Friday, May 27, 2011

Apologia: Read for the Heart


A good book is a rare treasure. And sadly, it seems that good books are getting scarcer every day. There is no shortage of books; there is, however a shortage of books worth reading. How sad that many of the marvelous books that shaped the hearts and minds of our grandparents and great-grandparents are fading out of print and being replaced by more "modern" volumes filled with vulgarity, rebellion and promiscuity. The book market today is a virtual mine field of explosives and its hard to find a safe place to step!

The good news is that Sarah Clarkson, author of Read for the Heart, has created a treasure map that will lead you directly to some buried {literary} treasures. I'll be honest, some of them are in fact buried and may require digging to find copies of these gems for yourself. But trust me, the treasure is definitely worth the hunt. And there is nothing like the first glimpse into a story of pure gold.

While there are similar books on the market, what makes this particular book unique is that it is written by a homeschool graduate who was herself raised on the quality literature she is recommending. This is not some stuffy academic tome on the "proper" care and feeding of the mind but rather a warm, personal glimpse into a childhood touched by the golden hue of remarkable literature.

Tina Farewell in her Foreward aptly describes the uniqueness of this book and its author:
"Read for the Heart is different from other books about books in large part because of the fresh perspective of its author, a young lady raised by parents who surrounded her with great books and invested in her life experiences. Sarah Clarkson is a wonderful example of what can happen when you raise a child on whole, living books. Her parents, Clay and Sally Clarkson, are artists; Sarah is one of their masterpieces."
So What's Inside?
You will find much more than just a list of books to read. Ms. Clarkson has woven personal stories and illustrations of how the books she and her family read created a lifetime of memories and lessons learned. Book recommendations are grouped into the following categories:
  • Picture Books
  • The Golden Age Classics
  • Children's Fiction
  • Fairy Tales and Fantasy
  • History and Biography
  • Spiritual Reading for Children
  • Poetry
  • Music, Art & Nature
Each chapter is introduced with information about that genre. For example, she discusses the hallmarks of a classic children's picture book which serves as not only a rationale for her inclusion of certain titles but also gives the reader a guide for judging the worth of other picture books.

In the Golden Age Classics chapter, Ms. Clarkson provides some historical background and context for this particular period of literary history. She then shares suggestions on a few book collections, noteworthy illustrators as well as references if you'd like to learn more about the period. This is followed by individual suggested titles.

One of the most noteworthy chapters was about Music, Art and Nature. I own several books that share recommended books and Read for the Heart is the only one that has included books specifically about these areas of study. There are a number of books within the nature category in particular that I look forward to exploring with my children this summer.

Each and every chapter contains a list of authors within the genre listed alphabetically. Publishing dates are listed as well as a brief summary of the story. Sequels and other titles of note by that author are also included. In some cases a targeted age is given (e.g. elementary, junior high, high school).

When you get to that last satisfying chapter and your head is swimming with all the books you want to find, you've dog-eared most of the book and used post-it notes to flag the most enticing of the lot, you might experience some disappointment that the book has come to an end. And then you will be pleasantly surprised to find some golden nuggets tucked into the appendix. Here you will find:
  • Caledecott Medalists from 1938-2009
  • Newbery Medalistis from 1922-2009
  • Historical Fiction by G.A. Henty
  • Landmark History Books (written by various respected authors)
  • Trailblazer books (historical fiction written by Dave & Neta Jackson)
  • Author's favorites for family, girls, boys, and audio
And so you have even more books to add to your hunting list. But that's still not the end. The final crowning touch is not one, but two exhaustive indexes: one for Authors & Illustrators, and a second one arranged by Title.

Our Experience
I read the book cover to cover within the first week it was in my possession. Ms. Clarkson has a warm, inviting way of writing that makes you feel as though you're exchanging pleasantries with her over a cup of tea. Each chapter is introduced with some rememberance of her family or some discussion about books and their worth. So really this is part memoir/part lecture as the you are graciously invited into the recesses of tender family moments related to reading and then given a charge to inspire you to replicate her experiences in your own family.

I appreciated the provided synopsis of each recommended story so I could select the books of most interest to my family or a particular child. I have often read a book by an author and then immediately wanted to read more. Ms. Clarkson helps you find those by including other books that author has written.

The typeset on the book is very easy on the eyes (equally helpful for aging mothers or sleep-deprived ones). I liked the fact that there was room between entries and in the margins where I could write my own notes. I think as we work through the recommendations, I'll ask my children to rate the book and share their impression. I can record these and have a keepsake of our own literary adventures.

We have always tried to read aloud to our children but after reading this book, I realized that it had been a very long time since we had read anything together with all six of our children. We spend a great deal of time reading to the littles at bedtime or helping them read their school but sadly our reading with older children had become less frequent. My 13-year old surprised me just this past week asking if there was a book I could start reading to him and the two siblings closest in age to him. I'm thankful I have a great resource like Read for the Heart from which to draw new inspiration.

One of the recommended books we recently finished was Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. I remembered reading this book as a child but for some reason, had not yet read it to my children. So I pulled out our copy and started reading it to my 8, 6 and 4 year olds. When it was time to put them to bed one evening, the loudest protests actually came from my 13 year old who'd been listening along (without me knowing it). And when I took the book along on a car trip, even my 16 year old was listening in with interest. When I took a brief break to save my voice, it was my 53 year old husband who couldn't wait for the story to resume. So that was one book that was a definite hit all around. We look forward to reading the sequel.

And Caddie Woodlawn is just one of the hundreds of books you'll find recommended in Read for the Heart. Knowing that not all families have the same standards in literature, Ms. Clarkson has noted cautions for some books that might not fit a family's ideals or for stories more suited for older readers. I am very conservative in our reading choices and I personally did not find any titles that we could not wholeheartedly endorse.

I've been reading and collecting books for over 25 years and was familiar with a good many of the recommendations but I still found several authors I have now added to my own wish list. If you could only buy one book of book suggestions, I would recommend buying Read for the Heart. You will be well occupied in tracking down the more than 1,000 titles suggested in this book! This book serves as a great model for building a quality home library for your children and grandchildren.

Purchase Information
Read for the Heart can be purchased directly from Apologia for $17.00. I consider that a dynamite price for a paperback with 384 pages. You might even want to buy two copies--one to keep at home and one to leave in the car so you'll have it handy for library trips and used book sales.

You can take a peek at the complete Table of Contents. And then sit down with a mug of tea or coffee and get a taste of the treasures within by reading a sample chapter.

For additional reviews of this book, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog. You'll find out what other families thought about this new book.

Where Do I Begin Digging?
Once you've purchased Read for the Heart, you will soon have a list of books you want to read first. Now comes the fun of the hunt. If you are trying an author for the first time, I would recommend finding a copy to borrow before buying. Then you can see if you like the style and content. Start with your local library; you might be surprised at how many titles they may have available. If you are fortunate enough to live near more than one, take Read for the Heart in hand and make note of which libraries carry which titles. If not in the collection of your local library, find out which ones are available through Inter-Library Loan.

Some books may also be available in the public domain. Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and Baldwin Project are a few places to start looking for books by older authors such as George MacDonald, Edith Nesbit or Charles Kingsley. Librivox is a wonderful place to check for free audio versions of books in the public domain. As e-readers become more popular, you may be able to find classic books to download free for a Nook or Kindle. Amazon is a source for some of these free classics.

If you decide you want to find a book to purchase that is out of print or hard to find, then AbeBooks, Alibris, and even PaperBack Swap are places that you could begin to look for copies to buy. With some patient and persistent searching, you can find many other sites for used books. Library books sales have been some of the best sources for many of our treasured titles. You can locate book sales in your area through Book Sale Finder.

So what are you waiting for?

With the lazy days of summer ahead, buy a copy of Read for the Heart and start plotting your course to literary treasures and adventures galore!

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of Read for the Heart for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.


Sheri said...

Thanks for visiting my blog/commenting on the review. Yours is awesome-very thorough and informative. :0) Great job. And I agree totally with ya-this is a great book/resource to own!

Country Girl said...

Sounds like a great book!

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