So, I think I should begin this post with something of a disclaimer. I’ve never really written a book review before and I’m honestly not sure what things should be covered and what things should be left alone. However, I am more than glad to share my thoughts, opinions, and perspectives with you in a way that would inform you about this biography of John Knox and perhaps help you to decide whether this book would be appropriate for your home library. Because who doesn’t have an extensive personal library in their home? I know I do.

I was asked to review this book by my friend Shaun Tabatt of Cross Focused Media, though he should bear no blame for the general shabbiness of this review because in no way did he influence what I write. Too bad, really.

The book I was asked to review is a biography of John Knox from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr. John Knox was one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. He helped to found the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland. Because of the volatility of the political situation, the story of this rabble-rouser makes for some exciting reading.

I think I should begin with the physical aspects of this book. I received a hardcover edition of this book and right away I was impressed with the durable binding and the high quality paper and printing. There are many impressionistic-style paintings throughout the book that help to illustrate the story. I liked how the illustrations had a realistic feel as opposed to the cartoon-like approach so many children’s books take. Particularly since this is a historical work, I felt like this style choice was very appropriate. Something I really loved about this book was the numerous photographs of the actual buildings and scenes where the action took place. For example, when they tell of a conflict that occurred at St Andrew’s Castle, they included an actual photograph of the castle along the Scottish coast. There is a photograph of the church where John Knox gave his first sermon. There are also many portraits of the people included in the narrative.

As to the writing itself, I enjoyed how the author tied the broader themes of political influences, historical chronicles, and personal accounts into one storyline. It was helpful to see how tied Knox’s life was to the broader political changes happening around him. This period of time was particularly turbulent with lives of people hanging on the religious beliefs of their next monarch. It might be perfectly safe to be a practicing Catholic or Protestant one year, but the next year the king or queen would die and, if the new ruler’s views differed, it would be convert or be imprisoned, or worse. People weren’t free to worship according to their convictions. And if you were a Presbyterian after John Knox had his way, you warmed a pew all day on a Sunday, like it or not. Gads. Of course, as a book aimed for upper elementary aged children, this biography didn’t get into the more bloody particulars. My boys would have enjoyed it, but this tale is safe for even the most sensitive children.

One of the finest features of the writing were the excerpts that were included from Knox’s letters, particularly to his future mother-in-law. I felt that more than anything else, these went the furthest to humanizing this influential man who lived 500 years ago. I would have enjoyed reading more of these.

Generally, I felt that the book was very well written. Even though it was meant for children, I felt that it gave me a lot to think about as an adult. I don’t think very young children would be that captivated; I do believe that older students would find this to be a fitting supplement to their history studies.
Considering that the book was written from the perspective of a hard-nosed Protestant firebrand and was published by a Reformation publisher, the tone of the narration makes a lot of sense. However, I think that Catholic readers might justifiably find the tone to be objectionable in places.

Anyway, I hope I covered what you would like to know about this book.

How’s that for a catchy title?

You’d think that we’d be off camping after that last weekend of woodland misery, but, no, we are not. Well, we ARE, but we already had trips planned so even though we are DONE with camping we are not, in fact, done. This is likely a good thing, however, since our last camping trip was a blast.

We made a trip to Lake Pepin with some friends which should sound familiar if you are a fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. This, my friends, is Laura’s birthplace and a replica of the Ingalls cabin of Big Woods fame. The woods are gone in favor of acres of corn fields. It was amazing to see how small the cabin was, considering a family of five lived here. I’m not amazed when I think of how few possessions they had, but when I consider keeping three small children busy in such a small space through a long and cold winder? I stand in awe. What did those kids DO with their time? My memory of the books suggests that they weren’t outside an awful lot, and sewing nine square quilts can only hold a five year old’s attention so long, so how on earth did they stay out of mischief? Do you know what my kids do all winter? They run after each other, whooping and hollaring, from one end of our house to the other. Our house is not big by modern suburban standards, but it’s a heck of a lot larger than this diminutive cabin. I stand in awe of Ma. She is a golden example of tending the kids and Getting It Done. As a mother and as a student of history, I don’t know how she did it.Image

In other news, I’ve started learning to sew. I had some experience sewing when I was growing up, both in my middle school Home Ec class, but it’s been 20 years or more since I’ve really put myself to following a pattern. My mom tried to teach me, but it was something that she had so much experience in that it was hard for her to watch me fumble about and more often than not she would end up finishing the projects I would begin.

Today I made Anna a sleeveless version of a pioneer style chemise.

ImageExcuse the poor quality photo. I’m not sure what got into my camera.

ImageAs you can see, there’s a drawstring around the neckline, which creates the only way in and out of this dress. It turns out I bought the wrong size pattern and so I had to make the 5-6 size. I don’t know that the larger size would be any better, but I do know that the arm holes on this thing are pretty snug. BUT, it works!

From this simple project, I learned that I need to learn about hemming in a circle. The hem around the bottom and the hem around the arm holes are a bit wonky, as you might be able to see. I can’t figure out how to get it to lay flat when I’m sewing “round”.

I might never get to be a great seamstress, but it’s fun to try something new from time to time and to expand what I’m able to accomplish. The next thing on my list are pants for the boys, especially Henry. As he gets bigger I’m finding fewer and fewer hand-me-downs from Thomas for reasons I don’t quite understand. The upshot of this is that he needs more clothes than I can find in storage and the thrift store doesn’t always have what I need. Just last week I decided that Henry really needed a couple more pairs of shorts to keep him covered between wash days. The thrift store had nothing in the boys’ section so I ended up raiding the girls’ section for gender neutral shorts. If I’d had time, I would have been able to sew something up.

A sane person might suggest going to Target and just buying what we need, but I find that the stores are half a season ahead of where I need them to be. I don’t like to buy a pile of clothes at the beginning of the season because it’s had to know at that point exactly what we’re going to need. In May it really looked like our shorts situation would be fine. It wasn’t until we tried it out that I realized that we were short on shorts. By now the stores have swept away their summer gear and are parading out their Back-To-School stock. Sometimes it’s just more convenient to just do it myself. It’s the same principle that keeps me buying flour, milk, eggs and butter instead of biscuit mix, cans of cream-of-whatever, cookie dough, bread, pancake mix, muffin mix, pie crust, or what have you. The basic ingredients can go in any direction if you have a need and with a little know-how you can keep your life a lot simpler.

I suppose that’s as good a reason as any for building up an enormous fabric stash. I’ll keep it in my yarn room.

In a world of social media, it’s easy to think that everyone is living a more wonderful life than you are. With Facebook updates and photographs aplenty, vacations seem more amazing and children more cheerful than any you’ve ever experienced. Sometimes I think that it’s hard to resist the temptation to put our best foot forward ALWAYS and push all those low times into the back closet to oh-so-casually ignore when talking with our friends and family. And, as a blogger, it can be hard to write about those less-than-ideal times without sounding like I’m having a big moan.

That said, Peter and I just got back from the most miserable camping trip that we’ve ever had the misfortune suffer through EVER.

We left for a brief two-day camping trip to the Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, MN. I have many happy memories of camping there with my family and going for day trips just to hike around. I thought it would be fun to go on the weekend that some UofM astronomers would be there for a short talk and some star-gazing through their special telescopes. Nerstrand is outside the light pollution halo of the Twin Cities, so this was particularly appealing since you can’t really see much of the night sky in Minneapolis.

Would you like to know how to stack the odds against having a successful camping trip? Try staying up unspeakably late the night before you go and watch some fireworks. Then, follow up the next night by allowing the boys to sleep next to each other in the tent. After that, add some typical camping hardships like insufferable humidity, a battalion of very determined mosquitoes, and enough daddy long leg spiders to turn even the staunchest bug-lover into an arachnophobe. If you do all of this, you will be able to reliably produce abject misery.

You will know you’ve succeeded in achieving Abject Misery when your camping group looks like this:

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This is a picture of the only time we had anything approaching a smile from the kids on the WHOLE TRIP. Thomas is only smiling because he is such an obedient boy and Daddy said “Smile!” before snapping the shot.

At one point I got sick of the whinging and whining and I attempted to throw Anna into the river and over a waterfall.

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Peter and I spent the afternoon debating the relative merits of cutting our losses and just going home before the astronomy event, but we’re glad we stayed. Henry slept in the tent that night while Peter took the older two kids to hear the talk about our universe and see some planets. They came back with their minds blown. Anna was shown a picture of the earth in front of the sun. She never knew how much bigger the sun is than the earth and she learned that the earth is protected by a magnetic field. They got to see Saturn through the telescope and some giant binoculars and they even saw one of its moons. It was just what I was hoping for! So there was some redeeming value to our trip after all. Also, there was the Hidden Falls, which was beautiful, too.

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