Dec 132010

A few weeks ago, I posted my review of The Way Home, a DVD about the day 2 year-old Joe Simpkins got lost. Very shortly afterwards, I was contacted by Randy Simpkins, the real-life father of Joe Simpkins. He liked my review, but offered me the opportunity to read the book to help clear up a few misconceptions I may have had. Not being one to turn down books, I agreed.

Our Way Home is written by both Randy and Christal Simpkins. While the movie focuses only on 1 day, with a few flashbacks, the book gives a lot more background of the events leading up to that day. It’s fairly short and quick to read. While reading it, I felt like I was hearing Randy and Christal speak. The chapters even alternate between their two perspectives.

So did I have misperceptions? Well, not exactly, but the book did bring some additional facts to my attention. First, Randy wasn’t just your everyday, average work-a-holic. He really wasn’t home for much of his kids’ early years. Some was unavoidable (like time spent in the Navy), but most was driven by his desire for success. And Christal wasn’t just a little bit tired from “holding down the fort” for years. There is more to the story to that, but I will let you hear it from them.

In addition to giving more background about their lives, Our Way Home also provides a deeper look into the Simpkins’ faith, both before and after that fateful day. I got to see into their hearts and how God led them to make the movie. Reading the book was definitely worth it for me, but be sure to watch The Way Home first!

Our Way Home is available on (This is NOT an affiliate link.)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the authors to review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Dec 112010

My kids, especially the younger ones, are geography nuts. And though I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about geography, their interest is mainly because of my husband. His enthusiasm for the subject is contagious!

When I saw Passport to the World as a book available to review from New Leaf Publishing Group, I knew it would be a great book for my kids. I was definitely not disappointed!

Passport to the World is unique in its focus on the spoken languages. The book is arranged alphabetically with one language representing each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.

For each language featured there are:

  • Full-color 2-page spreads
  • A small map of the country where the language is spoken and chart of vital statistics
  • How to say Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, and Peace
  • Interesting facts
  • Photos of people and places

Also included are a removable “passport” in the front of the book with stickers to be used as each language/country is “visited”.  The book is written from a Biblical world view, beginning with the history of language at the Tower of Babel, and ending with suggested websites that provide assistance to needy children around the world.

This is a great book to use as a springboard for other study or to read alone. I can’t tell you how my kids like it because once I saw it, I decided to wrap it up for them. Shhh…

Disclosure: I received this book for free as a member of the Book Reviewers for New Leaf Publishing Group. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Nov 292010

I remember a friend of mine trying to explain The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me when I was around 9 or 10. At that point, I had never heard of the books, and they really didn’t sound that interesting to me. But several years later, my parents bought them for me to read. (They read them too!) I remember reading the whole series very quickly and enjoying them. But don’t ask me if I understood the symbolism. I was never very good at recognizing symbolism.

I have read the series several times again as an adult. I am now able to recognize much of the Christian imagery found in the books, but that’s mainly because I’ve been told what it is. So when Tyndale House offered The Narnia Code to members of the Tyndale Blog Network for review, I knew it was something I needed to read. Here’s their description:

Millions of readers have been captivated by C. S. Lewis?s famed Chronicles of Narnia, but why? What is it about these seven books that makes them so appealing? For more than half a century, scholars have attempted to find the organizing key?the ?secret code??to the beloved series, but it has remained a mystery. Until now.

In The Narnia Code, Michael Ward takes the reader through each of the seven Narnia books and reveals how each story embodies and expresses the characteristics of one of the seven planets of medieval cosmology?Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus and Saturn?planets which Lewis described as ?spiritual symbols of permanent value.?

How does medieval cosmology relate to the Christian underpinnings of the series? How did it impact Lewis?s depiction of Aslan, the Christlike character at the heart of the books? And why did Lewis keep this planetary inspiration a secret? Originally a ground-breaking scholarly work called Planet Narnia, this more accessible adaptation will answer all the questions.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I can’t remember the last time I’ve read through a non-fiction book in 2 days, but I had trouble putting this one down. Michael Ward makes an excellent case for his theory about the underlying theme of the series in an easy-to-read, anecdotal style. The theory is very intriguing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has read the Chronicles of Narnia and is interested in learning more about them.

I Review For The Tyndale Blog Network I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House as a member of the Tyndale Blog Network.

Nov 092010

I remember sitting in an airport sometime around 1992, when for some reason, I got into a conversation with a man who was reading a book by someone I had never heard of: David Barton. This man very excitedly shared with me all he was learning about our Founding Fathers and their intentions for our nation to be a Christian nation.

I must confess, this was all news to me. Although I was a Christian, I had completely believed what little I had been taught in my public school history books. Wasn’t America founded as a place of religious tolerance? Weren’t our Founding Fathers mainly Deists? I somewhat skeptically listened to this man talk, and I even wrote down the name and author of the book he was reading.

A few years later, the name David Barton was mentioned again. This time it was because he was going to be speaking at a church in our area. Many of our friends from church were going to hear him, and my husband and I decided to see what he had to say. We were definitely in for a treat, in a mind-boggling sort of way. If you have ever seen David Barton you will know what I am talking about. Much of his presentation consisted of a picture of the Signing of the Constitution which he pointed at with a laser pointer and very quickly told facts about the faith of the various delegates. I left with my head spinning from information overload. There was no way to remember and digest all the information in that one talk, but I did at least recognize that the history books don’t tell the whole story.

Why have I told you all of this? Because I was recently given the opportunity to review an excellent resource that put that wealth of information about our Founding Fathers into one accessible volume. For You They Signed, by Marilyn Boyer, contains biographical information about each of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The book is arranged in the way the Declaration was signed: by colony. Included for each signer is a sketch, a table of basic information, a timeline of public service, and several pages of biographical information. Also included for each signer are Questions for Discussion. There are questions that focus on facts in addition to those that point to each man’s character.

There are several suggested ways to use this book:

  • A Year’s Worth of Family Devotional Character Studies
  • A Complete Resource for a  Single Mom
  • A Practical, Life-Changing Self-Study
  • A Group Study Designed to Make a Difference
  • Inspirational General Reading

In addition to these ways, I think it makes a great supplementary resource for American history study. I do not intend for my children to grow up with the same dismal knowledge of history that I had! And among the many benefits of homeschooling, I get to learn alongside my children. I look forward to using For You They Signed with my family for years to come.

I received this book compliments of Master Books to review. You can follow Master Books and Marilyn Boyer on Facebook. I am also participating in America’s Christian Heritage Event at the Christian Home School Hub. You can find links to other reviews at Christian Home School Hub and you can vote for your favorite review.


This book is available for purchase at and

Nov 032010

When I saw the title of this book, it immediately sounded like something I needed to read. I want to have people over, but something always seems to get in my way.

  • We’re too busy.
  • We don’t have enough room.
  • We can’t afford it.
  • My house isn’t nice enough.

You may have used some of the same excuses yourself.

In The Reluctant Entertainer, Sandy Coughlin discusses each of these objections and others, showing how these “problems” can be overcome. Not only does she give Biblical reasons for showing hospitality, but the book is filled with her personal experiences showing hospitality and being shown hospitality. Also sprinkled throughout the beautiful, hard-cover book, are delicious looking recipes.

Although the book is filled beautiful ideas, it is not overwhelming. It encourages perfectionists (like me) to  let go of unreasonable expectations and enjoy inviting people into your home. Reading this book, I was both inspired and convicted. Inspired that I could actually have people over, and convicted that I’ve spent so many years rarely opening my home to others.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book to review from Bethany House. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
This is the 40th book I have read in the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. I am 4 books behind, but I’m gaining ground.

Jun 292010

The Core is the latest book by Leigh Bortins, the founder and CEO of Classical Conversations. Even though I knew a little about Classical Conversations because there are several groups in my area, I have never been involved in a group, or even attended an informational meeting. All the information I had was from members, or previous members, of Classical Conversations. My knowledge of the program could be summed up as follows:

  1. It follows a neo-classical model.
  2. The students do a lot of memorizing.
  3. It’s not an inexpensive program to join.

The reasons I had not joined, or even investigated the program further, were #2 and #3. I was excited to receive a review copy of The Core so I could finally see why so many people are so excited about Classical Conversations.

The book begins with a very thorough explanation of what is wrong with our country’s current educational model and the benefits of the classical model. Though this was not new information for me, it served as an excellent reminder of why we chose to educate our children classically, and it provided me with encouragement to stay the course. For someone unfamiliar with the concept of classical education, this book provides an exceptional explanation.

Part Two is divided into subjects such as reading, writing, math, history, and science. Each chapter is devoted to a single subject and how to teach it. I found this section very practical. The focus in the grammar years is mastering and overpracticing the foundational skills. The Core does strongly emphasize memorization of facts, especially in the early years. However, the author very clearly explains the reasons that memorization is so important.

I was honestly never thrilled with all the memory work that I had heard about in Classical Conversations, but after reading The Core, I am definitely going to be adding more memory work to our routine. An important thing to understand concerning the memorization in this program is that although it sounds like a lot of work, it is not in addition to everything else you’re already doing. It’s instead of. I think that’s what I was missing before. The approach is actually very relaxed in many ways. There is no structured history or science curricula for the grammar years. The time is spent in memorizing key facts and reading or listening to good books. There is time for exploring interests in science and history. The program doesn’t tie you to a specific time period in history or topic in science but allows for great flexibility.

I was also very happy to discover that The Core is not a big advertisement for why you should join Classical Conversations or buy their products. Of course there are a few mentions of specific resources used in the program, but overall it’s an instruction manual on how you can teach classically at home. I can definitely see how a group setting would aid in accountability, but I did not find myself, upon completing the book, immediately searching for Classical Conversations groups to join. Instead I have found myself thinking about how I have been teaching and why I have chosen to teach some subjects. I have also been trying to determine what changes I need to make to achieve the educational goals we have for our children.

I highly recommend this book both to classical educators who need to refocus, and to homeschoolers who are interested in learning more about classical education. It is available at Classical Conversations, and will be sold by major booksellers.

I have read 23 books this year for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Core from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated for this review.

Jun 102010

We’ve always planned on having our children learn Spanish. It is a very useful language to know in many parts of the U.S., including our area of North Carolina. We even purchased Rosetta Stone software when our children were younger. We haven’t made learning Spanish a priority though, so they’ve learned very little.

Even though we haven’t been actively studying Spanish, I couldn’t resist when I was offered a copy of Comic Mnemonics: A Fun, Easy Way to Remember Spanish Verbs to review. The concept was so intriguing, I knew I had to see it. I also suspected that this would be a fun way for my son who loves comics (both reading and drawing) to remember Spanish verbs whenever the time does come.

What is Comic Mnemonics? It is a supplemental resource to aid in memorizing Spanish verbs. It is not a stand-alone Spanish curriculum. It contains 100 Spanish verbs arranged alphabetically. The first page has the verb with its pronunciation and meaning, along with a cartoon picture and mnemonic. The conjugation of the verb is also listed.  On the back of each page is just the Spanish word and the picture so the student can quiz himself on the meaning. It also has practice sentences to fill in the correct form of the verb.

For example, the verb ASISTIR means to attend. The comic illustration shows a bench. In front of the bench stands a head coach and a student in a tuxedo. A basketball player is sitting on the bench. Under the comic is the following statmement. (I’ve tried to format it the same as the book.)

The assistant, Joe Best, attends the games formally dressed.

A few days ago, I handed Comic Mnemonics to my older son (12) and asked him to look at it and tell me what he thought. Twenty minutes later, he returned saying that he thought the comics would make it easier to memorize the verbs. As a little test, I quizzed him on the first 10 verbs. (Remember, he isn’t studying Spanish.) He was able to tell me the meanings of 8 of them after his brief look at the book. Obviously that little quiz reveals nothing about his long term memory, but I found the results encouraging nonetheless.

If you’re studying Spanish, you ought to look for this helpful guide. You can find more information about the book, including where to purchase it, at The retail price is $16.95 in the U.S. Coming soon to the Comic Mnemonics series are Spanish II, Spanish III, ESL, and French. I’d love one for Latin too! (hint, hint)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Comic Mnemonics from Alacan Publishing in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated for this review.

May 262010

Last fall when I was doing my Christmas shopping (on-line, of course), I found a sale on a set of 4 historical fiction books. Although I was not familiar with the author, I decided to purchase them for my almost 10 year old daughter because she is crazy about historical fiction, especially books about girls and American history. Those books were the first 4 books in the Andrea Carter series by Susan K. Marlow.

You can imagine my delight when I discovered that Kregel Publications was sending me the 5th book in the series to review. My daughter really likes the books, but she didn’t want to read this one yet because she hasn’t finished the first 4 books. (She tends to read several different books at once, making it take her a while to finish any of them.) So I was introduced to Andrea in The Trouble with Treasure.

Andi is an almost 13 year old tomboy. She lives on a large cattle ranch near Fresno, California in the 1880’s. It’s an exciting time to live in California, and Andrea likes nothing more than being outdoors and riding her horse Taffy. Andrea’s friend Jenny is visiting for several weeks, and they are both excited about their upcoming trip to a logging camp with her older brother Mitch.

Unfortunately they ran into trouble on the trail. First a rattlesnake delayed their progress, and later they met up with some very frightening men. Andi is required to use strength and determination that she didn’t know she had.

I found Andi to be a likable girl. She honored her mother and sought to do what was right. But she did that without the book seeming preachy. The story was an exciting adventure with a little bit of mystery thrown in. The book wasn’t overwhelmingly Christian, but there were instances of prayer. Although not overly graphic, there were some tense portions of the book involving guns in which people were fatally wounded. I didn’t find the content objectionable, but some families might.



Disclosure: This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own.