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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


The Siege – Revolt in the Netherlands 1585

siegeThe Siege: Under Attack in Renaissance Europe is an unusual book. It’s the only children’s book I’ve found (by anyone other than G.A. Henty) that is set in the Netherlands during the 16th century revolt against the Spanish. The revolt had been triggered by an ill-considered attempt on the part of the Spanish Crown to exterminate the Protestant heresy from their northern European territories by introducing the Inquisition. While the book does not go into detail about these matters, it does give a brief introduction to the religious dimension of the revolt.
One reason that a children’s book on this topic is unusual is that the late 16th century is a neglected period in European history. American historians are anxious to get on to Jamestown and Plymouth. English historians are focussed on Elizabeth and the Armada.

We too easily forget what life was like in other places… like the Netherlands. The events of this book are set in 1585 as the Spanish Empire attempts to put down the revolt of the Netherlands. One Dutch town blocks the Spanish army from marching into Holland. What follows is an account of the siege from the arrival of the first troops, over the long weeks of trenching and mining and bombardment, and the final failed assault by the Spanish troops.

The storyline of the book allows a detailed and well illustrated study of 16th-century life during a military siege of a city. Based on a composite of several battles, this uses dramatic storytelling to show life behind the defensive wall as well as in the attacking army’s camp.

Reading level is 5-6 grade, interest level extends through high school and adult. I recommend The Siege as an excellent companion book for any study of the Reformation, Queen Elizabeth, or the story of the Spanish Armada. It is a 56 page paperback, price is $12.95. You can order it directly from Greenleaf Press.
– Rob Shearer
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

The AP reports today on what amounts to the holy grail of paleontology: “a nearly complete dinosaur, skin and all.”

The fossil of a duck-billed dinosaur, found in 2004 in North Dakota, is being painstakingly extracted from the surrounding sandstone at the state museum in Bismarck. They’re working carefully and slowly because the fossil is not just of bone, it is of the entire carcass of the dinosaur.

Here’s the intriguing paragraph:

“Animal tissue typically decomposes quickly after death. Researchers say Dakota [the dinosaur] must have been buried rapidly and in just the right environment for the texture of the skin to be preserved.

‘The process of decay was overtaken by that of fossilization, preserving many of the soft-tissue structures,’ Manning said.”

What kind of an event would have caused a thirty-foot long dinosaur to be buried rapidly?

Class? class? anyone…?

Hint: It might have something to do with Ben Stein’s new movie, Expelled.

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

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


– Rob Shearer (aka RedHatRob)


vivaldiAntonio Vivaldi was born in 1678 in Venice, where he lived for all but the last two years of his life. As he turned 60, his music fell out of favor in the city of his birth and he left for Vienna, where he died a year later in 1741, poor and forgotten.

His life makes a remarkable story, and a new children’s book, I, Vivaldi by Janice and Tom Shefelman tells the story and vividly shows us what life in Venice was like in the 18th century.

Vivaldi was taught to play the violin by his father, who was a musician at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Vivaldi’s father began taking him along to his rehearsals while he was still a young boy. Vivaldi was recognized as a prodigy on the violin.

Vivaldi had been weak and sick at his birth and his mother had vowed that he would become a priest if he survived. He dutifully studied theology and was ordained, but clearly, his heart and passion were for music. While he remained a priest, the Bishop of Venice eventually released him from obligations at the Cathedral and assigned him to teach music at a girl’s orphanage in Venice.

Under his direction, the young girls became some of the most accomplished chamber musicians in all of Europe and attracted visitors from abroad who came to hear them play the original scores Vivaldi had composed for them.

The story is clearly told and the pictures capture both the beauty of Venice and her canals and squares as well as the interior spaces of St. Mark’s and the ornate music halls where Vivaldi played. This would be a great introduction to Vivaldi’s music for students in the elementary grades. The books authors recommend the book especially for ages 7-11.

The hardback book, I, Vivaldi 38 pages, is $18.00 from Greenleaf Press.

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

Dr Ruth Beechick is a wise woman. Her quiet, calm, commonsense approach toThree Rs homeschooling has been refreshing and relaxing homeschool moms for twenty years now. I would strongly contend that the only book you need to teach your children in grades one to three is her Three R’s: A Home Start in Reading; A Strong Start in Language; An Easy Start in Arithmetic ($12.00).

Dr. Beechick has an uncanny ability to examine a subject and think clearly about how it should be taught and how it can best be taught easily. She has a firm grasp of the history of education that makes her almost immune to educational fads and hype.

Beechick Biblical Home EdLast year, she published a foundational book that I cannot recommend too highly: A Biblical Home Education ($14.99).

Her central thesis is that Christian homeschoolers ought to make the Bible the foundational book of their children’s education. Amen!

Her first four chapter discuss practically how to do this:

Bible for Homeschoolers
World History to Match the Bible
Science to Match the Bible
Worldviews to Match the Bible

The next five chapters of her book focus on skills rather than content: Thinking, Reading, Studying, Writing, and Grammar after Writing. Cyndy (the beautiful Mrs. Greenleaf) strongly endorses Ruth’s ideas about “grammar last,” AFTER your students have mastered speaking clearly and have acquired basic writing skills.
Finally, she gives us a wonderful chapter on “Informal Beginnings,” that takes much of the sensible observations of the “unschoolers” and sets them in context as she talks about how young children first begin to acquire skills by conversation, manipulation, and play. The best line from this chapter, “. . . moms need to know that what their children need most is their natural, loving, peaceful home environment.”

The last chapter is titled Curriculum Materials. The opening line offers some of the best advice I’ve heard, “Curriculum materials are less important than we tend to think.” Dr. Beechick gives a concise summary of the many types of curriculum and offers her concise advice on the strengths and weaknesses of each. Of course, I like her advice on how to teach history, “use real books not textbooks.” Though I would quibble a bit with her dismissal of doing thing in chronological sequence. I agree its not absolutely necessary, but I think, overall, that it makes things easier.

This is a great book to recommend to new homeschooling moms. It will give them a valuable perspective and help to reassure them that homeschooling does not have to be hard.

A Biblical Home Education is $14.99 and can be ordered from Greenleaf Press.

The Three R’s is $12.00 and is also available from Greenleaf Press.

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

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
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

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