Tag Archive | Homeschooling

The Inspired Life of a Homeschool Mom

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The other morning I got up early…well, earlier than everyone else anyway. It was the weekend so Dad was home. It had rained during the night. Really rained so that when I sat out on the porch with my coffee I could breathe in the wet earthy air. After living in the Pacific Northwest for sixteen years I grew to love the rain. I miss it here on the prairie. During the sparkly whiteness of the prairie winter I longed for the gray, cozy Washington winter.

I decided to go for a walk, enjoying the cool grayness. As I walked I thought about how we have lived in the Midwest for a year now. Moving is really hard, at least it was for me. Adjusting to everything being so different, the missing places in my heart where my friends should be. I left behind a life that I loved, fighting resentment, accepting what is. It hasn’t been easy. Grieving the loss of a baby. Sometimes it felt like my heart had grown flat. On auto pilot, trying to live from one day to the next.

As I walked I prayed and thought, along the fields, soy beans, corn, a gravel road. This is my life now. Cows stopped their grazing to look at me. I like them and I say,”Hi, good morning, cows.” They look at me with peaceful eyes, go back to their grass. Milk weed flowers grow in the ditches. They have a wonderful fragrance that wafts out to me in the mist. I pick some so I can hold it my nose and smell it as I go, letting the sticky milk drip onto my wrist. I think how we will be able now to hatch Monarch Butterflies in jars like I did when I was a girl. Year after year my siblings and I lined the pantry window sill with jars. We never tired of watching the life cycle of the beautiful butterfly. We always released them with a sort of hushed awe into my mom’s flower beds.

By the time I turn back the sun is burning away the mist. I can still see our place , even though I’m a good couple miles away. Distance is deceiving here.  You know they say where ever you go there you are? Well, I knew then that it’s true. I am still here. The inspired life that I want to live, full of poetry, music, art, good and beautiful things. Lofty aspirations of educating my children, capturing their hearts and souls. Those things can still be mine. My heart fills with praise because I know it’s true, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can be happy here just as well as there. I will grow here and flourish, I will live the inspired life of a homeschool mom.

And once I am being carried on the wings of inspiration, I know wonderful things will happen! I am planning a literature based study of The United States for this coming year. Not so much the ordinary history stuff but a study of the regions and people and geography. I am thinking of books that capture the hearts of the people that make the deep south, New England, the rugged cowboyness of the Southwest, the amazing, strong women who somehow still laughed and loved and accepted the wind and sod houses on the prairie….. it’s going to be good. We’ll do regional cooking and take field trips in our minds. We’ll make a huge map and a time line. We’ll live through the dust bowl and join the gold rush. We’ll slip away with the runaway slaves, following the drinking gourd.

I have a feeling it’ll be another good year this year. Please, if anything cool came to mind while reading this leave me a comment. The plans are still forming in my mind so I am definitely open to suggestions!

“Make yourselves nests of pleasant thoughts, bright fancies, faithful sayings; treasure houses of precious and restful thoughts, which care cannot disturb nor poverty take away from you, houses built without hands for your souls to live in.” John Ruskin

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A Bit of Scandinavia, the Little Grandma Who Lives in the Woods and Community

A couple weeks ago I sat Indian style on my grandparents bedroom floor. They both ended their pilgrim journeys this winter. Reaching the gates of “the city who’s builder and maker is God” a mere 60 days or so apart. I miss them so much.

My aunts have put all the linens in their bedroom so there I sit going through them. All of the kids are outside or down stairs, it’s just Blue eyes and me. Suddenly I want to let my heart miss them, there in the dusty quiet. I think how I will never again see them on this earth. I think of how this house has always been a place of belonging for me so far away from my own parents. I remember how through lots of happy times and some very hard times it was here that I could find solace. Whenever we left from a visit with my Grandparents we always felt ministered to and encouraged. I am so thankful that I have had the privilege of living close by them through out my married life. I have seen the fruition of lifelong love and faithfulness. What a wonderful thing for Blue eyes and me to strive for!

My Grandma had so many pretty things to make her house a home. Such a homemaker. Has homemaking become a lost art? I feel inspired to embrace that womanly desire to live in beauty. Table clothes and runners, rugs, bed skirts and doilies, ruffly aprons. Handmade finishing touches.

My little daughter calls this Grandma “the little grandma who lives in the woods” and now she adds, “she went to live in heaven now” . My Grandparents were both second generation Americans. Their parents immigrated here from Finland. My Grandma was very fluent in the Finnish language. They visited Scandinavia and had many friends there.

Just the week prior at our Keepers of the Faith Homeschool Group meeting we decided to take a few months and teach some geography and world culture through ethnic cooking. Each of the five families would choose a region or country and organize and host a cultural dinner.

Of course we had to choose Scandinavia! I was so excited to come away from my Grandparents house with several Scandinavian table linens, some with labels pinned on them saying which friend in Sweden had made them, a Finnish cookbook, and a few pieces of Scandinavian glassware.

That’s one of the things I love about educating our kids at home, I can check out a dozen books about Scandinavia and get really engrossed in them, read them aloud with the kids and in my bed at night and not feel too nerdy! Because, you know, it’s for school!

It was really cool though because I didn’t even realize how deep those roots are woven into my life! So many things I read I thought,”Wow! That’s where that came from!” Blue eyes and I want to travel somewhere after our kids are grown up, no big hurry, we’ve got all the time there is. We’ve thought of South America, then Italy but now……..the Scandinavian countries are calling my name. (I think Blue eyes is just along for the ride, so he doesn’t mind. Well, within reason. Preferably no half naked natives running around.)

So on a Tuesday afternoon all the families come over, about 25 kids plus babies and mamas. I show them that the Scandinavian countries are at the same  latitude as Alaska. Put a finger on Alaska and exactly opposite on the globe lies Scandinavia. I show them that Norway is shaped like a spoon. We talk about the fjords and the hungry, fierce Norse men who sailed down the European coast in open boats. We talk about Eric the Red and his son Leif the Lucky who bravely followed the stepping stones to North America long before Christopher Columbus’s time.

We talk about the Jews being smuggled across the Baltic Sea to Sweden under piles of fish during the second world war. We can almost feel the jubilation of staying up all night long in the land of the midnight sun after the long dark night of winter is passed. Image going to visit your friend at midnight and going for a swim at 3 am with the sun shining brightly? We learn about the funny sheep on the Danish islands who shed their own coats and eat seaweed. We talk about the saunas I took at the neighbors when I was a girl. I tell them about my Grandparents sauna in the woods.

Then we break into groups and start preparing for our Smorgasbord meal. (Just ask one of the kids where that word came from;) We’ve got a brave mom helping the boys make over 100 Swedish meatballs, Kottbullar. The little ones five and under are busy in another area making no bake choclad bullar, chocolate balls. (We make these a lot because they are easy, yummy and gluten free.) I think those guys ate half the dough. Meredith lost her shirt somewhere along the way so in all the pictures she is bare back and chocolaty!  Another group makes frukt suppe (fruit soup). Yummy! It smells delicious with the cinnamon sticks and all. Some of the older girls are writing a menu and making other decorations in the front yard.

All day Friday we are busy. My girls want to set the house up like a Kafe Hus, and so we do. We get creative with seating and tables and make enough seating for everyone to sit together. Except the boys, who want to sit on the deck.

Some of the older girls are dropped off early to help. We make potato salad, cucumber salad, smorbord, rice pudding, and nisu. The kids are excited and pretty much do all the work. My girls want to wear the head scarves and aprons they took home from “little Grandma’s” house.

Finally our smorgasbord is ready and we go out front to wait for our guests to arrive. Since our new character trait is servant-hood, the older kids want to serve their parents. Lucky for us my oldest sister is visiting from North Carolina so she joins us with her little grandson.  We also get two sweet baby goats for the evening.

After everyone is here Blue eyes reads The Word and leads us in prayer, and we enjoy our feast! Everything is very “gud”. We eat it all. The fellowship is wonderful, our house is full of laughter and children and food. What more could we ask for? Surely the Lord is good, good, good!

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Homeschooling Boys Part 4, Sit Down, Little Son

“A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts…….” Longfellow

blog 038I hope you have enjoyed reading this series of blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Now, hopefully, I will be able to figure out how to print them off so I can include them in my son’s school records for this year.

While the previous posts have described the heart and soul of my son’s education, this post is all about what has provided the structure and therefore it is of no less importance.  Although, I must say, on his part, less exciting and certainly requiring more self discipline.  I will not be including the literature based curricula that we have used for history, geography, and science because they are not considered “school” by my kids, too much fun. They go along with the second part of this series, Homeschooling Boys Part 2, For the Love of a Story. 

Here is an entry from his history notebook from last year entitled “Leif becomes a Christian”. I love the bright glow covering everything!

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Another history notebook entry.

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We work on all of our literature based curricula in the afternoons or evenings and I do not feel the need to keep to a schedule with any of them.  We do what works out each day and they are thought of as a treat for sure! On library, field trip or homeschool group days our time is limited so we are likely to skip them.

Because we pretty much have either a pregnant mama or a nursing baby at all times at our house, our school day needs to be very relaxed. I do not try to start each morning at a certain time or be too rigid in any way. No one here thrives on stress, especially me! On the other hand, our days are full of routine. I think it provides kids with a great deal of security when they know what to expect from their days.

So, loosely, this is what our mornings look like. The school bus stops right outside our house at 8:00, that’s kind of the signal for the kids that it’s time to get up. A few of them are in bed reading.  They get up, do their “morning chores”, come down for breakfast, and then choose another small job to help get the kitchen and breakfast area cleaned up. The boys then go outside to take care of Willy and the chickens.

I try to start each day out with God’s word. Thankfully, our church has an excellent Sunday school. (If any of our kid’s current or former Sunday school teachers are reading this, please know how much we appreciate you!) The thing I like the most about it is that it doesn’t turn God’s word into “twaddle” (a Charlotte Mason term) and cutesy songs, but rather gently feeds the kids “the sincere milk of the word”.  Kids often understand the things of God much more readily that we give them credit for!

I have just used the kids Sunday school lessons then as the structure for their individual Bible time each morning.  Kindergarten through second grade they memorize Bible verses and the commandments. Each morning they copy their memory work into their journals and when they are very young that is pretty much all I require of them for handwriting.  The girls seem to enjoy writing at a younger age.  But for the boys that’s about all they can handle.

Now that my oldest son is in third grade he also has Sunday school paperwork. He reads or I have read to him a couple assigned chapters and then he has ten or so questions to answer. This has been a wonderful way to get my kids into the word each day. He works on a couple questions a day. I make sure he writes the answers in complete sentences. I also have him read the story out of the Bible story book to increase his understanding.  He is also studying and memorizing sections of Luther’s Catechism.

Afterwards he usually moves on to math. We use Math.U.See. I was able to attend a work shop put on by the company a few years ago when we made the switch and it just makes a lot of sense. Plus, each lesson is on DVD so I really don’t need to teach it.  Now that my oldest daughter is learning algebra I’m really thankful for this! They have tailored the curriculum to the SAT but not to the yearly grade exams. So typically a child using Math.U.See might not score well on standardized testing in the elementary years but will score exceptionally well later on.  I love the way it teaches the different concepts and all of my kids like math now! I also like the fact that it doesn’t go by “grade” level, leaving everyone more comfortable to work at their own pace.

Everyday he reads a little aloud to me but I try to never weary him. When he was still sounding out most words I would have him read one page then I would read one. Taking turns gives them a break and keeps the story interesting. While unlocking the written word with your child is amazing and exciting, it can also become tedious, for us and them! Just remember that they learn line upon line, precept upon precept. Even just sounding out a few words a day is practice and practice means progress!  Even now that he is reading a lot on his own I’ll have him read aloud to me. I think it is an important skill to be able to read aloud with confidence.  Right now he is reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, and is loving it!

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Although I wasn’t planning to, this year I have also added Spell to Write and Read to his formal studies.  He and his brother were busy writing war stories this fall and I could see that he needed more spelling knowledge. blog 033I have been using this curriculum with his sisters for the last couple years and I have learned so much! So many of the mysteries of the written English language now make sense to us! For example, ch says /k/ when the word is of Greek origin and /sh/ when the word is French. Why the silent k in knock etc.? Because it is “the ghost of a forgotten sound”,  in old and middle English the k was actually pronounced and the spelling of the word never changed. Cool! There is so much more, too! Probably next year he will join his sisters in their study of the Greek and Latin roots in the English language and Spell to Write and Read compliments that perfectly! I was able to attend a workshop  with the curriculum’s  creator, Wanda Sanseri a few years ago. If you look into this curriculum it seems a little over whelming but it is well worth pursuing. I use it in a self modified version that has worked really well for our family.

His war story is several pages long. One day he said,”Mom, how come our stories sound like a kid wrote them instead of like a real story?” Hmm……Well, for one thing kids did write them! It opened up a discussion about adjectives and interesting sentences structure! He took it to heart, too. Later on in his story he wrote, “We grabbed guns and knives and ran to the army trucks and zoomed off through the woods to the battle field.” Not too bad!

He is growing up though! The other day he was reading something about the Civil War and he came up to me looking very serious. “Mom,”he said, ” I used to think it would be kind of fun to have a war here but I didn’t know war was so terrible. I’m going to pray that we never have a war here!”

Growing in wisdom, growing in grace. I ‘m looking forward to watching the rest of the story unfold! And like Mary, the mother of my Lord, and every other mama, truly I am blessed among women!

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In closing I wanted to share this poem that I found!

God made a world out of his dreams,

Of magic mountains, oceans, and streams,

Prairies and plains and wooded land.

Then paused and thought,”I need someone to stand,

On top of the mountains, to conquer the seas,

Explore the plains and climb the trees.

Someone to start out small and grow,

Sturdy and strong like a tree” and so

He created boys, full of spirit and fun

To explore and conquer, to romp and run

With dirty faces, and banged up chins

With courageous hearts and boyish grins.

And when he’d completed the task he’d begun

Surely He said,”That’s a job well done!”

Author unknown

Homeschooling Boys Part 3….. Of a Puppy Dog and the Great Outdoors

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Around the time our oldest son turned six we got a puppy. An adorable golden retriever. We named him Willy. I had no idea the commitment we were making! In the back of my mind I thought if it didn’t work out we could just pass on our beautiful puppy. But, no, our boys took to that little dog like they had a new brother. I could see that short of tearing my son’s heart out of his body, this dog was here to stay. And it wasn’t just puppy love either. My oldest son has prayed for Willy every night,”God, help me to be a good boy and help Willy to be a good puppy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”  Or quite on accident, without even noticing, he sometimes says, “God, help me to be a good puppy and Willy to be a good boy.” I’m sure God gets it all straightened out. They are constant companions. Roaming the hillside and the wood. Blond tail wagging, cameo, bows and hunting packs, disappearing into the tall grasses. They tell me that he is really good at hide and seek.  And they are pretty sure he is a Christian because he just seems …good.

My boys spend about an hour each morning at their “school work”. (The last part of this series will explain what that’s all about. Homeschooling Boys Part 4, Sit Down Little Son, which I will be posting soon) The rest of their day is mostly spent outdoors. Their backpacks hold field guides for identifying fora and fauna, water bottles and apples. First aid kits, journals and pencils, who knows what else. They are always ready for adventure!

They have picked me hundreds of wild flowers, discovered an old orchard with apple and plum trees, saved injured birds and baby bunnies (Bad, Willy!). They have found nests and watched deer from a short distance. They have watched rabbits scurry down holes and listened to countless bird’s songs.

They have found cool rocks and bones. Once they came back with armfuls of elk bones and tried to reassemble the skeleton. They have caught frogs and lizards. Found beautiful bird egg shells. They come home rosy cheeked and sparkly eyed, running down the hill with Willy loping along side of them. Rubber boots and rain coats, bare backed and sweaty, winter hats and mittens, but always happy.

They have made tree stands and forts and craftily hidden shelters. They have built dams on the creek. They have dug big holes with shovels, for what? Who knows! But it has kept them occupied for days. Building their muscles, teaching them the satisfaction of being a man, with rhythm and grit, getting the job done.

Lots of times their Dad or I have hiked around for the afternoon, sworn to secrecy, being shown their favorite spots, secret hideouts and cool discoveries.

They have built carts for Willy to pull, book cases for their sister’s birthdays, and whittled wooden spoons. They know how to take apart bicycles and put them back together again. My oldest son can put air in tires using the air compressor. His Dad taught him how to pump gas. He loves to open jars for me or carry heavy boxes. He is only nine and he actually has more grit than I do……but the other day I proved to him that I can still beat him at arm wrestling. He was surprised and disappointed. It won’t be long…….

Our back yard has been Jamestown reenacted for days at a time, Roanoke, Plymouth, Indian villages and Viking camps. Our swing-set has sailed the seven seas countless times over. Sometimes through storms so fierce that the poor pilgrims girls underneath have almost shed real tears. But, the brave sea captain and the sea monkey perched upon the up most mast have weathered the storm again and again.  Our deck has been a biplane dropping Bibles behind the iron curtain.  Our garage has been transformed into a well thought out and organized Nature Museum.

All of these things have been conceived and carried out on their own accord, without suggestion or prompting from us. We have never had a TV or any video games at our house. I don’t think my kids are different than anyone else’s but, sadly, I do think they are of a dwindling breed of children who’s minds and imaginations have been allowed to form completely naturally. We live in a “safety” obsessed society. Some parents would rather their kids sat in front of the TV or played computer games where they are safe and clean and in sight. Perhaps they are physically safe, but what about the far more important safety of their souls and spirits? I suppose since we no longer trust God with the timely creation of our children, we can’t fully trust that their number of days and breath of life is in his hands either.

I can see that my oldest son has matured here lately. He feels funny now if the neighbor lady catches him in a game of pretend. The complete abandon and freedom of early childhood is escaping him. That’s  the way it is and how I love this little man child that the Lord has given me! How thankful I am that the happy, carefree, golden hours of childhood were not kept from him! How quickly time goes! Never again except in those early years does the world feel so fresh and wonderful, so innocent and limitless.

Nearly every day of this guy’s life his Dad has read the scriptures to him and prayed for him. Every night he has been thoroughly kissed and hugged and put to bed under the blessing of the God of heaven and earth. Every day he has roamed happy and free the earth that God has created. Without grown ups always there to tell him what he should think and observe and look at. And he is “growing strong and vigorous like a plant”.

I am glad that this will lay the foundation of his life and education. Who knows what God might have in store for his life but I know this, if he knows Jesus Christ and understands that the word of God is a light unto his path and a lamp unto his way, if he learns how to love the people around him well, he will know happiness. I ask God to bless him with this richness.

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 Every Child

Edna Casler Joll

Every child should know a hill,

And the clean joy of running down it’s long slope

With the wind in his hair.

He should know a tree-

The comfort of it’s cool lap of shade,

And the supple strength of it’s arms

Balancing him between earth and sky

So he is the creature of both.

He should know bits of singing water-

The strange mysteries of it’s depths,

And the sweet grasses that border it.

Every child should know some scrap

Of uninterrupted sky, to shout against;

And have one star, dependable

 and bright

For wishing on.

……Homeschooling Boys Part 2 For the Love of a Story

When my little son turned 5 or 6 I could see that he would not enjoy sitting down to seat work and hand writing like his older sisters had. I had read enough about the development of little boys to agree with others who had observed that the traditional way of teaching the early elementary years of school is stacked against boys. Their fine motor skills are often more immature than those of their female peers. It is more difficult for them to sit still. This can lead to over diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and other learning troubles.

I did not in anyway want to make education distasteful to him.  Around this time I started to really think about my philosophy of education. What are my goals in providing my kids with an education? With babies and preschoolers, as well as school aged children to care for I need to use all of my resources wisely. Every amount of energy, time and attention I invest must be with the best of my ability in shaping their soul and character.

The end result of this searching and wondering was a total reshaping of our homeschool. “As a stream can rise no higher than it’s source, so it is probable that no educational effort can rise higher than the whole scheme of thought which gives it birth….” (Charlotte Mason) And what are the thoughts and lofty aspirations that are giving birth to the education of my precious children?

Upon the wall of our home I have written a quote by James Stephen which reads, “I have learned, that the head does not hear anything until the heart has listened, and what the heart understands today the head will know tomorrow.” I believe this is true. And what better way to reach the heart of my boy than through books?

Wonderful, beautiful books, full of adventure and good, noble characters! Books who’s authors can help to teach and shape the souls of my kids. Whole and living books, written with passion, about every subject imaginable! In this way I can put my kids under the teaching of great minds of men and women from the past and present. What a shame when the early formative years of children’s lives are allowed to be wasted with foolish and violent media! Parents, carefully guard the hearts and minds of your young children! What we feed into our hearts and minds is what will come out! What a charge God has given us in protecting these precious ones!

I had read of a school of thought that says that given the ideal atmosphere and proper foundation children will learn to read just like they learn to talk and walk. Without much stress or effort on their part, it will naturally happen. Prayerfully and purposefully I set out to try to create that atmosphere in my home.

From the time my kids are very young I will put my finger under the words as I read them a story. I teach them that letters make sounds and that the sounds blended together make words. (And I let them watch The Letter Factory, a lot!) I tell them how wonderful and important it is to be able to read. I tell them how God chose to communicate himself to us through the written word. It is through reading that we can be sure not to be fooled by the erroneous teachings of men, by “studying the scriptures daily to see whether these things are so”, like they did in the early church.

We have read so many books! Most importantly, the Book of Books, the Bible. The source of all goodness and truth. We like the Arthur Maxwell Bible Story series. They are not “dumbed down” like some we have tried. He is an excellent story teller. We use the King James Version Bible. I think it is good for the minds of kids to read the Old English writing. Ours have had no problem reading through short verses even with their earliest reading skills.

After a lot of study and prayer I felt that the best way to engage my son in “the gentle art of learning” would be to set some things on the back burner for a few years. Things like grammar, spelling, and hand writing. Instead I wanted to capture his heart and mind.

Our family has sat spell bound and breathless, we have had tears in our eyes and on our cheeks, we have laughed until our tummies hurt reading stories, real and fictional, about people in far away times and places. People in all sorts of situations, who were strong and brave and good. People who had such faith that many beautiful stories have come out of horrible darkness. They will never forget these historical things because they have felt them in their hearts.

My oldest son is nine and a half. I have wondered sometimes if I have been doing the right thing. Even earlier this winter he was still sounding out a lot of words and not really reading silently very often for his own pleasure. But, lo, and behold! Along comes The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (in an abridged version, 200 pages). He has seen the Christian Youth Theater performance and loved it. He can’t convince me to read the book right then, and literally, over night my son turns into a book worm!

He finishes Robin Hood in a couple of days and is on to Ivanhoe (abridged as well). But this book actually has him teary eyed and then jubilant, when he finds out his hero craftily escaped the fire! I now know the story line of Ivanhoe. He has been coming to me for one book after another. Right now he is reading Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry.

I am so happy that everything has come full circle and he is laughing and crying over his books. It was a little long in coming but it has been completely stress free on his part as well as mine. His little brother told me the other day,”He is kind of boring now, all he wants to do is read!”

A couple of weeks ago our oldest son also told his Dad that all the other kids in his Sunday School class know how to write in cursive and he would like to learn too. Sure, Son! Out come the cursive hand writing books and he is diligently practicing his hand writing on his own accord.

I don’t regret for a minute the relaxed approach that we have taken. Read more about this in Homeschooling Boys Part 3, Of a Puppy Dog and the Great Outdoors, which I will be posting sometime soon.

There are too many good books to list but here are some that our family, and specifically our boys,  have found to be the cream of the crop!

Beautiful Feet Books Early American History, this is a fabulous literature, notebooking based curriculum, I just cannot even say enough good about it! All of the books that they have chosen are wonderful.

Treasures of the Snow and The Star of Light by Patricia St.John

The Little Pilgrim’s Progress adapted from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

The Laura Ingalls Wilder books

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A.Milne

Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachian

The Sign of the Beaver, The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

The Butterfly, Pink and Say, January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco

Number the Stars by Lois Lowery