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Our daughter-in-law called last week and asked for a book to help our four-year-old grandson understand what Thanksgiving is all about. Here are three that we have carried for some time that I think are good introductions for young people.

first thanksgiving The First Thanksgiving is a great book for younger students. It tells the story in a simple way, but with lots of interesting detail and engaging pictures. Its important to note that the first Thanksgiving was not the first thing the Pilgrims did after they got off the Mayflower. The first Thanksgiving was a response to the bountiful harvest that they enjoyed at the end of their first year in the New World – after having survived the terrible first winter when half the Pilgrims died. Step 3 books are designed for grades 1-3 when children are first reading on their own. Of course, it can be read to younger children of any age! Abe Lincoln’s Hat, Christopher Columbus, and Pocahontas are other Step 3 titles. Pompeii, Tut’s Mummy, and Titanic are Step 4 titles.

three young pilgrims For slightly older students, I recommend Cheryl Harness’ Three Young Pilgrims. It tells the heart-breaking story of the Allerton children. When the Allerton family first steps from the Mayflower after 60 days at sea, they never dream that life in the New World will be so hard. Richly detailed paintings show how the Pilgrims lived through the dark winter and into the busy days of spring, summer, and fall, culminating with the excitement of the original Thanksgiving feast.

Mary, Remember, and Bartholomew are the Three Young Pilgrims. Together with their parents, they set sail for the new world in 1620. During the first winter, almost half the Pilgrims died, including the children’s mother and her new baby. But the second summer’s harvest was bountiful and the Pilgrims held a feast to give thanks to the Maker. More colonists joined the Pilgrims and more settlements were established. When Mary Allerton Cushman died in 1699, she was the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower.

It is a remarkable story, very skillfully told. And Cheryl Harness’ illustrations are wonderfully detailed with more than a few whimsical, but accurate details. This is a great book to introduce the Thanksgiving story to your children.

Landing of the PilgrimsThe Landing of the Pilgrims, written in 1950, by Newbery-award-winning author James Daugherty is a wonderful retelling of the background to the Pilgrim colony in New England. The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 is titled “Not as Other Men,” and tells the story of the Separatists in England and their decision to leave their homes and emigrate to Holland, and their eventual disappointment at the circumstances there and decision to move once again. Part 2 is titled “Between Two Worlds” and tells the story of the voyage and exploration of the New England coast Don’t miss the account of young John Howland being washed overboard and rescued which begins on page 37 (I’m a direct descendant of John Howland!). Part 3, titled “New England Adventure” tells the story of the first three years of the colony and includes an account of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Like all the Landmarks, this is one of the outstanding history books for young people. Independent reading level is grade 6 and up, but younger readers will enjoy hearing it read out loud.

As your family gathers together for Thanksgiving – remind each other of the honorable tradition handed down by our ancestors and let us give thanks to God for his many blessings.

-Rob Shearer
Publisher, Greenleaf Press
Director, Schaeffer Study Center

epicenterJoel C. Rosenberg has had a fascinating career over the past ten years. He worked for the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC as a researcher. He worked for Steve Forbes and Rush Limbaugh. He’s worked for Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Scharansky. With his background in politics and communications, and his familiarity with the politics and the players in the Middle East, he decided to write a novel in 2000. The novel begins with a terrorist attack in which airplanes are hijacked and crashed into buildings in the US. The manuscript was completed and was being reviewed for publication in New York city when the deadly attacks on 9/11/2001 occurred.

In Epicenter, Rosenberg returns to non-fiction to provide readers with an update of the startling events unfolding in the Middle East – events which are no secret, but they are being overlooked and go unreported by the mainstream media. Rosenberg sees three remarkable developments occurring right now in the Middle East:

  1.   There is an emerging alliance between Russia and Iran (Magog and Persia) which seems to be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
  2.   Israel is experiencing unprecedented economic prosperity – and may be on the verge of discovering oil and gas reserves that will dramatically alter the economic realities of the Middle East.
  3.   Muslims (Arab, Persian, Pakistani) are turning to Christ in record numbers.

Have you read about any of these in the news?

Rosenberg carefully documents what is going on and just as carefully seeks to analyze and understand what is going on in the Middle East from a biblical perspective.
This is a fascinating book. Without being sensationalistic, Rosenberg increases the reader’s understanding of what the future may hold in the Middle East.

You can order directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking here. 

- Rob Shearer,
Directory, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the latest edition of Imprimis – the newsletter of Hillsdale College. I had caught wind from other blogs that it included a lengthy, original interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It came in the mail yesterday, and the interview did not disappoint.

In the course of the interview, Justice Thomas was asked about the notion that morality is relative. Here is his response:

Have you ever read Modern Times by Paul Johnson? I read it back in the ’80s. It’s long, but it’s really worth the effort. One point it makes clearly is the connection between relativism, nihilism, and Naziism. The common idea that if you can do whatever you want to do, because truth and morality are relative, leads to the idea that if you are powerful enough you can kill people because of their race or faith. So ask your relativist friends sometime: What is to keep me from getting a gang of people together and beating the hell out of you because I think you deserve to be beaten? Too many people think that life and liberty are about their frivolous pleasures. There is more to life. And again, largely what relativism reflects is simply a lack of learning.

Modern TimesModern Times is the final text I use in the four-year high school history sequence that I teach at the Schaeffer Study Center. Its a challenge for my seniors, but richly rewarding. I have been re-reading and teaching it every year for the past five years now. Each time, I see new things, make new connections, as I am reading. One of the promises I made to myself is that I would NOT slip into the habit of teaching from my notes, but that each time I taught a course I would do the reading I had assigned to my students the same week they were doing the reading. Its important. It keeps me interacting with the text, and it keeps my teaching fresh.

But back to Modern Times. The corrosive effect of relativism is a major theme of the book. Paul Johnson sees a direct connection between the rise of moral relativism and the fact that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history.

Here are the final few sentences from the first chapter of Modern Times (the chapter is titled, “A Relativistic World”):

Among the advanced races, the decline and ultimately the collapse of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum. The history of modern times is in great part the history of how that vacuum had been filled. Nietzsche rightly perceived that the most likely candidate would be what he called the “Will to Power,” which offered a far more comprehensive and in the end more plausible explanation of human behaviour than either Marx or Freud. In place of religious belief, there would be secular ideology. Those who had once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become totalitarian politicians. And, above all, the “Will to Power” would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind. The end of the old order, with an unguided world adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster-statesmen to emerge. They were not slow to make their appearance.

The first gangster-statesmen were Lenin and Mussolini. Hitler learned from both.

It is a mystery to me how anyone can examine the record of the 20th century and stil believe in Progress. All change is not for the better. And there is nothing inevitable about Progress. And there is ample evidence that human nature has made ZERO progress in the 3000 years of recorded human history.

The record of the 20th century suggests that we have gone backwards a considerable distance in the last 100 years. What we need is not more Progress (a rejection and sneering dismissal of the past as “primitive”). What we need is a Renaissance – a recovery of the past. What we need is to recognize that perhaps there was wisdom in prior ages which we have forgotten, abandoned, and turned our back on — but that we need to recover.

-Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

IronThunderOne of the most fascinating, historically significant moments of the American Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression. . . or the War for Southern Independence . . . ahem, where was I?) was a naval engagement in 1862. It was a turning point in the war, because the attempt by the small Confederate navy to break the Union blockade with a radical new ship design was ultimately unsuccessful. The engagement was a four hour contest between two ships. Neither was able to sink the other, despite each firing broadside after broadside at each other from point-blank range. Each ship was an “ironclad.” They were the first two ironclads and their encounter changed navies around the world forever.

The noted children’s author Avi (he won the Newbery Medal last year) has written a remarkable historical novel. The protagonist is a thirteen-year-old boy in New York, whose father has been killed in the war. To help support his family, Tom takes a job working in a New York shipyard for an inventor that most people think is crazy, John Ericsson. Ericsson’s “floating battery” is being built with great speed, and great secrecy because the Union government has heard frightening rumors of a Confederate armored vessel that will be unsinkable and unstoppable.

The character of Tom is drawn sympathetically for us, and his story puts him at the center of the action – especially when he signs on to the crew and sails with the Monitor when it is finished and launched. Through his eyes, we get an eyewitness/participant’s account of the epic battle.

A perfect book for students from age 10 and up. The maps, photographs, engravings, and newspaper headlines vividly illustrate the action. Highly recommended. Available through Greenleaf by clicking to the 19th Century – Slavery & Civil War Section here.

-Rob Shearer,
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center
  Publisher, Greenleaf Press 

TheWallThis is a remarkable book. Just published in August of this year. It is a clear, frank, chilling depiction, – from Sis’s own childhood – of what life in Prague, Czechoslovakia was like. Children see, and notice, and understand the thousand of tiny details that make up daily life. And the tyranny of Communism in Eastern Europe was all about controlling the thousands of tiny details that make up daily life. Sis’s drawings are simple sketches, in drab black & white, punctuated by spots of shocking red that show the ubiquitous, intimidating presence of the oppressive state. Adults who did not personally experience the fear of tyranny (or who have never listened to someone who did) will find this a simple, but powerful introduction to what it really was like behind the Iron Curtain.

Not only does Sis give us sketches of his childhood memories, he also includes diary entries that he wrote as a young adult in reaction to the events of the 1950s and 1960s.

This would make a great book to read with your children as you cover 20th century history for the first time – whether that’s in 6th, 7th, or 12th grade.

Of particular interest to students of the 1960s is the role that popular music and western fashion played in resistance to Communist oppression.

Bits and pieces of news from the West begin to slip through the Iron Curtain.

The Beatles! (which one is which?)

Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Radio Luxembourg . . . We secretly tape songs.

Everything from the West seems colorful and desirable.

Slowly he started to question. He painted what he wanted to – in secret.

Rock music is against the principles of Socialist art.

He joined a rock group and painted music.

I lived in Europe in the 1970s. And I visited Prague, Warsaw, and East Berlin in 1976. It was dreary and depressing. And the state seemed all-powerful and immovable. We saw no possible end in sight, short of an apocalyptic war – which was dreadful to contemplate. When the Wall came down in 1989 it was surprising, shocking, and made me deliriously happy!

I spoke with Christians in East Germany in the 1970s and their plight was horrible. Christians were systematically scorned and sidelined. In East Germany, if a Christian teen-ager chose to be confirmed as an adult member of a church, he was not eligible for membership in the “Free German Youth” – the equivalent of the “Young Pioneers” in the USSR or Czechoslovakia. Choosing to be identified as a Christian meant (with certainty) that one would not be admitted to the university, or ever have the opportunity to be other than a menial laborer. In spite of this, the church did not just survive, it became the focus of resistance to the government.

Here’s the text from the back cover: “He was born in the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth at the start of the Cold War. In his graphic memoir, Peter Sis tells what life was like for a boy who loved to draw and make music, who joined the Young Pioneers, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, passed Louis Armstrong in a snowstorm, longed for blue jeans and Beatles-style boots, let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, listened to jammed radio, and traveled with the Beach Boys when they toured Czechoslovakia. Peter Sis’s story of growing up under a totalitarian regime proves that creativity can be discouraged but not easilty killed and that the desire to be free came naturally to a generation of young people behind the Iron Curtain.”

Buy this book and read it with your children. Because we should never forget how precious freedom is. click here to go to the catalog page at the Greenleaf Press store.

- Rob Shearer,
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center
  Publisher, Greenleaf Press

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