Exploring Scotland with Martha Morse

April 4, 2006 @ 3:41 am | Filed under: , ,

MarthatallAngela writes:

My daughter is currently in love with all things Scottish, and we have just ordered your Martha Books. (and LOVES that a homeschooling mom wrote them!!!) Can you recommend any websites/ book lists for upper elementary, so I could put together a little unit for her?

Happy to!

(Consider this a work in progress, and I’ll update as I am able. I’ll also put together a resource list for the Charlotte books, as soon as I get a chance. Suggestions from other Bonny Glen readers are welcome!)

Spinning and Weaving
In Martha’s day (late 1700s Scotland), every woman in the household, from the laird’s wife to the lowliest kitchenmaid, was expected to spend every spare minute spinning wool or flax into thread. The spun wool and linen thread was taken to a nearby weaver (weaving was a man’s trade, at this time), who would weave the fabric to order. As a housewife in early-nineteenth-century Massachusetts, however, Martha would have done her own weaving.

Here are some picture books about spinning, weaving, wool, and such.

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.
A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Zeifert.
The Rag Coat by Lauren A. Mills.
Warm as Wool by Scott Russell Sanders.
Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow.

If, like Martha, your child has a hankering to try his or her hand at spinning with a drop spindle, Halcyon Yarn has a very nice beginner’s kit. (Unlike Martha, I never did get the hang of it, though!)

UPDATE: Jane begs to differ about Halcyon’s kit being “very nice.” She agrees that the Harrisville drop spindle and the colored, combed wool are quite satisfactory, “But Mom, the instruction booklet was terrible, don’t you remember? Impossible to follow!” I stand corrected. Fortunately, a kind reader has just emailed me a link to this informative site: The Joy of Handspinning. Many thanks to Christine for the suggestion, and to my ever-vigilant junior editor, Jane.

Gi’me Elbow Room: Folk Songs of a Scottish Childhood and other albums by Bonnie Rideout. (Gi’Me Elbow Room is a favorite with my children. Several of the songs are Robert Louis Stevenson poems set to music with a Celtic flair. Others are traditional Scottish tunes. Lots of fun.)

Folk Songs Index—click on Scotland and listen to dozens of songs, all for free! (This is how I selected many of the songs I quote in the Martha books.)

Poetry and Literature
Robert Burns, whose work was just becoming popular in Martha’s day.

Sir Walter Scott. Rob Roy takes place not far from the fictional valley where Martha’s family lives.

Fairy tales by Sorche nic Leodhas. Wonderful collections of traditional Scottish stories, including versions of some of the tales I adapted for retelling in the Martha books. (Other stories, like the Water Fairy’s tale and the tale of the Fairy’s Spindle, I made up from scratch.)

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland—her journal of a trip she took with her brother William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A fascinating account of her travels. I found this book invaluable during the writing of Highlands.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. The classic Scottish adventure book.

The King’s Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce by Mollie Hunter. This is on my shelf for a future read-aloud—I haven’t reviewed it yet.

(More Scotland-themed middle-grade and YA novels to come.)

UPDATE: How did I forget? The Scottish author George MacDonald is one of my lifelong favorite writers, ever since I read The Wise Woman at the age of nine. Also delicious: The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, and The Light Princess. Many thanks to the Deputy Headmistress for the reminder.

The DHM also suggests The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.

Useful Websites
EdinPhoto Archive—printouts of old engravings from this site are taped up all over my office wall.

Costumer’s Manifesto—all about period clothing. (Check the “ethnic costumes” section.)

All about tartans. (Specific clan tartans, as we know them today, did not come into fashion until the Victorian era, when Walter Scott’s books brought all things Scots into vogue. In Martha’s day, a hundred years earlier, families would wear whatever tartan plaid pleased them—or the weaver.)

Scottish scenery.

Scottish history.

here’s another!

More to come!

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20 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Love2learn Mom says:

    This is perfect for us right now – we have one chapter left of the first Martha book. The kids love it!

  2. DeputyHeadmistress says:

    In addition the excellent resources you listed, Scottish Chiefs, by (Jane?) Porter; books by George MacDonald (fairy tales, Wee Sir Gibbie), and perhaps In Freedom’s Cause, by Henty.

    We LOVE Give Me Elbow Room! Great family sing alongs!=)

  3. Rebecca says:

    Lissa, this is perfect timing as we are just about to begin a unit on spinning, weaving and wool. Thanks so much for all the great links.

  4. Liz B says:

    It’s old, and I have no idea how accurate, but I love Barbara Willard’s Storm From the West (sort of Yours Mine and Ours in Scotland, with American Mom with kids marrying Scottish dad with kids and their summer in Scotland.)

  5. Christine says:

    Thanks for this post. We cannott wait for the Charlotte lesson. My five year old daughter has enjoyed your books so much. We live in Boston and we found the following site helpful for trying to picture the Roxbury of Charlotte’s day: http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/maps/bostonmap/
    Your website has been a valuable tool to my family as we begin homeschooling. Thank you!

  6. Angela, Mother Crone says:

    Oh, thank you LIssa! I was teaching at a seminar and just found the post..I am printing it out, happy to get further into this. I have a friend that spins, and will have to get her over to try a hand at it herself to see. We found there is a Scottish Festival close by in Sept, and they even serve haggis. She is saving to buy some “MacKensie” tartan, as was her great-grandmothers family plaid. We cannot wait!

  7. GailV says:

    How exciting to find this! We started the 1st book as a read aloud yesterday morning, and I commented at the time that I had seen the author’s blog (“and she’s expecting a baby any day now!” “Wow! Really?” Daylight suddenly dawned in my kids’ minds that you’re a real live person who wrote a book). What a treasure you’ve given us with this entry.

  8. Julia Lane says:


    I love your books! When is the next one (for either Martha or Charlotte) being released?

  9. Myrna Mai says:

    Hi–I just found this link on Amazon.com, and I am very happy that I did! I’ve always been a “Little House” fan, and now I’m fortunate enough to live in Independence, KS, and I work part-time at the Little House on the Prairie! I am now reading the “Martha Years,” and enjoying them very much. I was glad to see the mention about the music and the stories, since I have wondered about them, and how to find out more. Thanks for a great plog!

  10. Leah woodard says:

    I love all of your books exspecialy the martha ones but I was wondering how much did you know when you went to write the book did you know that Martha’s father was a kindly laird or did you not even know if he was a laird.

  11. Lisa says:

    Will there be any more Martha books coming? My 8 year old daughter would like to know if there might be one or two more Martha books to bridge the gap between the last book and her grown and in America.

    Thank you!

  12. Priyanka says:

    I’m as curious as Lisa! I would love to know what happens in between Martha’s tenth year and how she falls in love with Lew Tucker and ends up coming to America! Any plans to write more about Martha?

  13. Claire says:

    is there going to be another Martha book for in between when she is in Scotland and America? I am a aved little house fan and I would love to read more!

  14. Sue says:

    Hi Melissa – I was wondering if you have any suggestions for recipes during the Martha years? I thought I was on this site before and found some, but I cannot find them now. Anymore updates? We are on book 3 and are just beginning to study Scotland.

    Any help you can give me would be greatly appreaciated.

    Sue in Northern Illinois

  15. Holly O says:

    I am 17 and a half years old and I still love reading all of the little house books. I must say, the Martha years are my favourites. I bought the first one as soon as I first saw it in a book store. I love them!
    My only problem now is that they’re so easy to read and I can finish one off within a half hour. It almost makes me wish I was a slower reader.
    These stories really bring me back to my childhood – a childhood that is quickly ending. I can’t wait to read more of them.

  16. Holly O says:

    Ahhh. I just read waaaay down in your blog that there wouldn’t be any more Martha books.
    I have a couple of questions…
    How much of the books are based on fact?
    Is there anywhere else where I can get information on her?
    How the heck did her parents let her marry a blacksmith? Is there anywhere where I can find that story of her later life (before the Charlotte years)?

  17. Nancy Paulsen says:

    I too would greatly appreciate if you can share some of the factual sources about Charlotte’s life and such things as where Martha died. I live about 3 hours from Boston and am now getting quite intrigued by the idea of seeing where Charlotte grew up; I’d really like to take my six year old son (with whom I am reading the Martha/Charlotte books) to Roxbury. Especially if you have any details about the graves of Martha and the little siblings that died, it would be wonderful if you could share those facts so we can make a “pilgrimage” to Charlotte’s childhood when we get to those books.

    Thanks in advance!

  18. Sara says:

    I was wondering if there well be anymore about Martha and Charlotte?

  19. Rachel Stein says:

    We just finished the Martha books and loved them. Were those her real siblings names? Was her father really a laird? If so, how did her family allow her to marry a villager? Did she marry in Scotland or after she came to America?

  20. Rachel Stein says:

    Oops, sorry, I just read the Charlotte and Martha resource pages and see that you have already answered most of my questions. But my question still remains about the names of Martha’s siblings-are those the real names?