Friday, 21 October 2016

Reading Europe: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (1928)

According to legend, in the thirteenth century Tartars from the east descended upon the Polish city of Kraków. The young trumpeter of the Church of Our Lady Mary had taken a solemn oath to play the Heynal each hour of the day and night from the church tower, and this he did even as the Tartars below were setting fire to the town and the other inhabitants had fled into the Wawel fortress. As he played the hymn, a Tartar below shot an arrow,  killing him before he could finish the hymn.
One hundred and twenty years later, Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and their son, Joseph, arrived in Kraków seeking refuge after they were driven out of the Ukraine. In their possession was the Great Tarnov Crystal, a rare jewel that had been in the Charnetski family for over two hundred years, and which they had sworn to guard.
Befriended by Jan Kanty, a renowned priest, theologian and scholar of the times, the family was provided with lodgings and Andrew, a skilful trumpeter, was given the night shift in the church tower. Before long, however, a Tartar chief from the Ukraine had discovered their whereabouts and made plans to get his hands on the jewel. He would stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly won the Newbery Medal in 1929 for this story of medieval Poland and wrote the book while he was teaching and studying at the University of Krakow. Krakow was not the tourist destination it is today, and before the book was published in 1928, it had never even been mentioned in a book for children. The Trumpeter of Krakow is an unusual book in many ways, with its focus being a little known city in Poland at the time of its publication. Although it is an adventure story of sorts, the author focuses on some of the interplay of the scientific thought and superstitious beliefs prevalent at the time - alchemists, hypnotism and a brief mention of the future work of Nicholas Copernicus. This adds some interesting angles, so that although the book is recommended for ages 8 to 12, it would probably interest older children as well.

The prestige of the various colleges and the reputation of the men who taught there had drawn to Kraków not only genuine students but also many of the craft that live by their wits in all societies, in all ages - fortune tellers, necromancers, and fly-by-nights who were forever eluding the authorities of the law...

Against the machinations of these men the influence of the university was ever working, and the first great blow that many of these magic crafts and black art received was struck by Nicholas Kopernik, better known as Copernicus, many years later, when Joseph Charnetski was a very old man; Copernicus, working with rough implements, even before the telescope had been invented, proved to men for the first time that the heavenly bodies, stars and planets, move in the skies according to well-fixed and definitely determined laws, subject only to the will of he Creator of the universe, and that they have nothing to do with the destinies of individuals. 

Some interesting bits & pieces

The Heynal and St. Mary's Tower

Historical figures in the book include:

Jan Kanty (also known as St John Cantius) who was much revered in Poland for his wisdom, humility and generosity.
Kazimir Jagiello, King of Poland.

Historical places mentioned in the story:

For a second the woman's heart quailed before the fresh difficulties, but she forgot self at the look in her husband's face. Her quiet reply, "We will wait, for God is in the waiting," filled him with courage again.

Now of all the creatures that God has put in the world a dog is the most curious, and sometimes, one might think, the most discerning. For when this same animal had broken loose in the morning, his first impulse, which he had followed, had been that of flight. His second impulse was to look for a friend, since no dog can live without a friend.

These are dark days when men look with suspicion upon all who engage in investigation whether it be honest or dishonorable, godly or selfish.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Looking Back on the Week

This week I listened to an interesting Schole Sister's podcast on leading our children through encounters with viewpoints with which we don’t agree. This is definitely something I've had to grow into over time. When my children were little my concern was mostly about shielding them from  potentially harmful ideas and situations, but as the conversation on this podcast pointed out, there's a difference between innocence and naiveté, and it's important to prepare our children for these opposing viewpoints.

Moozle has been reading the Tom Swift Jr. books by Victor Appleton II. They're out of print but you can read about them here and they're available secondhand.  They're also online at Gutenberg.
A young person's introduction to science fiction, rather than being great literature, this series is interesting for children who have a science bent as Tom dreams up some very interesting inventions. In fact, one of the books, 'Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,' inspired the physicist and inventor, Jack Cover:

The Independent, 2009 

A few months ago she lapped up G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown books so I decided that this one, by the creator of Winnie the Pooh, would be a good follow up now that she's caught the 'crime bug.'

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne was published in 1922 and the author dedicated the book to his father: 

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective
   stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So, after
   all that you have done for me, the least that I can do for you
   is to write you one. Here it is: with more gratitude and
   affection than I can well put down here.

I stumbled upon it at the library about ten years ago and then found it online and downloaded it onto kindle for free but the only free version I've found when I had a look recently was at Gutenberg.
It's a good introduction to the genre for a young person who isn't ready for writers such as Agatha Christie but who enjoys a bit of mystery and detection.

A poetic narration on The Hobbit:

Benj is busy preparing for possibly his last piano exam which takes place next week. Between this and his two days a week at Augustine Academy, and one half day at his part-time job, he's only been joining us for Devotions, Shakespeare's King Lear and Plutarch's Life of Marcus Cato the Censor.

Aussie Folksongs - this is one we've been listening to. The song is based on the 1897 poem, 'The Lights of Cobb & Co' by Henry Lawson. The poem and some information about Cobb & Co are on this blog and also here.

This is one of a series of CD's that introduces the music and lives of some of the great composers. We've listened to the Classical Kids series (Beethoven Lives Upstairs etc) in the past, which are ok for younger children, but this series is better if older children are also listening in. The story is told in the third person, sticks to the facts, and contains a good selection of the artist's music.

Linking up with Weekly Wrap-up.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson (who was only 24 years of age at the time) presented a scientific paper that proposed the double helical structure of DNA. Up until about 1944, DNA had been ignored and was considered to be 'the stupid molecule.' It was so simple, that it couldn't possibly play any major part in the body.
With the discovery of the double helix formation, the replication of genes and their role in the transmission of information from parents to their offspring became obvious. This discovery was a major turning point in science and the beginning of modern genetics.

The Double Helix, first published in 1968, is an honest, humorous, chatty, and at times sarcastic, first-hand account by James Watson of his version of how DNA was discovered. An American, he moved to Cambridge University in 1951 after studying in the USA and Copenhagen. It was at Cambridge that he met Francis Crick, who, like himself, was interested in how genes were constructed and the role of DNA, and together they made the discovery that revolutionised biochemistry.
James Watson has written a unique book in many respects. This is the inside story - a glimpse into the rivalries, the insecurities and the ambitions of scientists; their struggles, triumphs and disappointments. Watson didn't hold back on his opinions and at times he was crude and unkind to his fellow scientists, but his honesty in portraying the attitudes and eccentricities of the scientific community was a refreshing approach.
I was impressed with the positive reactions from the various scientists when Crick and Watson's discovery became known. Previous rivals and runners in the race were genuinely thrilled with the news and recognised its huge impact for the development of science.
This is a good read for anyone interested in science and genetics. It does get a little technical in places but not enough that you'd miss the gist of the story, although a good grasp of chemistry would definitely help. Watson gets sidetracked at times with comments on pretty girls, parties and random misogynist observations so I'd recommend a pre-read if you're thinking of using it in high school.

'I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood...'

'...there existed an unspoken yet real fear of Crick, especially among his contemporaries who had yet to establish their reputations. The quick manner in which he seized their facts and tried to reduce them to coherent patterns frequently made his friends' stomachs sink with the apprehension that, all too often in the near future, he would succeed, and expose to the world the fuzziness of minds hidden from direct view by the considerate, well-spoken manners of the Cambridge colleges.'

'One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.'

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Fortnight's Review

It's the 'official' school holidays here, not that we follow them, but we tend to end up changing our usual schedule because we don't have our regular weekly activities. Last week Moozle and I taught a group of ten children how to weave using a hula hoop as a loom in kid's holiday programme our church runs twice a year. Benj volunteered as one of the leaders and helped to run games & activities. At other times he's been rostered on First Aid as he has his Senior First Aid Certificate.

The ten children in our workshop were aged around 6 to 10 years of age; about equal numbers of boys and girls. None of them had ever done anything like this and had no idea what they were in for. One little boy wasn't impressed at first. The workshop he volunteered for was cancelled so he got put into ours. "I can't do this...this is boring!" Not a great start, but I kept telling him he'd actually enjoy it once he got the hang of it. The workshop was about an hour and a half long and Moozle & I had already put the warp on the looms (and spent a couple of days cutting up old t-shirts...) so we just had to teach them how to weave. About 10 minutes before the end of the class I told them we'd have to start looking at finishing the weaving and getting it off the looms. The kids didn't want to stop - including the reluctant boy! They kept saying, "Just one more colour..." so their weaving would be bigger. I took some photos once they got the hang of it and they were all thrilled with their finished work.

There are oodles of links on Pinterest and tutorials on youtube on how to weave on a hula hoop.
Update: a video link is here (they use a fancier sort of hula hoop in this one but we just had the normal cheap version) & here.

Our Reading


The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis - I wrote about this book here.
He's also continuing with The Root of the Righteous by A.W. Tozer which I finished recently.


The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - this is a well-written mystery story that Moozle really enjoyed. A good puzzle with twists that keeps you guessing until the end. A Newbery Medal winner, 1979.


Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin. A good biography for ages 13 years and up. Some thoughts on it here.

A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill - this is the second book in this murder series. I wrote about the first one here.
Set in Australia during the 1930's, this book picks up in pace from the first one, as I predicted, and launches almost immediately into the action. The very likeable main characters from the first book turn up again and find themselves caught up in a crime scene on board a cruise ship. Again, the author weaves crime and mystery with historical events and some notable people of the time and creates a very interesting and unusual story. A great way to learn about some not so well known parts of Australia's history.

Other bits & pieces:

I've been using Singapore Maths for a few years now with Moozle and while I think it's very good at showing the 'why' behind some of the maths, I don't think it's a thorough as some of the maths I've used with her older siblings. I was going through some books I'd packed away and found some unused "Key to..." workbooks so I started using them plus I'm going back to an A Beka text I used in the past as it covers things like clocks!! Most of the clocks at our place are digital and I was shocked recently when I realised that she had difficulty telling the time on a normal clock. She'll still do Singapore until we've finished the books I've already bought and then we may shift to Saxon for high school.

My husband and I have very different tastes in movies but we watched this together and both thought it was very good. Set at the time of the building of the Berlin Wall, it is based on real events and  raises some thoughtful questions regarding moral codes and law. See History vs Hollywood for more details.

Linking up at Weekly Wrap-up

Monday, 3 October 2016

Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin

Stalin must command our unconditional respect. In his own way he is a hell of a fellow. 
Stalin is half beast, half giant.

Adolf Hitler, 1942

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
Joseph Stalin

Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin is a biography of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, later known to the world by his adopted revolutionary name, Stalin, meaning "Man of Steel."
It is also a very readable history of the origins of the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Communism in the former USSR.
World War II, the birth of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Korean War, and other events that occurred during Stalin's rule and are also given coverage. The author writes for a young audience (around age 13 years and up) but his research is thorough and the book is interesting enough for adults. I really appreciated his description of the events leading to the Korean War, which I'd never really understood.
Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel was published in 1988 about a year before the collapse of communism and ends with the 'De-Stalination' period and the rule of Nikita Khrushchev, a former Stalin henchman. Obviously the author's view doesn't take into account any information that may have been suppressed by the Communist government of the time so I've listed some websites at the end of this post that I came across while I was reading this book that fill in some of the missing details of the Stalin legacy.

Some interesting bits & pieces:

Lenin, a genius in the use of propaganda, engineered the Bolshevik Revolution and with his ally, Trotsky, overthrew the government and established the rule of the Communist Party. Trotsky would have been the next leader in line after Lenin, but Stalin hated him and engineered his own rise to power and later Trotsky's assassination in Mexico.

Life under the Tsars was miserable. The worst problem for eighty percent of Russian citizens who were peasants or mujiks, was hunger. Most were illiterate and very superstitious; sanitation amenities were non-existent.
After the Revolution the Russian people realised they had exchanged one autocracy for another.
'The old tsar was gone and a new, red tsar stood in his place.'

The Okhrana was the tsarist secret police force. They never took hostages or tortured suspects and no one could be executed without first being convicted in a court of law.

The instrument of Red Terror was the Cheka, whose methods were later studied carefully by Hitler's Gestapo. It declared itself to be the new morality:

"To us everything us permitted, because we are the first in the world to take up the sword not for the purpose of enslavement and repression but in the name of universal liberty and emancipation from slavery."

Stalin worship, the cult of personality - Stalin's propaganda machine made him into a Communist substitute for God. The Soviet people were brainwashed into believing that he was the greatest person who ever lived. He gave himself grand titles such as:

Great Master of Daring Revolutionary Decisions
Granite Bolshevik
Genius of Mankind
Transformer of Nature
Greatest Scientist of Our Age
Greatest Genius of All Times and Peoples

Children sang hymns to him in school, poems were written declaring him to be the creator of the world. Even the national anthem praised him and elevated him above the nation itself.

Totalitarianism is no ordinary dictatorship. A typical dictator is like a gangster; he rules by force for his personal profit and that of his supporters. He interferes in people's lives only to protect himself and to exploit them. A totalitarian dictator wants more; actually, he wants everything. His goal is to remake his people by controlling all they do, think and feel. In effect, the have no privacy, no conscience, no life outside the system.

Lenin set up the first totalitarian system of modern times.
In 1918, he established the first corrective labour camps  or 'gulag' in Siberia and the Soviet Union became the only major country in the twentieth century to have a permanent slave labour system. Kolyma, called the Land of the White Death, was one of these camps:

Kolyma was Stalin's version of Auschwitz, Hitler's huge camp for killing Jews in Poland during the Second World War. Hitler, when criticised for his death camps, once cried, "If I had the vast spaces of Siberia, I wouldn't need concentration camps."

Websites - I read through some of the articles below but I can't speak for their accuracy. Just putting them here for interest sake:

Hitler vs Stalin in the evil stakes

20th Century Dictators

Power Kills

Worst Genocides of the 20th & 21st Century

Communist Goals (1963)

Toward Soviet America - c1932. Interesting and weird. I was interested in the Stalin's educational efforts. His goal was to make loyal Communists; cogs in the industrial-military machine. Young people were trained to see themselves not as individuals, but as members of a group; that lying and cheating were fine if they helped the Communist cause. One good thing that did come out of his rule was the radical increase in the literacy rates, but then he wanted everyone to read his propaganda.

Recommended Reading

The Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) - I read this many years ago and it's time for a re-read but anything by this author is worthwhile. A short bio is here.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Solzhenitsyn survived eight years of Stalin's labour camps and this book describes one of those many days using a fictitious character.

Crime & Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) - the murderer in this book is sent to a tsarist labour camp. Very different to those described by Solzhenitsyn.

 Linking to the Reading Europe Challenge 2016 at Rose City Reader and Finishing Strong:

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An 11 year Old's Notebook Keeping

Moozle started Ambleside Online Year 6 about two months ago so I thought it would be a good opportunity to record some of what she does in the way of notebook keeping each week.
I'll start with her favourite:

Nature Notebook

This is something Moozle really enjoys doing and will often suggest it early in the week. Two weeks ago we started studying earthworms and built a little worm farm to observe them:

A clear jar (glass or plastic)
3 layers - torn newspaper on the bottom, then a layer of dirt and another layer of sand
We used an upturned pot plant base as a loose lid

Keep it moist but don't overwater like we did and nearly drowned them all
Food - teabags, lettuce leaves, crushed egg shells
Cover the container with something dark - we used a black cloth bag

The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock has some ideas on pages 422-425. She suggested:

For the study of the individual worm and its movements, each pupil should have a worm with some earth upon his desk.

 Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall has a good chapter also:


I don't think Charlotte Mason actually used the term 'copywork' (I could be mistaken, but I haven't found it if she did) but she did use the word, 'transcription,' and that it should be slow and beautiful work...

Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.

Moozle has been doing this for a number of years now and I have seen a huge improvement in her spelling, especially with the addition of dictation around the time she turned ten. But I still have to watch that her writing doesn't get sloppy. She loves using coloured pens but her writing is often neater when she uses pencil. I usually let her choose her own passages now for copying or give her some choice. Shakespeare, poetry, literature, and Bible verses are some examples of what we've used.

Children should Transcribe favourite Passages.––A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another...
A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason  


I found this book  not long ago and we've been using it for French copywork (which we started doing about a year and a half ago).


This only gets done once a week at present:


Moozle's Book of the Centuries and timeline is basic and no frills, as you can see below, but it works for her. We use a cheap composition book but I'd like to find a book with a combination of blank and lined pages with better quality paper as pen bleeds through the pages on this one. The entries are updated once a week, which she generally does without prompting now. She has a separate notebook for maps and written narrations on history.

I was quite surprised at how simple the idea of a Book of Centuries originally was. There's a picture here on Page 7 that shows an example. (It's slow to upload)
Some examples of my older children's history timelines and notebooks are here.

Linking up with Celeste at Keeping Company and with Kris at Weekly Wrap-up

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

How much do you know about Australia in the 1930's? I didn't know a great deal, but I recently had an enjoyable history lesson that brought this time period to life for me.
As a result of the Great Depression, around thirty-two percent of Australians were out of work in the mid 1930's.
In 1930, the Australian Government was advised to cut wages in order to increase profits and make exports more competitive. Social services were also cut, and Britain demanded that Australia not default on her loan obligations. The controversial Premier of New South Wales at the time was Labor leader, Jack Lang, and when he decided to withhold repayments, he was dismissed from office.
The building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Old and New Guards, the fear of Communism and the belief that Australia was heading towards a revolution on the scale that Russia had experienced - these historical facts are intertwined in Sulari Gentill's book, A Few Right Thinking Men.

Published in 2010, it is the first in a series of historical crime fiction books that introduces an Aussie sleuth, the artist/painter, Rowland Sinclair.
The crime in the first book is more incidental to the story, with the introduction of the main characters, the general feel of the time period, and the prevailing political atmosphere being the main focus. This gives the book a slowish start, but as it is the first book in the series, I have the feeling it promises some interesting twists and turns later on.
Rowland Sinclair is the youngest son of a wealthy pastoralist. He is ten years old when he farewells his two older brothers, Aubrey and Wilfred, in 1914 as they leave for Egypt on a troop ship. Aubrey dies in action and Wilbur later returns home, a different man.
Rowland has an artist's attraction to the left wing and is tolerant of Communism, and much to Wilbur's disgust, occupies the family mansion in Sydney with his penniless Bohemian friends. Wilbur is one of the 'Old Guard,' conservative, and convinced that the Communists are going to overrun Australia. He lives with his wife and child on the family farm at Yass, in country New South Wales.
Rowland is indifferent to politics until a murder occurs and unsatisfied with the police investigation, he takes matters into his own hands and uncovers a bizarre conspiracy.

Some interesting aspects:

Rowland is a talented painter and his Bohemian friends have interesting characters and backgrounds: one is an ardent Communists who quotes poetry as if it were his own, to which Rowland always responds in an undertone with the name of the original poet; another is a sculptress.

Many of the chapters begin with a short extract from the newspapers of the day.

There are a wide range of political and social views represented.

The author's background is in law and she is married to an historian whose area of interest is the Fascist movement in Australian history.

The attitudes that came about after World War I  - this reminded me of my own Grandmother's reactions stemming from the Second World War. She would refuse to eat the 'German rye bread' my mother bought (decades later) when she moved to Australia to live with us. My husband's Grandmother wouldn't buy anything made in Japan because she knew men who had been killed or maltreated by the Japanese forces in South-East Asia:

"Rowly," he said, as he shook his brother's hand.
"Hello, Wil."
"I see you're still driving that Fritz monstrosity," Wilfred said curtly.
"She's a good car," Rowland replied, his voice a little tight, knowing what was coming.
"The Germans killed our brother." Wilfred's response was cold.
Rowland sighed. This was not a new quarrel, and Wilfred was not alone in seeing the Mercedes as a betrayal of Aubrey. Rowland saw it differently.

The details of life in and around Sydney were very interesting: the opening of the Harbour Bridge, the descriptions of various suburbs, razor gangs and crime, and the effects of the depression.

There are seven books in the series so far, which I'm looking forward to reading. I heard about the author's books from a few different sources - a good friend, my daughter, Zana, who has collected all the books in the series so far, & Brona, who has written about some of them here. If you enjoy some history with your crime, I'd also recommend this author.

Originally published by PanteraPress, which is the copy I have above (ISBN 9781464206375) and re-printed by Poisoned Pen Press.