Thursday, February 26, 2009

Biographies: Stories about People

"Today Benjamin West is remembered because he was the father of American painting; and many like to think of him as the only American ever to become President of the Royal Academy of England. But I like to remember him as a boy who wanted so very much to paint that he dug his colors out of the earth and made his brushes from his cat's tail."

Marguerite Henry

Biography is my favorite genre. Several of my children would tell you biography is their favorite genre, too. What is it about people stories, stories that allow us to peek into the pages of one's life?

We are relational beings, created to be in relationship with others. So, when we pick up a book that invites us into the lives of others, we read as fast as we can, trying to learn more about the person. Such has been the case with one of our recent reading adventures, Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry.
My children and I traveled back to eighteenth-century Pennsylvania to grow up alongside Benjamin West, who eventually became the Father of American Painting. We faced his challenges as a Quaker boy passionate about painting, a forbidden venue in his time and community. Benjamin, determined to use his artistic talent, enlists the help of Grimalkin, his coal-black companion. The author's writing style invited us into the plot with her descriptive language and well-structured story line. In fact, by the end of the story, we knew Benjamin West, feeling his frustrations, his joys and his triumphs.

Not only did we come to know Benjamin, but we also came face to face with the Quaker faith and the people who followed these beliefs. Our reading led to profitable conversations and additional research. Having grown up in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, I was familiar with Quakers and what they believed, but this was my children's' first introduction. It was an accurate, historical introduction, one which allowed us to "live" history in eighteenth-century southeast Pennsylvania.

I highly recommend this book, written by an award-winning author who is known for her fictional animal stories as well as her juvenile non-fiction. We read Benjamin West aloud to three of our four youngest, a pre-kindergartner, a second grader and a fifth grader, all whom begged for me to turn the pages and read on. The book could be read independently by children ages 8-12.

For more information about Benjamin West:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Power of a Story

This past weekend Mike and I hosted a small group leader gathering in our home. Many of us had not met before the evening so Mike, in an effort to help us get to know one another better, offered a question for thought and discussion. “If you could have dinner with any person, dead or alive, who would that person be?” Interestingly, one-third of the people chose to have dinner with a parent or a grandparent they had lost prematurely. Each person explained why they chose that particular person.

At the end of the evening, I chatted with one of the leaders about the power of stories, stories shared in the written word and in the spoken word. We agreed the motivation behind choosing a family member was the desire to hear the stories, the stories of the family heritage, the stories which contributed one’s being, the stories that contributed to the lives of others.

My grandmother will celebrate her 91st birthday tomorrow. She has lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Kennedy Era, the invention of many modern conveniences and more. She remembers events well, better than most of us on any given day. She holds within her, a living history, of our world and of our family.

Several months ago, my seven-year-old daughter questioned the age of her great-grandmother and made an insightful comment as we studied the Great Depression. “We must ask Grammy about her experiences during the Great Depression. She might be the only person left alive that we can talk to about living during that time.” Ah, yes, child, you understand the importance of passing down stories.

We are all story tellers, story bearers, regardless of our age. Stories are the connection to generations, the stories we long to hear, the stories our hearts need to hear. Today I will purpose to tell at least one personal story to my children, one with which they might better understand their heritage and their world.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What Shall We Give Our Children?

Mike, I and the boys have been reading and discussing Leap Over a Wall by Eugene H. Peterson. The book chronicles and ponders the various aspects of David’s life. Interestingly there is a chapter entitled Imagination: David and Goliath. This chapter is all about the power of stories. Of course, this chapter grabbed my attention, because I know stories influence and change people’s lives, not to mention the generations that follow. And so it is with the story of David and Goliath.

Many of us, whether churched or unchurched, know the details of this empowering story. David, a small shepherd boy, collects five smooth stones, tucks them in his pouch and sets out to face the giant Philistine. An enormous feat which takes God-sized courage. David looks in the face of the giant, the adversary, and with a slingshot, claims the victory.

As we grow, this story grows with us. We realize as years and accompanying experiences move us through life how powerful this story really is. It is not just this story which impacts our lives, but all stories, the good and the not-so-good. “Stories don’t stay put; they grow and deepen.”1

One of the greatest gifts I give my children is a heart and mind full of stories, stories which were read, told or listened to. Stories from the Bible, stories from yesteryear, stories from my childhood, stories of the present and stories of the future; all will allow my children to discover, to explore, to ponder, to work out the relationship of good and evil, love and hate. The stories I give to them shape their being and help form in them a “God-dominated imagination”.2

I cannot underestimate the power of stories in the lives of my children. They, like me, will reference the stories when they need courage and hope, faith and encouragement. I must decide which stories I will present to them to open, to read or to listen to.

All quotations from the reference below.
Reference: Leap Over a Wall, Eugene H. Peterson, 1997

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Learning with Us: A Rainforest Matching Game for Preschoolers

Our older children are learning about the rainforest biome which includes mapping, the four layers, the animals, the plants, and the products. As soon as the younger children saw the brightly colored animals, they wanted to learn too.

In the course of my internet search, I found a set of rainforest animal matching cards at . I printed two sets, cut them out, mounted them with rubber cement onto construction paper and recut around the edges making a colorful edge and double thickness for durability. A perfect game for preschoolers! Books we found helpful were:

Rainforest Babies by Kathy Darling
Predators in the Rainforest by Saviour Pirotta
Find it in the Rainforest by Dee Phillips
People of the Rainforest by Anna Lewington and Edward Parker
Living in a Rainforest by Allan Fowler
Does it Always Rain in the Rainforest? by Melvin Berger

Monday, February 2, 2009

President Study, Groundhog Day and More!

February is loaded with opportunities to learn from the stories of others, from life. Last week we started our presidential unit study. We continue to work through the unit, reading about the lives of the men who lead our country. Today we also started our February calendar (math). This month we chose a heart shape in three colors and a silhouette of George Washington for our calendar pieces. We laid the pieces out along the kitchen floor, creating a pattern (math) and then writing one number (more math) per piece for each of the days in February. In addition to starting our February calendar and learning about the presidents (social studies), we talked about Groundhog Day (more social studies) and folklore (language arts). Folklore, often passed from generation to generation, is based on traditions, customs or beliefs and can include legends, fairy tales, myths and songs. We found two books we enjoyed. Perhaps there are more in your local library.

Groundhog Day! by Gail Gibbons
Groundhog Day by Michelle Aki Becker

Weaving Scripture Into Life Stories

Some of my favorite stories are from the Bible. Today I was reading Proverbs 31, the infamous wife of noble character. I can relate to verses 10 through 31, not because I exude all the noble characteristics of the wife, but because the skills and tasks named in the text encourage me to reflect on my life story, to weave the character into my role as a wife.

If you who live in Central Florida, you know today brought a continuous hammering of rain. I waited for the drops to stop, hoping I could trek out to the grocery store without becoming drenched and then be chilled by the cool air. At 4:00 this afternoon, I decided it was not going to stop raining and I would simply have to be tough and weather the weather. I thought about Proverbs 31:21, “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” As I loaded the groceries in my car, in the rain, the verse popped into my mind. We were not experiencing a snow storm, and I didn’t fear for my family, but I had an “ah ha” moment. The moment was unrelated to my character, but instead to the impact of scripture, of stories, on our lives. Scripture read and learned will not be forgotten; it will become a part of our life stories. Today, the wise words of scripture were woven and applied to my life. I can’t wait to read tomorrow!