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Lynne Cheney is a very gifted writer. She is, of course, the “2nd Lady” (wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney). But she is also a distinguished scholar with impressive credentials, including a Ph.D. in British Literature. She served as the Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993 and is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Over the past six years she has published a series of very good children’s books on topics in American history.

I think the two best are Washington (published in 2004), and We the People, which just came out this month.

When Washington Crossed the Delaware is subtitled “A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.” With a clear, direct narrative, Ms. Cheney sets the scene of the beleaguered American army which had been driven from New York and forced to retreat through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. She talks about how desperately the Americans needed a victory – in order to give everyone some hope that they could eventually defeat the British. She mentions Tom Paine, who marched with the American army as they retreated through New Jersey and includes the famous line he composed on the march, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . .”

The paintings that accompany Ms. Cheney’s text are wonderful. The illustrator was able to visit the site of the crossing, consult with local historians and witness a winter re-enactment of the crossing. The attention to detail shows. You can feel the cold. Your eye is involuntarily drawn to the figure of Washington, warming himself by a fire on the New Jersey shore of the river.

After the army is assembled, you can see Washington’s impatience and determination as they set out towards the Hessians soldiers who have occupied Trenton. He had hoped to attack before sunup, but now would be attacking shortly after dawn. The narrative mentions that both 19-year-old Captain Alexander Hamilton, and 18-year-old Lieutenant James Monroe took part in the crossing and the attack on Trenton. Monroe was badly wounded leading a charge against the Hessians, when they managed to get two of their cannon into operation. Hamilton went on to be a signer of the US Constitution and served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington. Monroe would be elected our fifth President in 1808.

Following the surrender of the Hessians at Trenton, Washington continued his offensive by launching an attack on the British regulars a few miles northeast of Trenton at Princeton. In that battle, Washington personally rallied his troops and led them to within thirty yards of the British lines. It is miraculous that he survived the volleys of musket fire, but when the British line broke, he joined in the pursuit.

The twin victories at Trenton and Princeton lifted the spirits of the Continental Army and patriots throughout the colonies. For the first time, the American army had defeated British regulars (and German mercenaries) on the field of battle. There would be many more battles and several years of trials, but the character and commitment of General Washington were brilliantly displayed.

Perhaps the best part of this book is that although it is pitched towards elementary students, the story will appeal just as much to older students. First graders will be captivated by the full-page color illustrations and enjoy having the text read to them. Third/Fourth graders will probably be able to read it for themselves. Each two-page spread includes a quotation from an eyewitness/participant in the battle.

When Washington Crossed the Delaware
is a hardback, 40 pages, and is available for $16.95, directly from Greenleaf Press.

- Rob Shearer, Publisher
Greenleaf Press

PS: You have to love the picture of Lynn Cheney with a group of students on the back cover!

PPS: I’ll have a complete review of We the People in another newsletter.

From the same team at National Geographic who brought us Mayflower 1620 and 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, comes an important book about the FIRST permanent English colony in North America, Jamestown. The story of Plymouth is told and retold in the children’s books and history texts. Jamestown always seems to come in as an afterthought, or footnote.

There are many reasons for that, some of them logical, some simply prejudice. Plymouth is in New England. New England has dominated the school movement in America, ergo. . . The north won the war and gets to write the textbooks.

There are other, more logical reasons. The location of the Plymouth colony still survives, and has been rebuilt as an interpretive, living history museum. The location of Jamestown was thought to be lost, swallowed by the meandering James River. But in 1994, the original site of the Jamestown settlement was discovered on a small rise on the banks of the river. It had not crumbled into the water, after all. Over the past 14 years, over a million artifacts have been recovered, along with the foundations of the fort. This book includes photographs of the site and the recovery and restoration work, along with some arresting photographs of re-enactors taking the part of the early colonists.

The other reason for the relative neglect suffered by the history of Jamestown is that its story is even darker and more depressing than the struggles of Plymouth. At Plymouth, half the settlers died in the first winter. At Jamestown, three-fourths of all those who arrived between 1607 and 1625 were dead before 1626. At Jamestown, the conflict between settlers and Indians began early and never abated. There were murderous attacks by both sides.

But there is a positive side to Jamestown as well. Like Plymouth it is a story of perseverance and courage and independence. Although the settlers began with all of the class distinctions of English society, they quickly learned that in the struggle for survival, all men must labor side by side. A certain egalitarian spirit quickly developed.

The chapters in this book have the following titles:

  • Strangers in a Strange Land
  • A Native American Empire
  • The Dying Times
  • Green Gold
  • Winners Take All
  • A New Look at Jamestown

To adequately understand the history of the founding of the English colonies in America, it is important to understand Jamestown, as well as Plymouth.

National Geographic has done an admirable job of presenting a balanced account of that colony named for King James I of England – the first permanent English settlement in North America.

1607: A New Look at Jamestown is a hardback, 48 pages. The price is $17.95, direct from Greenleaf Press.

- Rob Shearer,
Publisher, Greenleaf Press


I’m reading a fascinating new book on American History (What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 – it won the Pulitzer Prize this year) when I ran across this striking passage in chapter 5, titled “Awakenings of Religion:”

“Americans eventually came to think of the separation of church and state as one of the achievements of the Revolution, and as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Actually, these common beliefs are but half-truths. The Revolution separated church and state in those places where the Church of England had been established in colonial times. But in several New England states, Congregationalist religious establishments, remained in place. Unlike the Anglican establishments, those of the Congregationalists had been on the winning side of the Revolution and did not seem discredited by American independence. The Bill of Rights, added to the national Constitution in 1791, read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Applying specifically to Congress, this First Amendment restricted the federal government only, not the states. The Congregational standing orders (as these establishments were called) persisted in Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.”

[. . .]

“Under Republican leadership, New Hampshire separated church from state in 1817, and Connecticut in 1818, leaving Massachusetts the only state with an establishment of religion, which would endure until 1833.”

Several points are worth emphasizing.

ONE: The “Establishment Clause” did not require the banishment of religion from the public or civic life of either state or federal government. It prohibited Congress from picking one particular denomination and making it the “national religion.” The Founding Fathers wanted no American counterpart to the Church of England and the Test Act (which required that all public office holders, including all members of Parliament be members of the Church of England). There would be no “Church of the United States.”

TWO: The last US state to have an officially “established” state religion? Class? Anyone? Bueller? Yes, that’s right, MASSACHUSETTS. [heh]

THREE: The phrase “separation of church and state” does not, of course, appear in the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It is a phrase taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Baptists in Virginia where he expresses his personal opposition to the continuation of the Church of England (aka the Episcopal Church) as the “established” church of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And again, to sum up, the 1st Amendment guarantees Freedom OF Religion… NOT Freedom FROM Religion. Here’s the full text, which I recommend all students should memorize:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
/blockquote>

  • Rob Shearer
    Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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These seven biographies have one thing in common. Nope, they’re not all Presidents (see Benjamin Franklin). They were all written and illustrated by the incomparable Cheryl Harness. There is a different unity of purpose achieved when the illustrator is also the author of the text in a book. Harness is a master of both crafts. She tells a very good story – clear and straightforward, with an instinct that helps her to select the anecdotes and incidents that are intrinsically interesting and character-revealing about her main subject.

In George Washington, Harness shows Washington as a frontier surveyor, Virginia planter, commander of the militia, and quiet delegate to the colonial legislature. She shows the moment at which the Continental Congress selected him to command the Continental army, with the famous founding fathers looking on as a he addresses them, reading from his notes. She shows him crossing the Delaware, seated, cold and grim-faced as he is rowed across to New Jersey, gambling his small army in a surprise attack. Then she shows him in September of 1783, at the end of seven years of war, saying goodbye to his officers at Queen’s Head Tavern in New York after the last British warship had sailed away with the last of the British troops. Four years later, he reluctantly leaves Mt. Vernon and heads for Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention. It took another ten years, until the spring of 1797 before he could return to live at Mt. Vernon year-round. The last picture Harness gives us is of Washington, aged 68, in December of 1799 out riding through the fields of Mt. Vernon, making his rounds. The chill resulted in a cold which worsened and led to his death on December 14, 1799. This is an excellent biography. Text is written at a 5th-7th grade level and those are the ages who will enjoy the detailed pictures and notes the most, though older readers could learn much from the text as well.

You can tell that Harness feels a certain affection for John Adams by reading her introduction:

“In the nation’s capital, the sun glitters on stone monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. John Adams was every bit as brave as the former and as brilliant as the latter but there is – at this writing – no such monument for him. Perhaps this is fitting, because stone is cold, and he was anything but. The United States is a proper, living monument to intense, cranky, warm, heart-on-his-sleeve John Adams – America’s champion.”

Her drawings are, as usual, wonderful. There is a full-page portrait of Adams (is he smiling or smirking?). There are pictures of his families house in Braintree and of Adams as a boy skipping school and hiking to a hill overlooking Boston harbor. The developments in Massachusetts that brought Adams to the forefront are retold in a simple summary. In a delightful format (made possible my Adams’ lifelong, affectionate correspondence with his wife, Abigail) each page has at the bottom a line from a letter – usually one from Abigail on one page and one from John on the other. There are several wonderful pictures depicting Adams diplomatic mission to France during the Revolutionary war (where he served alongside Franklin – and was accompanied by his young son, John Quincy). The political triumph of Adams’ life was his service for eight years as George Washington’s trusted vice president (Thomas Jefferson was secretary of state). When Washington’s term ended, Adams was elected as the second President of the United States (with Jefferson as HIS vice president). The political tragedy which followed was his estrangement from Jefferson leading to their fiercely fought election contest of 1800, in which Adams was defeated for a second term and Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States. Harness concludes with several pages depicting the Adams living in retirement back in Massachusetts, in a house they named Peacefield. Twelve years after their bitter election contest, Adams wrote a letter to Jefferson and began a fourteen year correspondence in which the two old friends and then rivals became friends again. Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy elected President in November of 1824, though he was unable to attend the inauguration in March of 1825. On July 4th, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – Adams died quietly at his home in Massachusetts.

Thomas Jefferson, in Harness’s tale is a tall, gangly, red-haired, brilliant Virginia planter, with piercing eyes transfix your attention in the portrait Harness has produced. She dwells a bit on the contradictions of the author of the Declaration having owned slaves – and repeats the historical gossip that Jefferson was the father of his slave Sally Hemings six children. It’s possible that he was – but I don’t think the matter is (or probably can be) settled conclusively. Harness does an excellent job depicting Jefferson’s child- and boyhood in colonial Virginia and the excitement he felt as a student in Williamsburg. The death of Jefferson’s wife in 1782, towards the end of the revolutionary war (and of three of his young children as well) had a profound effect on him – captured and poignantly portrayed by Harness. Jefferson departed in 1784 for Paris with one of his two surviving daughters (eight year old Polly) and a 14-year-old slave, Sally Hemings. After the ratification of the Constitution, Jefferson stayed on in Paris until 1789. Just as the French Revolution was breaking out, he returned home to serve as George Washington’s Secretary of State. He resigned at the end of Washington’s first term. In the election of 1796, he finished second to john Adams, and thus became Vice President. He and Adams differed sharply on many things, mostly and more and more about France. Adams (and his supporters in New England) were angry with the French and appalled by the excesses of the Revolution there. The expected war with France. Jefferson and his supporters felt that the United States should continue it’s alliance with France, in spite of the Revolution (even with its excesses) He expected war with England. The presidential election of 1800 saw Adams vilified as an “insane monarchist,” and Jefferson denounced as “an atheist and a revolutionary.” Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington DC. For eighteen years he had been a widower, and his housekeeping at the executive mansion was “eccentric.” His scientific bent and natural curiosity led him to champion the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the dispatch of a “Corps of Discovery” under Lewis and Clark to explore the vast wilderness. After the conclusion of his second term in 1809, Jefferson returned to Monticello where he continued to collect books and scientific instruments. The last few years of his life he spent much time on the establishment of the University of Virginia – and in the renewed correspondence with his old friend and rival, John Adams. He and Adams both died on July 4th 1826.

Ben Franklin is a rich subject for Harness’ palatte, from his days as a printer and continental postmaster to the Continental Congress, the Court of Louis XV in France, and the Constitutional Convention. Franklin’s warm, wry visage is evident everywhere. The text and the images communicate strongly his role as the kindly grandfather of his country.

Abe Lincoln’s life has so many colorful anecdotes that it merits two books from Cheryl Harness. The first (Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837) covers his childhood and life until 1837 – in the wilderness of Kentucky and Illinois, on a flatboat on the Ohio and the Mississippi, keeping store, electioneering and finally moving to Springfield to begin his law practice in 1837.

The second volume on Lincoln (Abe Lincoln goes to Washington 1837-1865) begins with his life in Springfield, one term as a US Congressman, and his eventual election in 1860 as President of the United States. It is a remarkable story with a number of vivid and striking scenes: Lincoln dancing with Mary Todd at a formal ball in 1839, Lincoln debating Douglas in 1858, Lincoln traveling by train to Washington in March of 1861 (under threat of attack by secessionists); Lincoln and his wife at the bedside of their son Willie, who died in February 1862 at the age of 12; Lincoln as he looked the day of the Gettysburg address; and finally Lincoln’s funeral train on its journey back to Illinois.

Finally, Harness has chosen a delightful subject (dee-LIGHT-ful!) in Young Teddy Roosevelt. She does an excellent job of depicting and describing his remarkable childhood and the personal handicaps (especially his struggle with asthma) that he had to overcome – as well as the personal tragedies that he faced – especially the death of his wife and mother just a few days after the birth of his first child. Teddy’s remarkable political career (New York State assemblyman, New York City Police Commissioner, United States Civil Service Commission, under-secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York) is covered as well as his exploits out west on his cattle ranch and his service with the rough riders in the Spanish American war. The book ends with his inauguration as president in the fall 1901 following the death of President McKinley. One hopes that Harness will follow this volume up with one on Teddy’s equally remarkable career as president from 1901-1909.

Any or all of the nine Harness biographies can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press:

George Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Revolutionary John Adams, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Thomas Jefferson, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin, by Cheryl Harness – $17.95 (HB)
Young Abe Lincoln, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Young Teddy Roosevelt, by Cheryl Harness – $18.00 (HB)

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

I noticed a blog entry at StandFirmInFaith the other day which included the text of 20 resolutions that Cotton Mather had made as a parent as he reflected on his responsibilities towards his own children. I was surprised (though I should not have been) to find that they do not at all fit the stereotype of a stern, mirthless Puritan autocrat. In fact, as I read and re-read them they stimulated in me a desire to renew my own commitment to my own children.

On another level, they also prompted me to consider that the tender, deep, passionate commitment which Mather portrays is also a picture of God the Father’s love for each of us. These wonderful things which Mather resolves to do for his children (1. I will resolve to do all I can that my child may be the Lord’s. 2. I will encourage my child to every day cry to God that He would be the child’s Father, and Saviour, and Leader. 3. I will pray for my child daily.) are also things that God is doing for each of his children.

God reveals himself in profound and deep ways in the nature of human relationships. Father and son. ADOPTIVE father and child. Bridegroom and Bride. The best things that our fathers do for us are a reflection and a model of what God wants to do for us: provide for us, sacrifice for us, see us grow up and to acquire a godly wisdom and maturity.

I’ve laid out Mather’s Resolutions as a little 8-page booklet. It’s available for free by clicking here. Feel free to download it, forward it, print it out, or otherwise distribute it. I plan to give copies out at church on Sunday. Rev. Mather’s original text is in the public domain, and I like to think he would approve of its being read again 280 years after his death.

Here’s my summary of his 20 resolutions:

  1. I will resolve to do all I can that my child may be the Lord’s.
  2. I will encourage my child to every day cry to God that He would be the child’s Father, and Saviour, and Leader.
  3. I will pray for my child daily.
  4. I will read the Bible to my child and tell the stories of the Bible to them.
  5. I will teach my child to memorize Scripture.
  6. I will teach my child the Catechism.
  7. I will teach my child to pray.
  8. I will teach my child to be kind.
  9. I will teach my child to read and write. I will direct their reading and talk with them about what they have read.
  10. My yoke will be light.
  11. I will teach my child to love Christ.
  12. I will encourage my child to speak with me about the state of their soul.
  13. I will be careful about my children’s companions.
  14. I will discuss the sermons we hear with my child.
  15. I will use the opportunities of Days of Humiliation, Days of Thanksgiving, and particularly birthdays to talk about the works of God.
  16. I will use the opportunity of trouble, sickness or pain to remind them to be mindful of CHRIST and eternity.
  17. I will teach my child a trade or business.
  18. I will show my children that their main end must be to acknowledge the great God, and His glorious Christ; and bring others to acknowledge Him.
  19. I will oblige the children to retire sometimes, and ponder on that question: “What shall I wish to have done, if I were now a-dying?”
  20. I will endeavor to see my child espoused to the Saviour first, then I will help them as I can for their best accommodation in the married state.

Download the 8-page booklet here.

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

NapoleonThere are very few children’s books on Napoleon. There are hundreds of thousands of books for adults but only a handful of children’s books – only three in print that I could find. Napoleon is an important historical figure, perhaps one of the two or three greatest generals in all of recorded history, in the rarefied company of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Like Alexander and Julius Caesar, although we admire their genius, there are lingering questions about their personal character and the distorting effects of their own egos and ambitions.

Napoleon, in addition to his military genius, is in many ways the father of modern France. Its system of government and laws was created by Napoleon, and has been only slightly modified since. The French still feel an affection and admiration for the “little corporal,” that, while not always shared by the rest of the world, must be grudgingly acknowledged.

Napoleon: The Story of the Little Corporal is a excellent introduction to Napoleon, perfect for middle school students as a first read, useful for high school students and adults who want to start a study of him. It is also a visually fascinating book, since it uses the contemporary (and quite famous) paintings of David, Goya, Gros, Couder and others to illustrate the historical narrative. The artwork is beautiful — the book would be worth buying for the paintings alone!

The book also makes excellent use of the writings of Napoleon himself. Indeed, the author’s note states, “I have drawn on Napoleon’s own words to anchor each section, hoping this will give readers a sense of his complex personality. He was a man of action — of that there is no doubt. but he was also a man of words — witty, insightful, and ready to comment on anything and everything — his own life most of all!”

“You tell me it is impossible. There is no such word in French.”

Napoleon became a general before he turned twenty-five and was a famous, victorious field commander before he was thirty. He became First Consul of France without having any political experience, at the age of 30, and Emperor of France at 35. Deposed and exiled to an island in the Mediterranean at age 45, he escaped, returned to France, and was restored to power. A year later, he was forced out again. He spent the last six years of his life a prisoner on an even more remote island in the south Atlantic, dying in 1821 at the age of 52.

“I love power as a musician loves his violin.”
“I am the state — I alone am here the representative of the people.”
“I am an upstart soldier.”
“There is no immortality but the memory that is left in the minds of men.”

A vote was held in France in 1800 to approve the Triumvirate, and Napoleon’s position as First Consul. The results were three million in favor, and 1,500 opposed.

Aside from the fascinating artwork, the author has done an excellent job of telling the story of Napoleon’s brilliant career in a simple straightforward fashion.

Napoleon was the most famous figure in the world for two decades. His example was invoked in the political debates of England, the USA, Italy, Germany, and beyond. His career is still hotly debated. To cite but one example: in the presidential campaign of 1800, Jefferson charged that Adams and Hamilton were planning to the use the army to seize power, following the example of Napoleon.

For all those who are interested in the events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, this is an essential book.

Napoleon: The Story of the Little Corporal by Robert Burleigh is 48 pages, hardback, $18.95. It can be purchased directly from Greenleaf Press.

Twice a HeroTwice a Hero: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski
Polish American Heroes of the American Revolution

There’s a Pulaski County in several states. There’s a city named Pulaski in Tennessee. Pulaski was a Polish patriot who escaped the partition of his own country in Europe and came across the ocean with letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. He wrote home to his friends, “If I cannot fight for freedom in my homeland, I will fight for freedom in America.” Pulaski was commissioned a general by the Continental Congress on the recommendation of Franklin and Washington and fought with Washington at Brandywine and later commanded an expedition sent south to retake the port of Savannah. Pulaski was wounded in the battle and died shortly afterwards. His story his told more fully in a ten minute DVD movie included in a flap on the inside cover of the book.

The text of the book focuses on Kosciuszko who came to America without letters of introduction from Franklin. He served as an engineer in the Continental Army and was instrumental in the colonists’ victory at Saratoga and achieved the rank of Colonel. It was the victory at Saratoga that persuaded the French to send troops with Lafayette to assist the colonists. Later, he successfully fortified the Hudson River at West Point so effectively that the British had to abandon plans to sail north and attack Albany. Kosciuszko continued his service with Washington and was present at Yorktown during the siege and surrender, playing a valuable role in laying out the American siege lines.

After the War for Independence, Kosciuszko returned to Poland where he is honored as a leader in the Polish fight for independence from Russia and Germany.

This is a remarkable book, on two figures who ought not to be overlooked. Their stories help all of us to understand that the American Revolution did not happen in a vacuum, but had an impact on contemporaries around the world.

The text is upper elementary, and the book includes a 10 minute public-television-style movie on Casimir Pulaski hosted by the author.

Twice a Hero is 32 pages, hardcover, $18.95 and may be purchased directly from Greenleaf Press.

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

This is not your daddy’s research paper! The times, they are a-changin’. Teaching students to write even a short research paper is a much more complicated task now than it used to be. The standard texts still haven’t caught up to the realities of the age of the internet. The luddite solution – rejecting the internet as a research tool – ceased to be an option several years ago. But using the internet is fraught with dangers. It takes a certain level of experience, and detective skills to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff. The detective skills are what we need to be teaching students. They need to know, and practice, how to evaluate an internet source.

Did Fleming Rescue ChurchillAlong comes an excellent book on precisely this topic – by an accomplished writer of children’s biographies and non-fiction, James Cross Giblin. The book is written as a first-person narrative by Jason, a fifth grade boy. In 64 pages Giblin has us follow along as Jason works on an assignment to write a three-page biography of Alexander Fleming, the inventor/discoverer of penicillin. Jason starts with traditional sources, encyclopedia articles and library books. And then he also does some internet searching. On the internet, he finds a great anecdote describing how Fleming’s father saved the young Winston Churchill, and as a reward Lord Randolph Churchill agreed to pay for Fleming’s education. The only problem is that the anecdote may not be true. Most of the book is devoted to Jason’s efforts to evaluate the story and how he goes about deciding whether to include it in his assignment or not.

Cyndy was so impressed with the lessons communicated that she’s considering assigning this book as a first reading assigment for her 9th grade academic writing class. The book does an excellent job of presenting the issue of “urban legends” and internet sources, while offering very practical suggestions about how to track down a story of doubtful provenance (via snopes.com and urbanlegends.com among others).

THESE are the skills we need to teach our children. In the olden days (when I was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth), the library bestowed a certain trustworthiness on source books. If the librarians had selected the book for the library shelves, it was probably reliable. That was certainly naive, but it did make life easier. In the wild west frontier towns of the internet, there are no gatekeepers or librarians. And so our children need an introduction to the problems of unreliable sources and they need practice and guidance in developing internet-savvy research skills. Teaching them to use google is not enough. They will have to be more sophisticated than that.

This book is an excellent way to help them learn how to navigate the brave new world. Did Fleming Rescue Churchill? is a 64 page hardback, $16.95 and can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press. Henry Holt is the publisher, and I’m REALLY hoping they will bring this out in paperback quickly. But don’t wait. It’s worth having in your toolbox now.

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

PS: Giblin’s other books are excellent reads as well:

I keep sorting and re-sorting the new books on (and around) my desk and this stack of Pilgrim and Nautical themes is the result.

Mayflower 1620 Mayflower 1620 is a remarkable photographic recreation of the voyage of the Pilgrims from Plymouth, England to Plimoth Plantation, New England. In 2001, a group of well-trained volunteers (in meticulous period costumes) from Plimoth Plantation sailed the Mayflower II from Plymouth to Boston. National Geographic sent along a team of photographers specifically to create the photographs for this book. The result is a rich photographic reproduction of what the 1620 voyage must have been like. From the loading of supplies and cargo to the sighting of land 2 months later, we get an acute sense of what shipboard life was like (very cramped and uncomfortable). There is even a mention of my unfortunate ancestor, John Howland, who was swept overboard, and then miraculously saved! Text is middle school & up. Mayflower 1620 is a paperback, 47 pages of photographs $6.95 from Greenleaf.

1621 Thanksgiving1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is a photographic recreation of the First Thanksgiving by the same National Geographic team of photographers who did Mayflower 1620, using again, the resources of the living history museum and re-enactors of Plimoth Village, augmented by 90 Wampanoag Indian descendants. The text leans a bit towards the revisionist side in its attempt to correct the mythologies of the First Thanksgiving, but is generally factually correct. And the pictures are stunning. The First Thanksgiving, on closer examination, turns out to have been not a single meal, but three days of harvest celebration at which the Indians outnumbered the Pilgrims by 2:1. There are two pages of some pretty tempting recipes included – ironically, the Wampanoag dish is based on dried corn pounded to flour – better known to us Southerners as “grits!”

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is a paperback, 47 pages, full color, $7.95 from Greenleaf Press.

PilgrimsPilgrims of Plymouth is a picture book for young readers, first through third grades with a simple text and beautiful photographs of typical daily scenes from the life of the settlers in the first few years of the 1620s. There’s a simple explanation of why they left England (so they “could pray in their own way”) and also the attraction that “here, some of them would own farms for the first time.” There’s a special focus on children and a delightful concluding photograph of three children (including this cute guy from the cover), with the text, “The Pilgrims were real people, just like us!” This is definitely a K-3 book, paperback, 16 pages, $5.95 from Greenleaf Press.

Pilgrims 01 Pilgrims 03 Pilgrims 02

Sailing HomeSailing Home is a delightful story about a clipper ship and its captain and his family. It is based on the real ship, John Ena which made 44 voyages between 1896 and 1910 commanded by Captain Mads Albert Madsen who was accompanied by his wife and four children (two of whom were born aboard ship). The ship was impressively large (312 feet long and 48 feet wide), with spacious accommodations for the Captain’s family. And of course, they were homeschooled! (ship-schooled?) Lots of unusual adventures and shipboard games. “Our favorite game was sliding across the main saloon floor in cardboard boxes, crashing into one another as the ship rolled from side to side.” There is also the sobering tale of being caught in a frightening storm – but overall a very interesting read and a celebration of family life around the turn of the century. Its easy to misinterpret the title. It does not refer to sailing towards home, but rather living in a home that sails. Text is upper elementary and up, paperback, 40 pages, color throughout, $6.95 from Greenleaf Press.

The Great ShipsThe Great Ships is a celebration of famous, historic ships over the past thousand years. “Old sailors know that every ship on the sea has its own personality… In the swift longships of the Vikings and the massive aircraft carriers of today, in humble little caravels and mighty men-of-war, sailors have gone to sea with the urge to roam, to explore, to conquer. It is this spirit of adventure and exploration that has made the great ships great.” The artist has given us vivid illustrations of twenty ships, including: the Gokstad Viking Ship; the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria; Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind; the Mayflower; Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge; the Bounty; Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory; “Old Ironsides”; the Amistad; the Monitor; the Titanic; the German battleship Bismarck; and the nuclear aircraft carrier, Enterprise. The Great Ships is paperback, 40 pages, all in color, and $7.95 from Greenleaf Press.

ironsides Monitor Enterprise

TitanicMy final book to review is this unusual retelling of the ill-fated Titanic published by Firefly Books. The “unusual” part is the inclusion of items bound into the book, including:

  • Tickets
  • Postcards
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Telegrams
  • Official technical data
  • Envelopes and letters
  • Certificate of seaworthiness

and other items as well. The narrative is told from the perspective of a journalist on board the ship. He gives us a thorough tour and introduction to the accommodations for first class, second class, and steerage passengers. The inclusion of so many reproduction artifacts makes this book come alive in a way that others don’t. It’s more than a little spooky to be looking at the illustrations and photographs while holding a ticket, or reading a telegram just sent up from the wireless room. Text is junior high and up, hardback, 26 pages, but with lots of artifacts. Titanic is $19.95 from Greenleaf Press.

It’s been a busy week in Tennessee for homeschoolers. Read the other posts on RedHatRob.wordpress.com to catch up with the antics of the Tennessee legislature.

And if you visit the Greenleaf Press website, please browse around a bit. We have over 1200 items available online now – History, Literature, Art, & Music resources for children and homeschooling families.

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

Today’s Lebanon Democrat carries a story claiming that Tennesseans should “thank a sixteenth century pope” for an extra day’s grace on property taxes this year.

Last-minute Tennessee taxpayers will get a little bit of help this year from an unlikely source – a 16th-century pope.

Property taxes usually come due on Feb. 28, but with 2008 being a leap year, that deadline is pushed back a day to Feb. 29, the day added to the calendar every four years, as the result of a 1582 decree by Pope Gregory XIII, when he instituted the calendar that bears his name.

While its nice to see a daily newspaper acknowledging that everything isn’t MTV, Youtube, and current events, it would be even nicer if they’d spend 10 minutes using the internet to do some elementary fact-checking. Pope Gregory XIII is not responsible for giving us the practice of adding a leap day in leap years. The author of that innovation was Julius Caesar.

The Julian calendar was a significant reform instituted by the Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Julius had spent a year in Egypt and hadn’t wasted ALL his time with Cleopatra. The Egyptian astronomers demonstrated to him, convincingly, that the calendar year was actually 365.25 days long. It was Julius’ idea to regularize this observation into a calendar that was 365 days long and added one day every four years.

Julius got it almost right. The calendar year is almost 365.25 days long. Its actually 365.2425 days long. That slight difference accumulated over time under the Julian calendar, and by 1582, the dates of the equinoxes and solstices had shifted by 10 days. This was especially troubling to the church when it came time each year to calculate the date for Easter. So Pope Gregory instituted a calendar reform in 1582 that dropped 3 leap days every 400 years. Under the Gregorian Calendar, century years are NOT leap years unless they are divisible by 400. And to correct the drift of the calendar in the 1600 years from Julius Caesar to Pope Gregory XIII, the Church decreed that in 1582, October 4th would be followed by October 15th.

Protestant countries thought this was a popish plot and refused to go along – for about 170 years. Britain and the British Empire finally adopted calendar reform by an act of Parliament in 1750. Parliament gave everyone two years to prepare for the adjustment. By the New Style Act of 1750, Wednesday September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. George Washington (and many others) adjusted the date on which they celebrated their birthdays, in order to accurately reflect when they really were celebrating the anniversary of their birth. Washington was born on February 11th, 1732. When the calendar was adjusted in 1752, he adjusted his birthday 11 days as well and ever after celebrated it on February 22.

Russia, being neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, wanted nothing to do with such shenanigans. The Czars were never persuaded. It took the Russian Revolution and a communist dictatorship to reform the calendar in Russia. Wednesday January 31, 1918 was followed by Thursday, February 14, 1918.

Historians of the 17th century & 18th centuries, when trying to synchronize dates and correspondence between various catholic and protestant countries have been known to go mad.

Irresistible footnote: The “October Revolution” in Russia occurred on October 25, 1917 – in Russia. It was actually November 5, 1917 everywhere else in Europe.

But don’t thank the Pope for an extra day before your taxes are due this year. Thank Julius Caesar.

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

presidentsHow many two-term Presidents have had the luxury of party control of BOTH houses of Congress?

Answer: Only four (Jefferson, Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt)

We have a new product to offer to students of American History. As part of my own fascination with politics, I did quite a bit of background research for the 2006 elections. It’s the silly season once again, and I’ve updated the chart. Lot’s of folks locally have seen me referring to it as I have talked or done political commentary, so I’ve decided to make it available to a wider audience. This is an information rich chart. On three landscape pages, it shows the composition of both houses of Congress by party and all 43 Presidents of the US, with official photographs, terms of office, and vice presidents. The information is laid out chronologically and will print on three sheets of paper.

The chart can be read in a number of interesting ways. The left hand column shows the total number of members of the House of Representatives. Watching that number grow from 65 in 1789 to 435 now is a great way to get a feel for the expansion of the US. At the same time, the count of Senators grows from 26 to 100.

The two columns showing party totals always have the majority party’s number highlighted in red. Watching the red numbers flip from one column to the other let’s you read at a glance when political parties have suffered a reversal of fortune and lost (or gained) control of the House or the Senate.

The right hand columns depict the terms of the presidents. The brilliance of the American Republic’s achievement in providing for the orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one President to another every four or eight years is much more vivid when laid next to the simultaneous congressional history. You can also see which Presidents enjoyed the backing of Congress and which were at odds with it.

What you are buying is a 3-page eBook (PDF). Printing is allowed for personal use (not for sale or distribution). A color printer is recommended. The cost is $8.00 and the product can be purchased and downloaded from Greenleaf.

Chart painstakingly compiled by Rob Shearer, Publisher, Greenleaf Press
and Director of the Schaeffer Study Center

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