Review of Language Lessons for a Living Education 2 by Kristen Pratt

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Language Arts Curriculum

Early Elementary

Highly Recommended!

I have been anticipating the release of this curriculum, and it is exactly what I hoped it would be! It has a perfect balance of comprehensive language arts instruction at a gentle pace; plus, it’s a beautiful book, with a strong Christian focus.

Each lesson begins with a story, poem, picture, or piece of Scripture, followed by questions for reading comprehension or observation skills, and narration practice as the student verbalizes what he/she heard, saw, or learned through the piece. Many of the stories follow two very likable Sunday school friends, Claire and Micah; and I love how the narration skills draw out empathy and thoughtfulness in many of the discussion questions. Many lessons end with a chance for the student to draw and/or write his/her own story.

The grammatical component starts with a review of basic skills: the alphabet, vowels and consonants, phonics, nouns/proper nouns and verbs, capitalization, punctuation, days of the weeks, and names of months. Then it moves into syllables, writing a full sentence, plurals, abbreviations, subject-predicate, subject-verb agreement, compound words, contractions, homophones, homonyms, a/an, tense, more advanced phonics and consonant blends, synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, and root words, adjectives, demonstrative pronouns, writing and addressing a letter, and writing a psalm.

The final 100 or so pages of the book includes quizzes corresponding with each lesson, and a suggested grading rubric.

I love that this curriculum includes the full spread of language arts while utilizing a variety of learning styles and activities: hearing a story, copywork, writing (starting with simple words and progressing to sentences), sight word practice and reading, learning activities, puzzles, spelling (using boxes to show the shape of words), memorization (of short poems, Scriptures, and eventually all of 1 Cor. 13), and storytelling through writing and drawing. In the past we have done multiple L.A. curricula at once to cover all the bases. This is going to simplify our homeschool. The strong biblical foundation is also a huge blessing, as the Scripture and godly character is woven throughout.

Level Placement: 

This language arts series is not grade based, but level based. This second book follows Master Books’ Foundations Phonics curriculum, and Basic Language Skills (early reading, early writing, and spelling) curriculum. I would put this at about a 1st grade level, but it really depends on the child; and I love the publisher’s emphasis on personal skill level rather than comparison.

I will be using this with my kindergartener, who has completed a phonics program, is an early reader, and enjoys copy-work and writing. It looks like the curriculum starts slow enough that he will be ready for it, along with the other reading and vocabulary work we will do in addition.

On Methodology:

We homeschool using a combination of Charlotte Mason and Classical methodologies (and will be starting Classical Conversations in the fall), with a strong focus on faith and discipleship. This curriculum is inspired by Charlotte Mason (narration, observation), and shares the memorization emphasis of the grammar stage of the Classical Trivium. It also has a slightly Traditional feeling with the workbook, tests, and open-and-go lesson plans in the front (but is much more interesting in its range of activities). This curriculum could easy complement any methodology as it is flexible and relaxed, yet comprehensive.

Explore Master Books’ website here.

I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum from Master Books.

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Review of The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel Rosenberg

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Genre: Fiction/Suspense

Series: Book One

Highly Recommended.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful political thriller, this is an excellent choice. It is similar in style to Rosenberg’s other novels, including its fast pace, realistic political feel, and cliffhanger ending. I’m already anticipating the next installment of these characters!

The plot depicts desperate political unrest, as the Russian president deceptively plans an invasion, while displaying a peaceful front. The story is written primarily through the eyes of two men: US patriot Marcus Ryker, and Russian son-in-law and senior aide to the president, Oleg Kraskin. Each are sympathetic characters, who want to prevent unnecessary war. Their backstories and the historical-political atmosphere are set up before the main conflict of the narrative fully comes into action; but while the story is written in several parts, it moves quickly, with high suspense from beginning to end.

One of my favorite aspects of Rosenberg’s books is his understanding of history and politics, which often parallel real events, motivating me to research the actual situations–in this case the history and political atmosphere of Russia. The depth and insight hidden within the story heightens the stakes, making the already exciting suspense even better!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

 

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Review of The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom by Randy Clark and Mary Healy

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Genre: Spiritual Growth/Charismatic Interest

Recommended.

Leading charismatic ministers Randy Clark (Protestant) and Mary Healy (Catholic) co-write this book to reveal the unity of the Spirit and charismatic experiences within these distinct ecumenical traditions. Their shared desire for the activation of the Body of Christ in the Spirit is beautiful, and their unique yet harmonizing perspectives are inspiring and informative.

I expected this might cover the range of spiritual gifts (i.e. the five-fold ministry gifts, motivational gifts, and manifestations of the Spirit). However, the focus is on the manifestations of the Spirit (charisms), primarily from 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and also mentioned in other verses. On these spiritual gifts, this is a solid introduction, beginning with a foundation of the theologies of salvation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and of the Spirit’s movement in Scripture, and church history, through the most recent spiritual revivals. The historical details were most inspiring to me as it was edifying to hear stories of the Spirit’s manifest power throughout the Church.

The authors also provide focused attention to the manifestation gifts, grouped by the revelation gifts (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, and discernment of spirits), power gifts (faith, healing, miracles), and gifts of speech (prophecy, tongues, and interpretation). Clark and Healy each share engaging stories to illustrate these gifts in practical use, and provide supporting scriptures of similar biblical experiences.

Overall, I was hoping the book would be a bit more thorough with the whole of spiritual gifts, and how they work together–and also that it would provide more depth and practical attention for those already working in the charismatic gifts. However, I also really enjoyed the unique dialog of Protestant and Catholic perspectives and the many personal stories, and would recommend this resource to those beginning to explore the charismatic spiritual gifts, or those looking for encouragement and activation in this area.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chosen.

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Review of The World’s Story 1: The Ancients (Student Book) by Angela O’Dell

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Genre: Ancient History Curriculum/Christian Worldview

Highly Recommended!

I love everything about this curriculum. The student book is filled with photos, illustrations, and maps that are as stunning as they are helpful and informative. The lessons are engaging, without being overwhelming. And the material of the Student Book is written in an accessible narrative form that could easily be used with multiple age groups or a full-family study. I also love the narration breaks and connection points within the text, which provide helpful markers for the parent-teacher (or independently working student) to pause and reflect before moving onward.

While many textbooks covering ancient civilization include a focus on mythology, this one is awesomely biblical-centric. It more-or-less follows the biblical timeline from Creation through the Roman Empire, with an emphasis on the Hebrew people and their neighbors (Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and others in between). I love the addition of apologetics and archaeology, and the emphasis on a relational/Hebraic worldview of Scripture. Every chapter goes back to Scripture in some way–even ancient cultures that are not directly tied to biblical accounts (like China, the Celts, and tribes in the Americas) have a mission-focus, and/or demonstrate humanity’s need for God in a direct manner. I really appreciate this perspective, and the way faith and Scripture are woven throughout the lessons.

My kids are going to have so much fun with this. I can’t wait for volumes 2 and 3 to be released!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Master Books.

 

PS: Those interested in using this as a homeschool curriculum should consider purchasing with the corresponding Teacher’s Guide, which includes a suggested 180 day schedule, assignments (aimed at 5th-8th grade), and supplementary ideas.

You don’t have to homeschool to enjoy this! Read the Student Guide alone as an engaging devotional resource on ancient history from a biblical perspective.

Explore Master Books website here.

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Review of The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

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Genre: Contemporary Romance

Recommended.

Roman Velasco is a wealthy Los Angeles artist by day, tagging graffiti on buildings at night as as a way to deal with his childhood trauma. Grace Moore is a single mother and Christian, struggling with the horrifying memories of her past, and the mistakes and challenges of her present situation. Similar themes of abandonment and loss run through their childhoods, yet each has responded with different protective coping mechanisms. They must each learn how to spiritually heal from the memories that haunt them, to let go of their protective walls, and to discover themselves anew in Christ and community.

I have read many of Francine Rivers’ books, and while this one is not my very favorite, there were many elements within the narrative that moved my heart. I read it quickly, compelled by the well developed characters, realistic storyline, and slightly predictable “feel-good” romance of wanting everything to come together as it should. There is a lot of depth to the characters’ experiences, and reactive habits in dealing with old wounds; and much wisdom within the challenging process of healing.

There is more “churchiness” in this novel compared to Francine Rivers’ other books (not just in talking about God, but in actually attending church). I enjoyed this as it gave an interesting perspective of the contemporary American mega-church and/or post-denominational church cultural trend, and what that looks like to an unbeliever.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and thoughtful novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

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Review of Answers for Homeschooling: Top 25 Questions Critics Ask by Israel Wayne

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Genre: Homeschooling/Christian Life

Recommended.

This is a great resource for Christian families considering homeschooling, who are unsure about certain aspects or capability, as well as for those actively homeschooling who don’t know how to respond to critical comments. It is written in a conversational manner, and includes references to other beneficial resources for new homeschool families.

I appreciated learning the history of homeschooling, and the great risks of many homeschool pioneers in gaining this freedom. This foundation was a great way to begin the book, as it left me with a deeper awareness and gratitude of this privilege.

I am also especially impacted by Israel Wayne’s commentary on socialization, which comes up frequently in my own experience. He lays a persuasive biblical foundation of the quality of companionship within the social experience, and the necessity of having proper relationships in place for learning to be possible. The argument of being “salt and light” in the world (public/private schools) is similarly addressed in a compelling manner.

Some sections caused me to think differently about certain aspects of homeschooling (e.g. whether or not to accept government funding–I hadn’t considered some of the negative implications). Other areas were less relevant to me (e.g. I’m not concerned about my teaching/academic capability, although many readers may find this very encouraging; and my husband and I have a system in place regarding our educational roles, which is different from the author’s suggestion, but works for us personally).

Overall, I was surprised by the helpfulness of this resource in addressing issues I would not have considered to ask, and providing new information interwoven with spiritual encouragement and a biblical precedent for homeschooling. I am more inspired than ever by our commitment to this form of schooling, and found the book freshly edifying.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Master Books.

 

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Review of The Delusion: We All Have Our Demons by Laura Gallier

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Series: The Delusion, Book 1

Highly Recommended!

This novel is a powerful illustration of spiritual warfare, with a simultaneously engaging story.

Suicide has become an epidemic at Masonville High School. High school senior, Owen Edmonds has a strange encounter that allows him to see creepy creatures preying on his friends and family–binding them with shackles and chains, and manipulating their thoughts. Warning people about the unseen evil he sees makes things worse. Owen also encounters a girl who is different. While everyone else is in bondage, she is glowing. What does she have that the others are missing? And why aren’t the angelic beings that Owen also sees not always able to intervene? Owen searches for truth, while also becoming more engaged in the mystery and physical obstacles that surround him, and the impending threat which darkness is planning for his high school.

This is one of the best YA novels I’ve read. It addresses relevant struggles, while illuminating the very real spiritual battle behind the physical experience of depression and other negative thought patterns. There is freedom in knowing what we are fighting against, and receiving the truth in Jesus that brings life.

The writing is aimed at middle and high school students, and are books I would like my own kids to read. My only critique is that the end comes pretty abruptly, with much more to be addressed. I look forward to the other books in the series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

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Review of The Character Builder’s Bible: 60 Character-Building Stories from the Bible by Agnes and Salem de Bezenac

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Genre: Children’s Story Bible

Recommended.

Our family has several favorite children’s Bibles that we rotate through, and this is the one my kids are currently most excited about. The illustrations are perfect for young children, and the stories are simple enough that my seven-year-old can easily read them, and the perfect length to keep my five-year old’s attention.

Each Bible story is connected to a positive attribute (diligence, honesty, service, praise) or theme (peer pressure, salvation, Easter, Holy Spirit). The first two-page spread of each story includes a full-page illustration and concise biblical narrative, and the following two-pages provide the definition of the character trait or theme and a comic-style layout showing how the theme is relevant to children in daily life.

For instance, the story of Samuel hearing God’s voice is connected with “attentiveness,” with the everyday life illustration showing how to set aside quiet devotional time to hear God. The story of the friends carrying the paralyzed man to receive healing from Jesus emphasizes “friendship,” with the real life illustration portraying four examples of healthy friendship. And the story of Zacchaeus demonstrates an example of repentance: feeling sorry, asking for forgiveness, attempting to make it right, not repeating the wrong.

Some of the stories could be better connected with their theme, but have nevertheless provided opportunities for family discussion. Also, the emphasis of this book is on character-building through Bible stories, so this is probably not the best “Bible” for readers desiring a cohesive narrative of Scripture. Although there is a strong evangelical focus, with the basic details of the Gospel message presented in impressive directness and simplicity.

I most love the discussions that have come out of this book, especially of the various character traits. I also appreciate how it introduces new vocabulary, and enjoy that 43% of the stories (26 out of 60) come from the New Testament, as our family tends to spend more time in the Hebrew Bible.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Kids.

 

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Review of the 10 Minute Bible Journey by Dale Mason

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Genre: Family Devotional Bible

Highly Recommended!

I’ve been asked several times recently whether I have a favorite Bible devotional for homeschooling, and can tell that this is going to be our new favorite. It goes through the Bible from Creation to “Forever” in 52 stories of the biblical accounts, plus an additional 8 bonus sections on select topics, and a 2.5 foot fold-out timeline.

Each devotional can be realistically completed within 10 minutes (I timed myself reading a few of them, with an average of about 6 minutes each in my “mom” voice). They also include enough depth and detail to draw out into an extended conversation if preferred.

I most love: 1) the fantastic illustrations, 2) the Creationist/apologetics perspective, which even includes commentary on related issues such as the Ice Age, 3) the narrations and details within each story line (date ranges based on Ussher’s calculations, ages of characters at the times of each event, etc.) bring the accounts to life, 4) the historical chronology is thoroughly presented, even including the division of the Kingdom of Israel, 400 years of silence, and other stories that are often omitted from children’s Bibles like Isaiah’s ministry in the nude, King Josiah’s reign, and the stoning of Stephen, 5) controversial areas of theology such as the charismatic gifts, and eschatological perspectives are neutrally presented–everything follows the Bible pretty closely without adding to the story, and 6) reading the Bible itself is encouraged with a plan of daily Scripture reading, as well as footnotes for further study, and suggestions for using this devotional within a small group environment (including discussion questions).

I do have minor constructive feedback from a Messianic Jewish perspective: I do not love the word “convert” as used in the account of “The Conversion of Saul,” considering that his spiritual revelation opened him up to a born again experience, but not a new religion. He was more in line with the intentions of Judaism after recognizing Jesus as Messiah than beforehand in his legalism. Similarly, there is a negative widespread implication regarding the Pharisees. However, Paul considers himself a “Pharisee” even after becoming a Christian (Acts 23:6, Phil. 3:5), so the Pharisees are not “bad” in and of themselves, rather it was their hypocrisy and legalism that were problematic, leading them away from recognizing the Lord, rather than toward Him.

Overall, I’m very excited about this resource! You can find it at Master Books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from New Leaf Publishing.

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Review of Deep Under Cover by Jack Barsky

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Genre: Memoir

Recommended!

deep under coverDeep Under Cover is a very engaging memoir of an East German KGB agent who infiltrates the United States during the Cold War. The author details his early life in East Germany, his recruitment into the KGB, his complex personal relationships, his transformation into espionage and rebirth into the identity of American Jack Barsky, and eventually of the love that changed his world, drawing him toward a new physical and spiritual identity.

Jack’s story is both fascinating and touching. His perspective of each “side” during the Cold War is valuable. And it is clear throughout that the Lord continuously intervened on Jack’s behalf. He ends with focusing very directly on the mindset shift, which lead him into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. His encounter with the FBI is also particularly interesting.

It’s amazing Jack was able to share his story so openly, regardless of what details may be missing as per each mission. Definitely worth reading!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Momentum.

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