Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review of Heirloom Audio Productions' Captain Bayley's Heir

Heirloom Audio Productions
Heirloom Audio Productions always has wonderful stories, so we were super excited to receive Captain Bayley's Heir for review. 
Captain Bayley's Heir

Captain Bayley's Heir is another wonderful story from G.A. Henty. This time, the primary setting/time period is the California Gold Rush (one of my absolute favorite times in history), but there are so many other locations in the story! The action actually begins in England where main character, 18 year-old Frank Norris (hey - maybe we're cousins - that's my maiden name!), is accused of theft. Attempting to clear his name, he makes his way to America, ending up in New Orleans, and then making his way to California (after all, where else would a young man go in the middle of the nineteenth century on this side of the pond?). There are so many aspects of history that show up in the story all along Frank's journey. It's the best part of a G.A. Henty novel. You'd expect Indians, and there are Indians. You'd expect steamboats (why else would Frank show up in New Orleans?), and there are steamboats. There would have to be wagon trains, right? Of course there are wagon trains. Stagecoaches? Obviously. There is also everything you'd want to know about living in a mining town. Best of all, there's a surprise twist at the end! I wasn't expecting that! And because it's G.A. Henty, there are continual reminders that God's love and God's grace abound in everyday life.

Now, a G.A. Henty novel is always a treat, but a G.A. Henty full-cast audio production from Heirloom Audio Productions is nothing short of a delight! Brian Blessed is, as always, Henty himself (Mr. George), lending a continuity to all of the productions. Other cast members are familiar from previous productions. 

While the voice actors are amazing, the sound effects are what really set Heirloom Audio apart (after all, for great voice actors, there are audio books, right?). Nothing else sounds like Heirloom Audio. You are literally right there in the story. As soon as Mary-Catherine (12) turned on my old Sony Discman, she was mesmerized. "The fire! You can hear it crackling!" (N.B., this is not our first Heirloom CD, but it's the first one any of my kids has ever listened to with headphones; we usually listen in the car. Headphones make a great production practically unbelievable.)

While I wholeheartedly and unequivocally recommend any Heirloom Audio CD or mp3 download, I recommend their Live the Adventure Club even more. Through this club, you have access to so many extras to go along with your story! A little extra that I love is the ability to see the script of the story as it is playing in the background:

That's just the beginning, though! You can access the ebook of Captain Bayley's Heir (including beautiful full-color graphics), along with the exciting soundtrack that accompanies the story. There is, as always with Heirloom's G.A. Henty productions, a beautiful cast poster. There is also an inspirational hymn poster with Amazing Grace on it. One thing I really like this time is the desktop wall paper. Something about the cover art for this CD really appeals to me! I think it's just beautiful. The meat of the "extras" that you can access through the Live the Adventure Club, though, is the amazing Study Guide. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Heirloom's Study Guides are works of art in and of themselves (oh, and the content is on point).

The 36-page study guide is available either to download or to read online. It is dedicated thusly:

If I could, I would insert a bunch of heart emojis!

I love how the study guide introduction explains its divisions - about four to eight minutes of audio per section. That makes it so easy to predict how and when to use it. Like previous study guides from this company that we have used, the "chapters" of this one are divided into three sections each: Listening Well (basic recall), Thinking Further (what I call comprehension questions, which require more in-depth thinking, including drawing conclusions, analyzing motives, and intentions, etc.), and Defining Words (dictionary lookup). The study guide also has "Expand Your Learning" sections, which give extra "inside information" about the times. 

See what I mean when I say the study guide is a work of art?

The study guide concludes with Further Resources, a book list, with topical books related to all things covered in this story. It includes one of my favorites - "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew." Finally, Heirloom ends with a feature included in all of its study guides - Bible Studies. Each is about a page long on a single topic. The topics in this study guide are God's Grace, Honoring Your Parents, and Becoming a Christian.

Our family will continue to enjoy Heirloom Audio Productions' products over and over. I think Captain Bayley's Heir may well be one of my favorites. I would love for you to check it out! Also, be sure to read 99 other reviews by clicking the banner below!

Captain Bayley's Heir {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

On Harvey

It's funny. I had said that I would be writing a Harvey retrospective, but it's still too close to home (literally and metaphorically). I can't really "talk" about it yet. I feel self-indulgent saying that, given all of the people I know who lost so much. We didn't lose anything apart from two refrigerator/freezers worth of food. What I can say is that we gained much from the experience. We realized that we have way too much and that we can do with much less. We are downsizing a lot of our junk. When we left our house with the realization that we might be coming home to a loss of the majority of our "stuff," we were, on some small level, at peace with that. That brought home how little that stuff means. Now, I'm not going to lie, my makeup collection and my yarn collection (and my pens!) are more important to me than they should be, but it's easier to say no to my acquisitiveness after Harvey.

One thing that has made everything so personal (apart from the most obvious one of my parents losing their home - something I make a conscious choice not to think about because it hurts so much) is how hard hit the people in my parish were. Many of their homes are directly in the watershed of the Barker Reservoir - beautiful homes along Memorial (if you live in Houston and know what that means). Our pastor said it best when he talked about some of the reverse snobbishness (my phrase - he was more elegant) happening in Houston right now: people not really caring about the neighborhoods I'm speaking of because they are affluent, but (as Father Troy said), when you've lost everything, you've lost everything, whether that's a little or a lot. Over the weekend, we joined members of our church (which, to put it in perspective, has over 5,000 families) in helping those who have lost their homes. We assembled and then delivered lunches and cleaning supplies to one of the neighborhoods around church. It was surreal in a way since just a few weeks earlier we had been mucking out my parents' house and people had been cruising my parents' neighborhood delivering lunches to *us*.

Why were these people only now cleaning out/tearing apart their houses? Their houses had been underwater for over two weeks. My parents' house flooded because of the rain water (and Cypress Creek). These people flooded because the Army Corps of Engineers released water from the Reservoirs. Thus, the water didn't recede when the flood waters did. Imagine for a minute having that nasty water, feet of it, in your house for over two weeks. Once you've smelled that smell in an entire neighborhood, you don't forget it. Of the people we talked to, none had flood insurance. I don't care how much money you have, if you don't have flood insurance on your half-million dollar house, that's going to hurt (N.B., flood insurance costs $450 a year - floods can happen anytime, anywhere, especially in Houston. I feel kind of silly saying this now, given that the program is broken, but I've had flood insurance since 1999 when we bought our first house (this one). Harvey was the first time we've ever come close to flooding. BUY FLOOD INSURANCE.)

Anyway, Houston still isn't Houston. People are still out of their houses. Businesses are still closed and some won't reopen. I'm about to go to the post office, which is operating out of a trailer since the office flooded so badly. It's funny. If you go just a few miles northwest, it seems like no one even notices any of this, but if you had to evacuate in fear, or if (infinitely worse), you lost your home and everything in it, Harvey changed  you. It changed me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On Anger

Review of Barbour Publishing

Barbour Publishing

There is almost no feeling that we like better than getting a book in the mail, so we were all excited to receive Barbour Publishing's Imagine . . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich for review. 

IMAGINE... The Great Flood

If you think the cover looks exciting, you should read the book! This book is aimed at kids 8-12 and is 112 pages long. The premise is a time-tested favorite with kids of all ages (myself included!). A child experiences something in his own time period (in this case, he falls), and wakes up in another time period. In this book, ten-year-old Corey wakes up preparing Noah's Ark for the Great Flood! Prior to being transported back in time thousands of years, Corey had been upset with his family because of their impending move from Galveston, TX to Florida. After spending time with Shem in particular, but Noah's other sons as well (especially as their efforts to provision the ark are thwarted by the evil Elizar), Corey gains new perspective on trusting God and realizing that He will always take care of His needs.

Michael (12) read this book in one sitting, and boy did it arrive at an interesting time in our lives! First of all, we live in Houston, just a stone's throw away from Galveston, so there is that connection. Far more significantly, though, there is the flood connection! Hurricane Harvey hit right after Michael finished this book. Houston got 50" of rain in just a few days. I'm sure that everyone reading this review knows at least something about the hurricane, so I won't bore anyone with the details, but as we were evacuating our house in the dark of night when it began to look like we would end up flooding, I was *definitely* wondering if that was what Noah felt like - would the rain never stop? It really felt like it wouldn't. And when my parents' house, the house I grew up in, did flood, we all learned a thing or two about trusting in God's providence. When it felt like the entire world was going to wash away, I reminded myself over and over that God promised that he would never destroy the world by flood again!

Please forgive the brief digression - it's just funny how sometimes books appear in your life at interesting moments. Whether or not you've ever lived through a flood of Biblical proportions, Imagine . . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich is a wonderful example of Biblical Fiction for Kids! The age suggestion of 8-12 is exactly right for this book, and there is great news for those who love this kind of book! There are more books planned for the series! In fact, Imagine. . .The Ten Plagues is coming in Spring, 2018! Now, *that* is a book that I know I want to read!

Books are subjective things, so to see other opinions, be sure to click the banner below.

Imagine. . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich {Barbour Publishing}

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review of Progeny Press's Macbeth E-Guide

Progeny Press

Over the past ten years of homeschooling, we have completed more Progeny Press study guides than I can count, many of which I was lucky enough to get through the Homeschool Review Crew. You can read my past reviews here. This time around, we delved into the murky world of Macbeth with the Macbeth E-Guide (Grades 9-12)! 

Macbeth - E-Guide
The Macbeth E-Guide is comprised of the following parts:

  • Note to Instructor
  • A Special Note on Shakespeare's Plays
  • Synopsis
  • Background Information
  • About the Author
  • Suggestions for Prereading Activities
  • Act I
  • Act II
  • Act III
  • Act IV
  • Act V
  • Overview
  • Writing Projects
  • Additional Resources
  • Answer Key (in a separate file)

The Note to Instructor explains how Progeny Press study guides work, including expected pacing. The note on Shakespeare's Plays recommends a particular edition for ease of use and also points out that the plays were originally intended to be read aloud; hence, an audio recording can enhance the experience. Next comes a two-page synopsis and one page of Background Information, relating the play's historical basis. The About the Author section refers to Shakespeare's Bio, and not that of the Study Guide author (hey - I wasn't sure which it would be, so I wasn't sure if anyone else had the same question!). Among the Suggestions for Prereading Activities are background research work on the time period during which Macbeth takes place, map work on Scotland, reading Machiavelli's The Prince, and other topical and interesting activities. 

Then comes the meat of the study guide. For each act of the play, the study guide follows the same format.

  • Vocabulary 
  • Scrambled Quotation
  • General Questions (short answer)
  • Analysis (longer answer)
  • Dig Deeper (more of an essay with more analysis required)
  • Extra Activities (could be formal essays, art projects, scenes to act out, and more)
The exception to the above format is that Act IV includes Discussion Questions. Following Act V, there are 15 final questions that tie the entire play together. They can be done either as oral discussion questions or as essay questions. They are intended for the student to reflect on the play as a whole.

At the end of the study guide are eight Writing Projects. These make great final essays, demonstrating mastery of the subject matter of Macbeth. They result in longer papers than the questions just preceding. Additional Resources round out the study guide. This is a page listing other plays by Shakespeare, books about him, and Shakespeare videos like Emma Thompson's Much Ado About Nothing from 1993. 

Nicholas and Macbeth

The target age for Macbeth is high school, so I had originally decided that Nicholas (14) would be the one to use this study guide, as he is a freshman in high school. However, since he doesn't love reading for school, and since Macbeth is a play, I decided that I would read it to all of my younger three children (Nicholas and my 12 year-old twins). It's never too early for Shakespeare! Proceeding in this manner, I read Act I of the play, and then a funny thing happened. As I was beginning to go through the study guide with Nicky, the twins were piping up with the answers. In that way, we ended up doing most of the study guide orally. Now, because Nicky is the one in high school, he did end up with a couple of paper assignments, but it was wonderful being able to use the study guide to generate discussion questions among the four of us. A question like:

is much more interesting when multiple people can share their opinions and discuss in a family group!

The essay questions were right on target for Nicholas's age. They were not too difficult, but they were far from too easy. In the past, I have found some of Progeny Press's elementary study guides a little too elementary for my children, but I have always enjoyed their high school guides very much. This one is certainly no exception. The Answer Key is thorough and provides you with everything you need to know to accurately evaluate your child's responses.

Homeschool Review Crew members reviewed several different Progeny Press guides, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of the reviews!

Study Guides for Literature {Progeny Press Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Retrospective Coming

Like everyone else in Houston, my family was impacted by Hurricane Harvey. When I have more time, I'll write a more detailed post about what it has been like going through this experience, but long story short - my family had to evacuate and my parents had to leave their house on a sheriff's boat after retreating to the second story of the house they have lived in since 1981 - the house that has never flooded before. They lost the entire first floor of their house to flood waters. I have five siblings, and every single one of them came together (from as far away as Kentucky) to tear out my parents' walls and everything else (church volunteers got to the floors before any of us could even get there! I was still evacuated and my siblings were unable to get into Houston). Here's a preview of coming posts:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Review of Let the Little Children Come

Let the Little Children Come
Every so often we get a product for review that is not necessarily something that suits my family well, but that I know would be perfect for the majority of my readers. Let the Little Children Come's Is There Anything Better Than Candy? Box-Tract is one such product. When laid out flat, this evangelism product looks like this:
Let the Little Children Come Halloween Tract
When folded into a pumpkin shape, it looks like this:
Let the Little Children Come Halloween Tract
It can be used to hold candy or some other Halloween treat (a few pieces of candy corn or a caramel fits just perfectly), and can be given out to trick-or-treaters or used in a variety of different ways on Halloween. Its most important function, though, is obviously evangelism as it walks someone through the steps to knowing Jesus and asking him into one's heart.
There are 20 tracts in each pack, and assembly is fairly straightforward. Michael (12) assembled one sample Halloween Tract, and at first he found it a little tricky, but as soon as he figured it out, he proclaimed it easy and he thought the pumpkin was very cute. We kept the rest of the pumpkins intact since we will be donating them to friends who will be able to put them to excellent use with their church come Halloween!

The applications for these pumpkin tracts are limited only by one's imagination! As Halloween approaches, they would make an excellent activity for a Sunday school class, especially if the culmination of the lesson (after each leaf is explored and explained and the pumpkin is assembled) is filling the pumpkin with candy! They would also make a great addition to an Awana group! Of course, the most obvious application would be handing them out yourself to trick-or-treaters who come to your door (yes! There is something better than candy! Candy and Jesus is always a win-win!). If your church holds a Harvest Festival, rather than a Halloween party, these pumpkins will be right at home as decorations with a dual surprise (a Gospel message and a sweet treat!). Really, as I said, the applications are limited only by your imagination.

As for my family, we talked about the pumpkins and how the message conveyed by them differs from our Faith tradition, given that we are Catholic, but that just because people come to Jesus in different ways does not mean that we should focus on those differences more than we focus on our similarities. Christians share far more similarities than differences, and we should focus on those similarities while we pray for the reunification of Christendom.

As always, my opinion is one of many, so please do click the banner below to read all of the Crew reviews, and if you are in the market for child evangelism tools, definitely visit Let the Little Children Come, because they have you covered!
Is There Anything Better Than Candy?  {Let The Little Children Come Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review of Apologia's Marine Biology

Apologia Educational Ministries

I have written about and reviewed Apologia Educational Ministries so many times that I might worry that you would get tired of hearing about them except for one thing: they are so awesome and they so consistently turn out an awesome product that that would be impossible. This time we are talking about a new-to-me product: Marine Biology 2nd Edition Advantage Set. We also received the Marine Biology 2nd Edition Audio CD, read by Marissa Leinart. 

The 2nd Edition Advantage Set contains everything you could possibly need to complete Marine Biology, which is a high school course that Apologia recommends studying after you complete high school Biology. First up is the 557 page, full-color hardcover textbook, glossary, appendices, and index inclusive. There are 16 modules in this book (course): The Oceans of Our Planet, Life in the Sea, The First Four Kingdoms, Marine Invertebrates I, Marine Invertebrates II, Marine Vertebrates I, Marine Vertebrates II, Marine Ecology, The Intertidal Zone, Estuary Communities, Coral Reefs, Continental Shelf Communities, The Epipelagic Zone, The Deep Ocean, Ocean Resources, and Effects of Humans on the Sea.

Like all Apologia science books, this one is interesting, engaging, and written from a Christian worldview, but y'all! If you have not checked out the 2nd edition Apologia science books, please do yourself a favor and look at them! If, like mine, your children were intimidated by the sheer density of information in the 1st edition high school Apologia books, you owe it to yourself and your children to give the new generation a try. They are gorgeous. They are friendly. They don't intimidate. And they still retain everything that makes them worthy of the Apologia name - the worldview, the rigor, and the organization.

It doesn't look like a high school science textbook, does it? I promise, though, it's rigorous enough! Two features I absolutely love are the answers to the "On Your Own" Questions and the study guides at the end of each module. They make this textbook so user-friendly! I realize I have said that already in this review, but when your kids aren't either a) textbook lovers and/or b) science lovers, that's just such a huge plus! 

Marine Biology 2nd Edition Advantage Set
In addition to the textbook, the advantage set also comes with the Student Notebook. Now, there is so much awesomeness to the Student Notebook that it's hard to imagine not having it. Is it a necessity? No. Is there something in it for everyone? Absolutely yes. My favorite part of the whole notebook is the grading rubric. As a homeschool parent, grading is one thing that I find very hard to do, especially with Nicholas (14) and Therese (16). With Nicholas, it's because I'm always tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt, and with Therese, it's because I tend to think her work is just about perfect. When guidelines are laid out hard and fast for me, that's a good thing. And this is a great rubric (I'm not including a picture for obvious reasons!). Apologia tells you exactly how to grade each module, complete with a beautiful grid. There is no ambiguity. I love it. 
Then there is a section that teaches students how to take notes from a science text, which is a nice little bonus. Some students (Therese) are born note takers. Others (Nicholas) need to be taught. The daily schedule is a huge help. I used to not need one of these, but when the kids hit high school, all of a sudden, I found schedules indispensable. Again, there is full-color loveliness:
Then, for each module of the Student Notebook, there are pages to take notes on the chapter, followed by a listing of the "On Your Own Questions" from the chapter with room to answer them, the Study Guide questions with room to answer, and an Optional Summary of the module with fill-in-the-blanks.
The Lab Notebook is at the back of the Student Notebook and contains all of the experiments in the textbook, a minimum of one for each module. This Lab Notebook is the other reason that I consider the Student Notebook a huge, huge bonus if you're taking Marine Biology. It makes the experiments so easy. I remember dreading labs, primarily because the lab write-ups were so darn onerous. You had to do so much before the lab, and then a lot of it wasn't in the right place for what you had to write during the lab, and then you had to rewrite the whole mess after the lab. All of that is history with Apologia's Lab Notebook. The procedure is all written out for you -- heck, it's all written out for you. The part of me that is like Abe Lincoln wants to say, "In my day, we had to write a fifty-page lab report and copy it in triplicate. What was good enough for me is good enough for you!" but the mom in me just wants my kids to enjoy science experiments while still getting a taste of the scientific method. The mom in me is ecstatic about the Lab Notebook.
Marine Biology 2nd Edition Advantage Set
The final component of the Advantage Set is the Solutions and Tests Manual, plus Tests. The Tests booklet is 50 pages long and is consumable. It includes a test for each module, plus quarterly tests. The Solutions and Tests Manual has information about scheduling and grading, along with the answers to the Study Guides and Summaries for each module. It also has the module tests and the test answers. In my opinion, it is not optional for this course. Unlike the other components of the course, these items are black and white (and should be, since tests shouldn't come with distractions).
The MP3 audio CD is not part of the Advantage Set, but it can be purchased for $29. I was very curious about this CD, so I didn't waste any time hooking up my external CD player to my laptop to download it to my computer. Wow. The CD is awesome. Yes, it is perfect if you're child is an auditory learner. It's a must if you're child has a learning issue related to reading. But I think it's a huge asset regardless. Marissa Leinart who narrates the CD does a great job capturing the casual style that Sherri Seligson does so well in the Marine Biology text. If some narrators are more Librivox and some narrators are more Audible, Mrs. Leinart is Audible all the way - she's a pure professional. She narrates every part of the book (as far as I could tell), verbatim, including the non-texty parts, if that makes sense. So, the "Notes to the Student" - she reads those. This is the unabridged version. I am so impressed with the quality of the CD. Like everything else Apologia does, there were no corners cut here. Remember, Audible, not Librivox.
Marine Biology 2nd Ed Audio CD
Therese (16) and Marine Biology
I actually had a very hard time deciding which of my children would do Marine Biology. I considered Nicholas (14), but he is doing Chemistry right now and he's loving it, so I left well enough alone. My twins actually begged to do this course once they saw the beautiful book. They did a middle school marine science course last year and loved it, and this seemed like a good next step to them, but I told them it was for high school (honestly, though, I am seriously considering just adapting it to their level. It's an awesome course, and I know they would LOVE it; I love that with the addition of the CD, it can still be a read aloud, and I don't have to be there to do the reading aloud). For this review, though, I wanted to use it with the intended audience - a high school student who has completed biology. 
Because she is also doing another science course, and because of Hurricane Harvey, Therese has gotten through the first two modules of Marine Biology. Her verdict - she likes it! She enjoys the full-color textbook, and she loves the ease of the Student Notebook. Because of the way she takes notes, she doesn't use that portion of the Notebook, but she definitely enjoys not having either to write out the questions and answers of the "On Your Own" section and Study Guide, or to use complete sentences when answering them, as seen in the sometimes one or two word answers below!

Of the something like five experiments that have come up so far, all have used regular household items (there were a couple that I said she could skip - as I said she is doing double science right now). Next module calls for prepared slides, but because she has already done biology, we have those on hand already! I am sure there are dissections in our future; I should probably look ahead a few more modules...

As I said at the outset, and as I have said many times, Apologia just can't do a bad product. I am always ridiculously excited when I see that we get to review them. Marine Biology is such an exciting course for them to have in the lineup, especially with its emphasis on ecology and stewardship (that resonates particularly with many Catholics, especially with the papacy of our current pontiff). To see what 54 other Review Crew members thought of this science course, be sure to click the banner below!
Marine Biology 2nd Edition Advantage Set {Apologia Educational Ministries Review}
Crew Disclaimer