Monday, January 25, 2016

Make Room for Lent

Growing up I was unfamiliar with Lent as our church did not observe the church year. When I did hear individuals speak of Lent much later as a college student, the context was typically the question "What are you giving up for Lent?" As an adult, I learned more about the church year and try to observe it personally and with my family. However, the sticking point has always been how to explain Lent to my children and observe it in a meaningful way in a congregation which doesn't practice Lent. Seeking out books about Lent was difficult as many required explanations of unfamiliar practices or terminology. Enter Laura Alary's new book Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent.

Make Room is a picture book for children. Right away several things caught my attention. To begin, Alary arranges her book around the themes of Make Time, Make Space, and Make Room as ways to get ready while waiting for Easter and leading up to Holy Week. Each section begins with a text, anchored in an example from Christ's life or teaching, followed by practical examples presented in an engaging and winsome manner which children and families can accomplish. This emphasis on making Jesus a priority, rather than giving up something, is refreshing. The text does include examples of turning off the TV and giving away items you no longer need, but the emphasis is always on doing so in order to make room in your life and heart for Christ and becoming more Christ-like in the process.

In a picture book, the text and pictures are equally important. The pictures by illustrator Ann Boyajian are beautiful water color illustrations which complement each section. The illustrations depict children actively engaged in the activities mentioned in the text. Diverse children are shown increasing the appeal to a wide audience.

While this book contains some references which may be confusing to a child, such as a Maundy Thursday service or going to the lake on Easter morning--particularly if not practice by your local congregation, they are easily explained. While geared toward early elementary aged children, older children may benefit from this book as well. The sections are ideal to read and discuss one at a time for family devotions followed by carrying out the examples given. All in all, Alary's Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent makes the practice of Lent understandable, meaningful, and doable for children and families from a variety of Christian traditions. I look forward to sharing this book with my family and encourage you to do the same.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Paraclete Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Daughter of Highland Hall

Two years ago I reviewed The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky. I greatly enjoyed this book so when I saw volume 2 of the Edwardian Brides series, The Daughter of Highland Hall, available via NetGalley I simply had to request it. I was pleasantly surprised to find upon downloading the book that I had already read it via our local library. Fortunately, this title is quite enjoyable and worth reading again.

Readers of the original book in this series will already be acquainted with the main character Katherine Ramsey. The previous exposure to this character indicated she was a spoiled brat which had not changed at the opening of the sequel. Katherine is preparing for her debut which is overseen by her aunt and has finding a suitably wealthy young man to wed as her only goal. Her first introduction to society is marred by several less than ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, several other less than ideal situations pop up which make Katherine's debut into society difficult. However, through these situations Katherine finds that there are many things in life much more important than society parties, dresses, and eligible young bachelors.

Throughout the story, several characters from the original book continue to play a significant role in the story's development--namely her governess Julia Foster and her uncle William. While not having the starring roles, they play an active part in guiding Katherine through the situations she faces as well as other characters in the book. As the story unfolds, Katherine's eyes are opened to societal injustices of her day and to spiritual matters. She changes from a spoiled young lady to one who takes an active role in serving others. Through losing her society status, Katherine ends up finding herself and true love.

Readers who enjoyed the first book in this series will definitely wish to read The Daughter of Highland Hall. The book also will be enjoyed by individuals who have not read the first. Turansky does an excellent job of providing enough of the backstory so that readers who are unfamiliar with the original story, or have forgotten details, can keep up. The story is a gentle romance but provides enough intrigue to be interesting. I look forward to reading volume three of this series A Refuge at Highland Hall.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NetGalley and Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Random thoughts about educational textbook publishers

I'm feeling a bit hot under the collar this morning and the following blog post which is a far departure from my usual book reviews is the result.

Educational textbooks have always been adapted to adhere to whatever latest and greatest educational standards are being touted. At times, educational publishers have created specific editions of certain books to address individual state standards. For example, our library collection contains Indiana specific editions of numerous K-12 textbooks particularly in the field of social studies. At other times, most textbooks adhered to the educational standards of Texas and California as they are the largest states and where publishers knew they could make the most money. The New York Review of Books states, “As a market, the state (Texas) was so big and influential that national publishers tended to gear their books toward whatever it wanted.” If anyone has ever thought that educational textbook publishers have been about anything beyond making money, they are sadly mistaken. The textbook publishers did not create the standards, but yes they publish books that adhere to the standards. Individual districts then can choose whether or not to purchase those items.

I find it incredibly sad that an individual who was employed as a regional sales manager for a large textbook company and whose job in that company was to sell books—not write books or edit books or teach using the books-has been fired for stating her focus is to sell books. Yes, she made some other inappropriate comments, but she spoke truthfully in that her main emphasis is to sell books. She uses the script provided by her company to go into schools and tout how the textbooks align to the current educational standards. Then districts can choose whether to use those textbooks or any of the others currently on the market. People are upset that she indicates “I hate kids,” yet her job doesn’t involve working directly with kids at all. If she liked kids she would be employed as a teacher, but instead her background is in business and sales where she didn’t work with kids. Job descriptions for account manager and strategic account manager positions with her company call for a B.A. or B.S. with 3 years of k-12 or corporate training experience. It’s about sales not education!

In my employment, I frequently receive sales calls. I defer them to my director or at times I tell the person, “sorry, your product does not fit our collection.” Some sales people have been very persistent. However, they are simply doing their job. They are not educators or librarians. They are simply sales people who are doing their job and trying to make an honest living. Common Core decrier Truth in American Education writes the following in regard to this specific incident:

It is highly unlikely that she had any insider knowledge of the company and there isn’t evidence that this is a belief that is held company-wide. Barrow also had nothing to do with the creation, adoption and implementation of the standards. What was revealed is that textbook publishers, in particular account managers, do what they do for money. Does this really surprise anyone? It shouldn’t they are, after all, a for-profit business. Will this knowledge advance our cause? Not really. It sounds bad (because it is bad), but regardless of what the standards are textbook and curriculum publishers are in the business of making money.”