ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum, Sensory Integration, Dyslexia, and more!


Children’s Program – all new, located in the same building as the conference!


Youth Seminars – interesting topics for age 13 and over!


The Homeschool Clinic – a place where you can get personal help from the experts!


  Seminar presentations will include:


Tom Clark – “Identifying and Avoiding the Trouble Spots in Math”


Kathy Morrissey – “Training Character Into Your Children”


Sue Pruett – “The Charlotte Mason Way”


        Local speakers include: Phyllis Wheeler of Motherboard Books, Holly Broyles of Families for Home Education Region 5, Vickie Weller of A College Prep Home Education, Bill and Jo-ellen McDonald, Congressman Todd Akin and many more!

     For more information and to register for the conference, please go to