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I am, in general, a big fan of the DK books. Their Eyewitness series, with 160+ titles now, is an excellent resource for young readers (approximately 8-16) on a wide variety of topics. I’m busily adding all of the Eyewitness books into their own category in the Greenleaf online store. But beyond the Eyewitness books, with their museum quality photography, DK has also done some excellent development in traditional illustrated children’s books.

Parents, teachers, and students who will be tracing the history and connectivity of peoples and places from ancient through medieval and modern times will find the following two books very intriguing. They will definitely help your students to understand how the past still influences and is visible in the present.

The first title is A Street Through Time, by Dr. Anne Millard and Steve Noon. It is billed as a 12,000-year walk through history. The book focuses on a location somewhere in the island of Britain, along a river and presents a detailed over-sized two-page spread which depicts what the place looked like at fourteen key periods of history. The first picture is labeled 10,000 BC. We can pass lightly over this one, since it’s largely guess-work. The second scene is 2,000 BC and shows farmers who have constructed a simple village. By 600 BC, this village has passed into the iron age and grown in population. On a nearby hilltop is an iron-age fort similar to those found throughout southern Britain. In AD 100 our village has become an outpost of the Roman Empire. There is a Roman bath, a Roman temple, and a Roman market. In AD 600, things have slipped backwards. The Romans are gone, their buildings are in ruins. But the place by the river is still inhabited. In 900 AD things have gotten both better and worse. There is a stone church and new thatched residences, but there is also the threat of Viking raids. Our scene shows such a raid in progress. In 1208 AD, we have reached the high middle ages. The village has grown a bit. There is a castle on the hill now. In 1400 AD the village has turned into a town. There is a new stone church, new town walls, and a new stone bridge. The townsmen are prospering. In 1500 AD, the plague strikes. It’s not a pretty scene. The next scene is labeled 1600′s finds our town caught in the conflict between King and Parliament – civil war in fact. Some of the houses are burning, the castle on the hill is under siege, and there are soldiers marching in the fields outside the town walls. The 1700s are much more prosperous, even elegant. The residences along the river have been rebuilt. The castle is in ruins, but there is a Georgian estate constructed beside it. The 1800s show the effect of the industrial revolution. The effect on the town is mixed. Some prosper, but many of the workers are poor (grim times). The last two scenes show our familiar street in the late 1800s and today. The church is still there – a landmark to help us orient ourselves. The castle is in ruins, but has become a tourist attraction.

Among the other fun things to do with this book is to play a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” game. The illustrator has hidden a time traveler, named Henry Hyde in each scene. He keeps the same costume through the ages, and you can recognize him by the goggles on his head, his scarf, and long duster.

There are also text cues in the sentences printed in the margins that direct the reader to find particular features. A teacher or parent could use these very effectively with a child. An older student will enjoy the challenges on their own.

The book is oversize, 14″ x 10″, making each 2-page spread a full 28″ wide.

A Street Through Time is a hardback, 32 pages, with full-color illustrations throughout. It is available for $17.99 direct from Greenleaf.

The second DK book is constructed on the same pattern as A Street Through Time, but takes a broader view. A City Through Time is billed as “The Story of a City – from Ancient Colony to vast Metropolis.” The setting for this book is somewhere in Europe, at the mouth of a river on the Mediterranean coast – though the precise location is never specified. Rather than give an identical view for each snapshot in time, the depiction of the city in these spreads is a bit more varied. This allows for a more detailed examination of particular features and buildings. The story begins with a Greek colony in 550 BC (with a separate spread on the Greek temple), then continues to Roman civitas (again with a separate spread showing the public baths in great detail). There is a view of the medieval city (with detail on the castle) and then the more modern industrial port (and railroad station) and the steel and glass modern city (with a cutaway view of a skyscraper turned on it’s side).

This one is also oversize, 14″ by 10″ making each 2-page spread a full 28″ wide.

A City Through Time is a hardback, 32 pages, with full-color illustrations throughout. It is available for $17.99 direct from Greenleaf.

- Rob Shearer
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

It is with great pride that Greenleaf Press announces the publication of the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature ($19.95) by Cyndy Shearer

For over ten years, Cyndy has been teaching high school literature classes in home school tutorial settings. For the past five years, she has been teaching all four years of western literature at the Schaeffer Study Center, in Mt. Juliet. We are very pleased to be able to publish the second volume in her four year syllabus. The Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature joins the already published Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature
($18.95). The Greenleaf Guides for years three & four (Early Modern Lit and Modern Lit) are under development – meaning Cyndy is already teaching them and refining the material.

Like the Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature, the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature takes an inductive approach to the study of selected outstanding literary compositions. Rather than studying short excerpts from dozens of possible works, Cyndy has selected a representative set of selections for close study. Students are led by a series of questions that help them to read and understand the text, and then to reflect on the larger questions being dealt with and the authors’ worldviews. A high school student who completes these two literary studies will have a superior background and preparation for the study of modern literature – either in high school or college.

Beginning with Bede and Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Guide (with wry observations by Cyndy) takes students through Beowulf, Gawain, Chaucer, & Hamlet. A worldview bonus is the conclusion of the course with a study of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard’s raucous verbal pyrotechnics on the themes of fate and death which uses two of the minor characters from Hamlet who get caught up in Shakespeare’s play and then try to puzzle out what the intrigues of Denmark mean when all the Shakespearean characters have left the stage.

The text is designed for an instructor (parent, teacher, or tutor) and student who are reading the text together. Some students may be able to complete this study on their own, but the best experiences will be the discussion of themes and issues with another reader. You don’t have to be an expert in medieval lit in order to teach this course – you just have to be willing to do the reading along with your student(s).

Cyndy is eminently well qualified to teach and write on these themes. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Queens College (she graduated in three years and wrote an undergraduate honors thesis on the poetry of T.S.Eliot). She has an MA in English from the University of Virginia, with an emphasis in contemporary American and European poetry. At U.Va. she participated in the graduate poetry writing workshop led by the gifted poet, Gregory Orr. Cyndy has been homeschooling the Shearer children since 1985, having graduated five from high school – and with six more still at home. She co-founded the Francis Schaeffer Study Center in Mt. Juliet with her husband Rob in 2003.

Along with the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature, Greenleaf Press is pleased to make available a complete study package which includes the Guide and all six of the texts selected by Cyndy for her course on Medieval Literature. The texts include:

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, by the Venerable Bede
Beowulf, trans. Rebsamen
Gawain, trans. Tolkien
Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard
The Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature, by Cyndy Shearer

The Medieval Lit Study Package is available for $70.91 (regular retail – $78.70)

Also available from Greenleaf Press is the Ancient Lit Study Package which contains:

The Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature ($18.95)
The Epic of Gilgamesh (Sandars translation)
The Odyssey (Robert Fitzgerald translation)
The Oedipus Cycle (Robert Fitzgerald translation)
Antigone by Anouilh (Barbara Bray translation)

The Ancient Lit Study Package
is available for $61.08 (regular retail – $67.85)

Both the Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature and the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature are also available as downloadable eBooks, making it easy for a parent/teacher/tutor to provide the text to their student, while using the eBook to follow along on their computer.

Needless to say, I highly recommend these high school literature courses for homeschoolers, classical schools, and any high school program that wants a thoughtful rich study of the history of Western Literature.

Wise GuyWise Guy is one of the more unusual children’s books I’ve ever run across. The illustrations and narrative are written for young people aged 8-12, but there is a deceptive depth to this book that will delight older students as well as helping the occasional adult who is reading it out loud (or to themselves). Along with the engaging illustrations – which make life in ancient Athens look quite pleasant there is a second boxed narrative in smaller type which complements the larger font story. These smaller boxed notes give a little deeper and fuller account of the ideas presented in the pictures. One of the unusual features of the book is that is based entirely on the ancient sources from classical Greece. We get a nuanced introduction to Socrates personality as well as the key ideas and outline of his thought on knowledge and ethics, as well as his attitude towards the Greek gods and mythology. His skepticism about the gods is, of course, what led to his trial and execution, presented (without being morbid or maudlin) on the last two pages of the book. The final two-page spread is a delightful caricatured rendition of Raphael’s School of Athens, with Socrates and a host of modern thinkers whom he influenced arrayed on the steps around him. Most younger readers won’t recognize them at first, but adults and older students will enjoy seeing the connections that are made. Wise Guy is a hardback, 32 pages, 9″ x 11″ color on glossy stock. $16.00 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Marco PoloThe Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman is a well-written, carefully balanced assessment of one of the most controversial writers from the Middle Ages. Marco Polo’s tales were so outlandish that they were dismissed by many at the time (and by many still today) as wildly exaggerated or even fabricated. For example, he said he had seen rocks that burned – a fantastic tale that Europeans dismissed. Of course, what he had seen was coal – which was plentiful in China, but virtually unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages. Still many of his claims remain unsubstantiated. Marco (and his cousin and his uncle) spent twenty-four years in China, learning the language, making a living as merchants, and winning the favor and confidence of The Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan ( a descendant of Ghenghis Khan). Freedman does an excellent job of describing their journey, and the remarkable adventures they had while in China. And Freedman includes a page-long discussion of the influence that Marco Polo had on a later explorer, Christopher Columbus. Here is what Freedman has to say: “Marco’s book seems to have fired the imagination of Christopher Columbus. He used his well-thumbed Latin translation as a guidebook, scribbling notes in the margins and underlining passages about gold, jewels, and spices, when he sailed west across the Atlantic, expecting to rediscover the land described by Marco Polo. When Columbus reached Cuba, he believed that he was at the edge of the Great Khan’s realm and would soon find the Mongol kingdom of Cathay.” Freedman’s forte is young adult biography. He has twice had books finish as finalists for the Newbery Medal (The Wright Brothers and Eleanor Roosevelt) and in 1988 won the Newbery Medal itself for Lincoln: A Photobiography. He and his publisher do not neglect the visual in this book either. The full-page chapter-heading paintings by Russian painter Bagram Ibatoulline are stunning. Ibatoulline is able to adapt his style in masterful fashion as he moves from medieval illumination to Chinese silk painting. Also included in the text are dozens of archival illustrations which appeared in the numerous hand-written copies of Marco Polo’s book that circulated in the century before printing. The Adventures of Marco Polo is a hardback, 64 pages, 10″ by 10″. The text junior high to high school and adult. $17.99 direct from Greenleaf Press.

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

FMMAWhen we were reviewing the text of Famous Men of the Middle Ages in 1992, just prior to re-publishing it, I was aware that, although it was great book for children, its list of Famous Men omitted some important people. That’s not too surprising for a text originally written and published over 100 years ago.

There had been a flurry of interest in teaching history to children around 1900. The Superintendent of Schools from New York City (John H. Haaren) and the Superintendent of Schools from Newark, New Jersey (A.B. Poland) collaborated on four biographical readers for children. They were both classically educated and did a very good job of selecting the subjects for their readers.

But they left out some important figures from church history. When we published Famous Men of the Middle Ages in 1992, I decided to add three chapters to add important material that would help students understand some of the important developments in the history of the church.

The first chapter I added was on Benedict (480-547) and Gregory (540-604). Benedict, of course is the founder of the Benedictine order and the author of the Rule of St. Benedict. The Benedictine order is the most important of the monastic orders and their communities were crucial for the course of medieval history and the preservation and development of medieval culture. Gregory was a Roman aristocrat who became a Benedictine monk and was later elected Bishop of Rome, or Pope. His re-organization of the church led to his later reputation as Pope Gregory the Great. Among other things, he commissioned missionaries to carry the gospel to the Angles and Saxons in Britain, and he gave us the form of church music known as “Gregorian chant.”

The second chapter I added was on Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085) and Emperor Henry IV (1050-1106). Pope Gregory VII (also known as Hildebrandt) had been a Benedictine monk and part of the monastic reform movement led by the Benedictine monastery at Cluny. When he was elected Pope, he challenged the practice of the Emperor to control the church in his territory and to appoint bishops. The struggle to clarify the relationshiop between church and state is an old one. In order to understand later developments, you need to know the story of these two antagonists and the controversy known as the “Investiture Controversy.”

The third chapter I added was on Francis (1182-1226) and Dominic (1170-1221), the founders of the Franciscan and Dominican monastic orders. In many ways, the movements led by these two prompted a widespread revival and partial reform of the church. The popularity of the two orders, and the rising prosperity of Europe coincided to create a building boom that led to new monasteries and churches by both orders throughout Italy and the reviving cities of the north.

I believed that the additions of these three chapters made the Famous Men of the Middle Ages a better book. Obviously others did, too. Since the original text of Famous Men of the Middle Ages is in the public domain, other companies are free to reprint it. At least one company that has done so added the same three chapters as we did in 1992 with exactly the same chapter titles and substantially the same content.

For some time, I have felt that some further updating to the Middle Ages book would be a good idea. As I wrote the Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation, I continued reading widely in medieval and reformation church history. Although the text of Famous Men of the Middle Ages mentioned both Augustine of Hippo and Patrick of Ireland, I became increasingly convinced that they need their own chapters.

So, I am very pleased to announce that in the NEW edition of Famous Men of the Middle Ages, now available from Greenleaf Press, we are including two new chapters: Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Patrick of Ireland (390-461). I circulated drafts of both chapters among my children and made some revisions they suggested. I’m proud of the results. I think they will give readers a much better picture of the early middle ages, and the course of church history.

I have also taken the opportunity to update a few chapters (notably standardizing the name of the Vandal King Gaiseric to conform to modern usage – in the original text, he is called Genseric, an older form of the name). I have also re-written the chapter at the end of the book on Warwick the Kingmaker which covered the War of the Roses in England. The original text attempted to simplify the historical account by omitting a number of important details. I have expanded the account and tried to show the relationships of the players a bit more clearly.

There are several editions of Famous Men of the Middle Ages now on the market. Only the edition by Greenleaf has the five added chapters authored by Rob Shearer on important figures from church history.

The book is available as a paperback ($16.95) and as an eBook ($12.00) from Greenleaf Press. Or you can buy both the paperpack AND eBook together for $22.95.

There is also a Greenleaf Guide to Famous Men of the Middle Ages, though it will be a little while before we can update it to include guides to the chapters on Augustine and Patrick. For everyone who purchases the Greenleaf Guide now, we will provide a .pdf of the new pages when they are ready later this year.

- Rob Shearer

caedmonAn unusual topic for a children’s book, but the result is delightful! Caedmon’s Song by Ruth Ashby tells the story of a 7th century cowherd who became a songwriter. We have only one hymn that he wrote (Caedmon’s Hymn), but it is the earliest known writing in Old English, or Anglo-Saxon. The story of Caedmon is told in Bede‘s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731 AD.

With a simple, straightforward text, the book tells the story of Caedmon, who works for the abbey taking care of the cows. “He slept with the cows, and he ate with the cows. Cows were his life.” And he hated poetry.

He hated poetry, because he had none. The custom among the villagers on a feast day, was to sit around the hearth at night, “telling stories of heroes and monsters, great battles fought and fortunes made and lost.” They passed the harp around the tables and each took his turn singing a song and telling a story. Caedmon could never think of anything to tell or of any song to sing. No wonder he hated poetry.

When once again on St. Stephen’s feast one year, Caedmon cannot think of a thing to say or sing, he storms out of the hall, furious and embarrassed.

As he slept later that night in the cowshed, a young man came to him in a dream and commanded him to sing him a song. Caedmon opens his mouth and sings a song celebrating God’s creation of the world. That nine-line song is the only one of his writings to survive.

When he sang his song to the others in the village the next day, they were astounded. Here was Caedmon, who hated poetry, singing a new song, which he had composed himself! How was this possible?!

Then it was seen by all even as it was, that to him from God himself a heavenly gift had been given. Then they spoke to him and told some holy story and divine words of knowledge; they bade him then, if he could, that he turn it into poetical rhythm. Then, when he had undertaken it in this manner, then he went home to his house, and came again in the morning, and with the best adorned song he sang and rendered what he was bid (to recite.

Bede‘s biography of Caedmon tells us that he wrote many hymns:

. . . he wrought many songs. And so also many others he made about divine mercy and judgment. In all of them he eagerly sought to pull men away from love of sin and criminal deeds, and to love and to zealously awake to (the doing) of good deeds. For he was a very devout man . . .

The abbess persuaded him to become a monk and she saw to it that he was taught all of the stories from the Bible. And Caedmon spent the rest of his days writing songs to the glory of God.

This is a wonderful story to share with children. It celebrates the gift of creativity that God gives to some of us – and highlights the important role that music and hymns have always played in the worship of the church. It is also a warm and affectionate picture of what life was like in the early centuries of the middle ages – after Rome fell, after the conquest of the Angles and the Saxons, and before the rise of the kingdom of England.

Caedmon’s Song is a $16.00 hardback, 32 pages oversize, color illustrations – available from Greenleaf Press. The publisher’s write-up designates the reading audience as ages 5 and up.

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

good mastersI’m delighted to review the 2008 Newbery Medal Winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. Its a wonderful book and I’m very pleased that the Newbery folks have once again chosen a work of historical fiction (by far the most frequent category of the Newbery winners, going all the way back to 1922.

For those who don’t know, the Newbery Medal is the Oscar of children’s books. It’s been awarded annually since 1922 and all but one or two of the winners are still in print. They almost always meet the definition of a “living book,” i.e. a book that children will read, even if they’re not forced to!

This is a book written for children to perform! Schlitz has crafted nineteen monologues and two duologues which allow 21 children from the middle ages to tell their own stories. She uses a variety of literary styles, from couplets to complex rhyme schemes to blank verse and straight prose. Each is very compelling – all the more so when read out loud or better yet performed. The characters include Hugo, the lord’s Nephew; Taggot, the Blacksmith’s daughter; Will, the plowboy; Otho the miller’s son; Pask, the runaway; Piers, the glassblower’s apprentice; and Drogo, the tanner’s apprentice. Interspersed among the dramatic presentations are six background essays on:

The Three-Field System
Medieval Pilgrimage
The Crusades
Falconry
Jews in Medieval Society
and Towns and Freedom

This method of presenting information works very well to capture children’s attention, and the biographical pieces will make the middle ages (and the details of what life was like) real in a way that no textbook or reference book can.

Laura Amy Schlitz is the librarian at the Park School in Baltimore. She wrote these pieces for the students at the school who were studying the Middle Ages. The children whose stories she has presented are imagined to be between 10 and 15 years old. The book should appeal to students in that age range – and older students as well. Highly recommended. Good Masters! is a hardback, priced at $19.99, and available directly from Greenleaf Press.

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

DunwichHere’s a fascinating story from The Independent about the Suffolk coastal city of Dunwich, which has disappeared beneath the waves of the North Atlantic. The city of Dunwich had several thousand inhabitants at the time of the Domesday Book (William the Conqueror‘s systematic census of the entire realm of England – conducted for taxation purposes!). It went into decline in the 14th century and was almost completely abandoned by 1750.

The town had been important enough to be granted two members of the House of Commons in 1295. The population was down to 12 by 1800 and on election day the voters got into a boat and rowed out to the spot where the town square used to be! Dunwich is a classic example of a “rotten borough” abolished by the Reform Act of 1832. The political corruption caused by the “rotten boroughs” is one of the reasons why the authors of the US Constitution called for a census and reapportionment of the House of Representatives every ten years.

But I digress. Dunwich as an archeological site promises to yield an interesting picture of medieval life – if the difficulties of diving in the murky waters of the north Atlantic can be overcome.

This British Atlantis – with its eight churches, five houses of religious orders, three chapels and two hospitals – is now about to be exposed to human gaze for the first time since the first of a series of great storms and sea surges hit the East Anglian coast in 1286 and began the process of coastal erosion which led to the city’s disappearance.

You can see the full article here. tip of the hat to the good folks at Stand Firm

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

Lion in Winter Poster“Of course he’s got a knife. He always has a knife. We ALL have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!”
        – Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter

“I could have conquered Europe, but I had women in my life.”
        – Henry II, the Lion in Winter

My wife shakes her head, but this is still one of my favorite movies.

The sets, the costumes, the atmosphere are all 1183. My favorite cultural detail – Henry, first thing in the morning, in his bedroom, breaks the ICE on the bucket of water in order to wash his face. Instant reality check for those who think life in a medieval castle was glamorous or luxurious.

Watched it again today, with several of the daughters. Film note: Includes the film debuts of both Timothy Dalton (King Philip of France) and Anthony Hopkins (Richard the Lion-Hearted). Also of note, when the film was shot in 1968, Katherine Hepburn was 61 years old, the exact age of Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1183. Peter O’Toole was only 36 at the time, but does a good job of playing Henry II as if he were 50. Hepburn won the Oscar for best actress for her performance. O’Toole was nominated for best actor for his.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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