Tuesday, October 28, 2014

With Lee in Virginia -MP3 Audiobook - A Crew Review

What do you do when you really want your child to read a particular book, but they find it difficult? What usually happens at our house is we insert an audio book. Audio books can give your child a lot of advantages, including giving them an opportunity to listen to a story that might be above their reading level, or listening while doing another activity. Arlene (age 14) has been reviewing an audio book from Jim Hodges Productions recently for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. The title? With Lee in Virginia. That's right, we've got a G.A. Henty theme going on around here. G.A. Henty wrote dozens of historical novels (and short stories) for children. His stories spanned from ancient Egypt through the American Civil War. 


Henty, history audiobooks

Since Arlene works as a Civil War interpreter for her (volunteer) job, we are always looking to expand her knowledge of the time. The problem we have had in the past is that Arlene found trying to read Henty's novels a dry experience. We were thrilled to receive Jim Hodges' MP3 Audio Book of With Lee in Virginia. This unabridged reading of Henty's work runs 11 hours and 20 minutes. Because it is an MP3 CD, you will need to listen to it on your computer, DVD player, or on a MP3 CD player. Arlene listened to the story through our DVD player a little each day as she folded laundry. (Some newer cars have the ability to play MP3 CD's, this would be a great option for a long trip!)

Besides the 11+ hours of listening to With Lee in Virginia, Jim Hodges Productions has an available 58 page PDF Study Guide to go alongside the story. You will find this study guide particularly helpful if this is your first foray into studying the Civil War... or your first time listening to a Henty novel. Each chapter in the study guide has vocabulary words, questions, and activities. After each 5th chapter, there is a short quiz. Two great plusses to the study guide, 1- the vocabulary words are in the order they appear in the story (not alphabetically,) and 2- the activity sections have many clickable links, including things like a video about the first battle of Bull Run, and Civil War themed crossword puzzles. This Study Guide should have Unit Study families in eager anticipation of what fun activity comes next.


Henty, history audiobooks

Although Arlene is fairly well versed in Civil War terminology, I found the vocabulary sections helpful for myself. Because of the length of the story, I would recommend printing off the pages with the vocabulary words to keep at hand. Look up the words and discuss them as necessary with your children. The story is geared for ages 10 and up, but like all things Civil War, preview it before sharing with your children. The Study Guide can be used to help you and your children have a deeper understanding of what happened during the war. Perhaps for your younger children (under 12?) you might just discuss the Chapter Questions instead of having them write out the answers.

If you've never cracked open a copy of With Lee in Virginia, you may be surprised to find out that this story is told from a Southern perspective with a twist. The twist is that the storyline is told by an Englishman living in the South during the war. Arlene mentioned a couple of times that this brought to light a different perspective than she had previously read about slavery and the Civil War.

Since Arlene was our main listener, I asked her to share her thoughts on the audio book. 

This G.A. Henty audio book is one man reading an unabridged edition. I will start off with why I like this audiobook better than reading the book itself, which is odd, because normally I love to read. One of my friend's family has a lot of G.A. Henty novels, all old editions. I asked to read one when I was over once, despite what my friend told me about him being a very boring author. I started reading  Under Drake's Flag and barely got through the first paragraph. We have a modern copy of  With Lee in Virginia (the audio book we are reviewing) here at home. I tried reading it as well and found it kind of boring also, but I like listening to audiobooks because I can do other things while I'm listening to them and I don't sit still very well. Being interested in the Civil War, I found it different as I've always looked at the war from a Northern perspective, and it is educational on the war in general. The book is about a young man named Vincent Winfield, the son of a Southern plantation owner who finds himself in the middle of the Civil War. It is about his adventures from right before the Civil War begins until its end. Events include aiding a runaway, the battle of Bull Run, McClellan's Advance, being taken prisoner, and being in battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The audio book is an MP3 file and is 11 hours and 20 minutes long. The chapters range from 25 minutes to 44 minutes in length. Jim Hodges, the man who reads the book, has many other titles of G.A. Henry novels for all ages.

I would like to remind you that for your older students, the files can easily be loaded to an iPod or other MP3 device, allowing them to take the story with them. We enjoyed being able to listen to the story, as opposed to reading it (most of Henty's novels are rather long,) and the Study Guide can really help you delve deeper into the story. The MP3 CD of With Lee in Virginia retails for $25, or you can purchase the digital download for $18. The PDF Study Guide retails for $12.

Other Crew families reviewed a whole basketful of Henty titles from Jim Hodges Productions, click the banner below to read all about them!


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Monday, October 27, 2014

Warriors of Honor DVD - A Crew Review

Warriors of Honor is a documentary from New Liberty Videos that chronicles the lives and military careers of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from their years as Cadets at West Point through their eventual deaths. Two unique features of this film we had the opportunity to review are that it; 1- tells about the War Between the States from a Southern perspective, and 2- it focuses on both Lee’s and Jackson’s personal Christian faiths and how that faith guided their lives and their military careers.

Civil War Documentary
Having grown up in the North, I freely admit that both Lee’s and Jackson’s lives received scant coverage in most of the Civil War history books I have read, whether those I read growing up in school, or in what has been easily accessible in my adult life. When you live in the North, you must dig to hear much outside of the Yankee perspective. I have found it often true that the victor writes the history books, so this video was an engaging look at the Civil War from the other side. This 80 minute DVD does an excellent job of reminding viewers of how vastly different the cultures of the North and the South were before the first seven states seceded and the war began.

This video does an admirable job of covering both Lee’s life and Jackson’s life throughout a chronological timeline of the war, interspersed with information about some of the major battles. It focuses mostly on the battles where Lee’s or Jackson’s troops were victorious. At the beginning you may wonder why the video seems to spend more time on Jackson’s life than on Lee’s. I believe this is due in part to Jackson’s death at age 39 just past the mid-point of the war. Overall, the film covers both lives in detail, including the reading of many letters the men wrote to their wives, family members, fellow commanders, and their pastors.

Visually, this DVD holds your interest through a combination of historic photographs, modern photos and video clips shot at historic sites, video clips of re-enactors portraying the battles described in the film, and pen and pencil drawings of scenes from the war. While this video is geared for general audiences, because of the graphic nature of many of the historic post-battle photos, and the theme of the Civil War, I would recommend it for ages 12 and up. If you have already been studying the Civil War with your younger children, you could watch it alongside your 9-11 year old children and pause it as necessary to discuss. Either way, unless your student had already seen many of Matthew Brady’s famous pictures of the carnage of the war, I would preview the entire film before watching it with your children. Since only black and white still photography was mastered at the time of the war, it does cut down some on the gruesomeness factor. You will hear historic letters being read by the narrators that include details like “the field appeared to be crawling” with the vast numbers of wounded men. 

Warriors of Honor retails for $19.95 from New Liberty Videos. We found it to be a well-presented history of both Robert E. Lee’s and Stonewall Jackson’s lives. Because of my personal ignorance about these Generals’ lives and their Christian faith, I found myself stopping the DVD several times to look up dates and names that were mentioned in the film. I would love to see New Liberty Videos put together some sort of PDF outline and/or study guide to go alongside this video. Something that included the names of the officers mentioned, whether they were Confederate or Union, and a listing of their wives (if mentioned in the film) would help those unfamiliar with Civil War history have an even better experience with this documentary.

Through watching this documentary I learned that both Lee and Jackson believed they were following God’s path for their lives, as they believes that God had ordained the Confederacy. While I am encouraged to know that both were men of prayer, and that they made sure regular services were held for the benefit of the men under their command (as well as their own benefit,) I still ponder the idea of what they were fighting for. I understand that these two men did not appear to be fighting for slavery, rather for individual state’s rights, yet with 3.9 million slaves recorded in the 1860 U.S. Census, I still personally would have sided with the North. More than 150 years after Stonewall Jackson’s death, this video makes me want to speak with him and ask him questions about how he reconciled fighting for States’ rights while denying personal freedom rights to all of those still in slavery.

Overall, I heartily recommend this video. You will probably learn a lot about these two great Generals and their lives, as I did. I learned that after Stonewall Jackson’s death, his brigade continued to fight together until Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. 

Because Emily (16) is studying US History this year, she watched this video alongside Kurt and myself. Kurt found it quite interesting as well, and he and Emily had a long discussion about it afterwards. I asked Emily to share her thoughts on the movie with you.

The documentary Warriors of Honor is interesting because it was created to cover an unusual topic, Christian faith. While most Civil War films cover simply the battles themselves, or general stratagems, this one talks about what spurred on the life and military decisions of two of the greatest American Generals, Robert E. Lee and ‘Stonewall” Jackson. The movie talks about their families, military positions, campaigns, and choices. It talks about how Lee prayed for hours before accepting the role of General of the Confederate armies, how Stonewall prayed before and after the battles despite remarks and mockery from fellow officers, and the great love and mercy which both showed to all around them, including their enemies. The movie covers the timespan from a little before the war to R.E. Lee’s eventual death after multiple terms as President of a small college renamed in his honor. It gives an interesting look at something not often seen in textbooks or films and displays two of American History’s finest men in a new light. This was a movie I enjoyed immensely and would share with friends and family to watch over and over again.

I was encouraged near the ending of the film where it quoted people from both the South and the North who heralded Lee’s life as a fine example of a Christian leader. The year after Lee’s death, the small college he had been President of, Washington College, changed its name to Washington and Lee College. The college is currently known an Washington and Lee University.

Schoolhouse Review Crew members received six different videos from New Liberty Videos, click on the banner below to read all the reviews.


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 10/23/14 Conner Prairie Learning



I am so thankful for the opportunities we have as a family to volunteer at Conner Prairie! Over the years we have all learned a lot about Indiana history, animal husbandry, acting, and music. The girls have grown up at Conner Prairie. We have been members for a long time, but the intense learning began when Emily first applied to be a Youth Volunteer. Then Arlene volunteered, then Kurt and I joined the adult volunteer brigade.

Over the years we have been able to enjoy several concerts by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra through volunteering. We've also been privileged to make many friends. Our life has been fuller because of all the opportunities. The girls now love to spin wool, learn historic songs, tell stories, and care for the animals. 

We are thankful for all the fun we have at Conner Prairie!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Favorite Crew Reviews- Honorable Mentions

The Schoolhouse Review Crew has been a tremendous blessing to us over the past three years. We have had opportunities to review so many amazing products: books, games, apps, skincare. The Crew is accepting applications for the 2015 year. To get you thinking about it some more, we wanted to share our top 10 favorite reviews. But first, today we're going on a little trip to remember the Honorable Mentions.

These Honorable Mention winners were outstanding. Alas, you can only have 10 in your top 10, so here are those four we just couldn't pass up mentioning again... they were so close to the top 10. Just in case you're wondering - yes, we do still have them all, and use them a lot!


A Cry From Egypt, VideoText Interactive, King Alfred's English, High School Prep Genius

The Honorees, in no particular order...

VideoText Interactive Algebra
Emily still uses this on a weekly basis. This online program has been a tremendous help to us, as Emily and I sometimes butt heads a little when I'm trying to teach her math. With this wonderful program, she can watch the videos, work her problems, and only needs me if something still isn't quite clicking. Tom Clark, who wrote the program is a gem of a man, and was so pleasant to work with, both derringer review, and afterwards. You can read our whole review of VideoText Interactive Algebra here.

A Cry From Egypt
Arlene adored this book by Hope Auer, and is anxiously awaiting me buying her the sequel. This historical fiction book written by a homeschool graduate captures the reader's attention and won't let go. Arlene wrote quite a bit of this review, you can check it out here.

High School Prep Genius
How do you get your High Schooler to keep records of all they have done? You buy them this book and make them read it! This meaty book by Jean and Judah Burk (popular convention speakers) encourages you to work together with your High Schooler to chronicle what they have done, and plot a course for their future. High School Prep Genius can offer a lot of quality advice for families with adolescents.

King Alfred's English
I still refer to this book by Laurie White almost every week. Something always seems to come up about the roots of a word, the spread of the English language, or British history in our discussions. I learned a ton from this book, and am so thankful we reviewed it in ebook format, as it let me tote it all around the house on the iPad. Find out more in my review of King Alfred's English.


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Mommy Blogger

"You are a Mommy Blogger," Arlene stated as she kissed my head and walked out of the room just now. Last night the girls and I watched "Moms' Night Out." We laughed, we cried, and I think the girl have a better understanding of how overwhelmed I sometimes feel with this whole Motherhood thing.  I loved the movie when I went to see it back in May with some of my best Mom-friends, and I enjoyed it again yesterday.

Moms, stress, Mommy Bloggers

I had never really thought of myself as a Mommy Blogger before Arlene's comment. When I think of Mommy Bloggers, I think of ladies with little kids, perfect hair, and about 3000 pins on Pinterest. Moms who make play-doh from scratch and have their family's pictures taken in matching clothes every year.  I, on the other hand, have teenagers, graying hair, and have only recently dipped my toes into Pinterest. Let's not even talk about how much play-doh I've purchased, or how long it has been since we had a family picture taken. Nevertheless, I think back to what Sean Austin's character said to his "wife" in Moms' Night Out. "You have something to say. Your job is important." 

On my own, nothing I say makes a difference, but, with God's help, maybe  my words can offer encouragement to others. My job as a Mom is important. Of that I am sure. Just take a look around at what happens when I'm not at home, or when my attitude is poor. The Dad may be the Spiritual leader of the household, but the Mom is the emotional leader, and when she falls, its a mess.

That leads me to this: What am I modeling to our daughters? Yesterday I was a very bad example of how to be a Mom and Wife. Today, God is giving me a new chance. Thankfully His mercies are new every morning! I must choose to surrender to God's will for my life. That is the only way to make a positive impact on others.

So to all you Mommies out there who are struggling with something, take heart. I know life is tough, yet I also know that GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL! He will not leave you or forsake you. Each day you can find new mercy and strength. Hopefully you can find joy in Him for your journey. It doesn't matter if you're a blogger or not, what color your hair is or if you've even heard of Pinterest. What does matter is that as a daughter of the King, God wants to care for you and love you through each and every day of your motherhood.

From one Mom to another -
     Your job is important!



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thankful Thursdays - 10/16/14 - God's Wonderful Creation

Thankfulness, creation, God's love

I am thankful for the many ways God shows us beauty through His wonderful creation. So many things bear witness to a Master Designer who wants us to enjoy beauty. The colors of the flowers, the turning of the leaves, the sheen on a ripe, juicy apple. All around us creation sings the glories of God.

Last night, about midnight, on my way home from work, I saw a fox. That is an unusual sight for anywhere, but especially inside the city limits. I had been having a difficult day, but God used this wonder of His creation to remind me that He sees everything I am going through. He knows when I need encouragement. He knows when I need help. God is always here with me.

I stand amazed at the beauty of God's creation. I kneel in awe at the beauty God has made of my life. Beauty for ashes - daily!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologia iWitness books - a Crew Review

Apologia Educational Ministries has recently added three more titles to their Worldview Curriculum offerings. Arlene (age 14) and I were privileged to get to review all three books for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. The three books are: iWitness Biblical Archaeology, Old Testament iWitness, and New Testament iWitness. Each title retails for $14, and each book runs about 60 pages.


Christian Worldview


These three titles are each quite unique, but first I’ll give you our overall thoughts on these latest offerings. These softcover books measure 6 by 9 inches, so they’re a great portable size, whether you want to read them on the couch, or slip them into your purse of book bag to take in the car. The layout of the pages resemble a field journal or scrapbook. The premise is that the books present the evidence, and invite you to follow the trail to understand it better. 

For the most part, we liked the overall layout style, but at times, especially in the Old Testament book, it almost became overwhelming. In the other two titles, the inclusion of photos of both artifacts and places, maps, and historic paintings does a solid job of presenting a 2D scrapbook. The issue we had with the Old Testament book was that with all of the non-traditional typefaces used for the text, plus pictures of Hebrew scrolls and Latin text, it sometimes made it difficult to stay focused on just one part of the page. If you have a child who has problems tracking across the page, or with handwriting-looking typefaces, you will need to read these books to them, not with them. The scrapbook/ journal theme includes sections of type set at a 15-20 degree angle off of the horizon, like scraps glued on a page. I think this might make it more difficult for many younger readers to stay focused.

The reading level for these books is about age 11 and up, however, there will be parts where your older children, and even some adults, may struggle initially with putting all the pieces together. These three titles were written and designed by Doug Powell. This is the first time we had read anything by Mr. Powell, and our overall experience was good.

Since each book is so unique, I want to spend time on each book individually. 




First up is Old Testament iWitness. This was our least favorite of the three titles. While overall it is not a bad book, there were a few points with this book that we struggled to reconcile with the quality and Scriptural focus we have found in other books from Apologia’s Worldview Curriculum titles. On this title, I would highly recommend you read through the whole book before reading it with your children. Maybe what bothered me won’t bother you, and then it will be no big deal, but at least you won’t be taken by surprise. The first thing was a minor annoyance, and wouldn’t keep me from recommending the book. . . but it seems strange, so I’m noting it. This book’s title is: Old Testament iWitness, and while it does give a lot of information about both the Christian Old Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures, or “Hebrew Bible,” it can’t seem to come to a focusing conclusion on the Old Testament. In trying to spend adequate time explaining the differences between the Christian OT and the Hebrew scriptures, it seems to spend more time on the Hebrew Scriptures than it does on the Old Testament. It would be better if it had one more section, some sort of wrap-up similar to the last two-page spread in the New Testament iWitness book. Instead, it ends with a two-page spread of the timeline of Creation through Jesus. 

I want to remind you of what was mentioned earlier about this title being visually overwhelming. Even I had trouble staying focused on some of the pages that were all or almost all text and photos of  Hebrew and Latin manuscripts. I think it would be easier to read if they added in a few more pages and spread out the photos of text, or just left some of them out. The fact that the pages are not numbered makes it somewhat difficult for your child to come ask you a question about a particular section if they forget and close the book without a book marker.

The third thing that bothered me about the Old Testament iWitness book is enough to keep me from personally recommending it to you. This may or may not matter to you, so please read this carefully. I take issue with what is presented in the last section on the ‘Torah’ pages. To me, it makes it sound as if they are doubting the Plenary Inspiration of Moses’ books. If you don’t know what this Plenary Inspiration is, do a quick web search (of more than one site) of the term and then jump back over here. This bothered me in how it was presented, because I am concerned that it might lead some children and younger Christians to not understand how all of the Scriptures are “God-breathed.” Here is the text that bothered me:

“The traditional view that Moses wrote Genesis does not mean he didn’t use stories from other cultures or wasn’t inspired. Most of the time the Holy Spirit did not dictate words to Moses, but gave him a message and protected Moses from error as he wrote the books in his own words and decided what material to use for the parts of history that happened before his time. Some things could only come from the spirit, such as the creation account. others might have come from different histories or even Jewish writings that existed before Moses but have since been lost.”

I can understand that the book is supposed to be written to lead the reader along a trail to the conclusion. What I can’t understand is why we would plant a seed of doubt about whether or not all of what Moses wrote was inspired (or borrowed.) The Jews have plenty of their own history for God to have inspired Moses to write about. This just really bothered me. Like I stated before, it may not bother you.



Fear not, there are two other titles we reviewed, and we really liked both of them - a lot!

New Testament iWitness is a jem of a book with a lot of answers. Just before the books were to arrive, Arlene had asked me how we got the books in the Canon of Scripture. I could only remember two of the qualifications, but this book covered the whole process in detail. Enough detail to understand how the Canon was formed, not so much that you get lost in it. Besides answering a lot of our questions in an easy-to-follow format, this book is richly filled with artwork. There are just so many great examples of … I forget the actual term form Art History class, so let’s just call it early Christian Art. Visually this was my favorite book. Woodcuts, tapestries, illuminated Scriptures, frescos, paintings, stained glass, they’re all in here.

This book also includes a few graphics to help illustrate points such as the number of copies still in existence of ancient writings. This book covers how the books in the New Testament were selected, and how they were reaffirmed throughout the ages by various church fathers, and even quoted by secular sources. I found this book well-thought out, well-laid out, and well received. Arlene and I talked quite a bit about how God has preserved His word though out the ages. The only concern Arlene had about this book was that there are a couple of layouts where the text goes from  a (note shape) at the top-right corner of the page to another (paper shape) in the bottom left corner. She said that she’s so used to starting with whatever is most-left on the page that she forgot to start at the top. This is a minor thing, just be sure to read along with your younger children, or ones who have a hard time staying focused so they track across the page correctly.

Besides the non-traditional typefaces used in the other titles, this one has quite a bit of typewriter font, making it easier to read. I loved that this book came to a conclusion! I also appreciated the note at the end that we have 99.5% of the original text (to a great degree of certainty.) This is what we need to be looking for in our Christian Worldview books, ones that point our children to the Bible as an authority, and come alongside us as parents to reinforce what we believe and are teaching in our homes. I would definitely recommend this book!



The third book we received for this review, iWitness Biblical Archaeology was Arlene’s favorite. I really appreciated the introduction where it reminds the reader that archaeological find don’t prove the Bible is true, but they can help us trust the claims of Scripture. Besides, they’re really cool! This book is really laid out like a field journal. It includes photos of archaeological find, places, and tools used for digs. It includes maps, and both recent and historic photographs of archaeologists and dig sites. I think it is fun how each time an archaeological find is shown there is a little “cataloguing” paper tag that tells when when and where it was found… and if it’s on display in a museum, that is also listed. 

When I think about what great linguists it must have taken to translate something like the Weld-Blundell Prism or the Cyrus Cylinder, I have a new appreciation for those who speak multiple foreign languages. Can you imagine translating off of something that can roll? Not to mention that to me the writing just looks like a kid cut into play-doh. Great skills are used in translating!

Arlene got out the atlas a couple times to check where the locations of the archaeological finds were. If you’re looking for an interesting book for a gift for your 11 year old (or older) this would be an awesome choice. How many of your kids know about Hadrian and Constantine and what they though of Bethlehem and Jerusalem? At least now I know. Join in the fun, go order a copy for yourself!



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