Archive for the ‘History’ Category

More Victorian Stuff and a Note from Howard Whitehouse!

January 17, 2011 @ 7:27 pm | Filed under: , ,

Another quickie post to record some fun learning moments from this morning…I seem to keep doing this lately, these kind of “here’s today’s rabbit trail” posts. Bit lazy of me; I have a separate blog where I (sometimes, sporadically) record these things. Somehow it’s easier to do it here. Never know whether it’s of interest to anyone but our own family, but I kind of like having the archive all in one place.

Anyhoo. We read about Luddites in Story of the World (we’re bouncing, lately, between that and Abe Lincoln’s World and Landmark History of the American People—I may have said this already; and also by “we” I mean mainly Rose and Beanie and me), and then, taking the excellent suggestion of kind Anne in the comments, we visited the BBC Schools website’s section on the Victorians. I had forgotten about this site, which has a smorgasbord of fun stuff. We spent a lot of time there back in Ancient Greece days. Today we mostly looked at the photos and illustrations pertaining to the rise of factories, especially the parts involving child labor. My lasses are fascinated by the contrast between their lives and the lives of, say, an eight-year-old coal-mine door-opener in the north of England, in the days before laws were passed that said you had to be at least ten years old for that sort of work, and could spend no more than ten hours a day at it. Beanie will be ten in just over a week; the notion of spending all daylight hours huddled in a dark coal tunnel caused her eyes to grow as large as if she had, in fact, done just that. Well, almost.

We looked at Victorian architecture a bit, too. And then squeezed in a chapter of Strictest School in the World before lunch.

Speaking of which! Fun news from the author, Howard Whitehouse, who kindly wrote me an email yesterday! He’s offering a very nice deal on the three Emmaline and Rubberbones books: His publisher, Kids Can Press, has made it possible for him to offer a limited number of inscribed, hardcover copies at a much reduced rate:

$5 USD each, plus actual shipping at media (book) rate by the post office.  A set of all three, inscribed to whoever you like, would be $21 including a very nice mailer envelope (!) delivered within the US. More outside, obviously.

The books are The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken (2006)—a Victorian prison break tale set at a boarding school involving flying machines and pterodactyls.

The Faceless Fiend, Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife, Involving Explosives and a Certain Amount of Pushing and Shoving (2007)—in which a master criminal plans to kidnap lovable-yet-deranged Princess Purnah, with Sherlock Holmes, a Belgian Birdman, and an elderly dog.

The Island of Mad Scientists, Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man and a Monkey (2008)— where our adventurers are pursued madly, and a whole collection of Victorian scientists (some real, some not) are held captive.

Personally, I think those subtitles alone are worth five dollars apiece. 😉 We already own the first but I might take advantage of the sale to round out our set, and stash the extra copy away for a future birthday gift.

To order, contact Mr. Whitehouse at professorbellbuckle (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Official blogger disclosure notice: Nothing to disclose! Just passing along the author’s kind offer.

1809: Quite a Year

January 13, 2011 @ 7:00 pm | Filed under: , , ,

This morning I was reading some Landmark History of the American People with Rose and Beanie, a quite fascinating chapter about Eli Whitney, and it mentioned an event that happened in 1809. That year always rings a bell for me: it was the year Laura Ingalls Wilder’s maternal grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner Holbrook, was born—the Charlotte I wrote four novels about, and the mother of Caroline Quiner Ingalls (Laura’s Ma) in the Caroline books by Maria Wilkes.

A number of notable folks were born in that same year:

• Abraham Lincoln

• Charles Darwin

• Alfred, Lord Tennyson

• Edgar Allen Poe  (The cast of Snoopy bursts forth into song in my brain: “Poe, Edgar Allen, American poet, born in eighteen hundred and nine…”)*

• Oliver Wendell Holmes

• Louis Braille

• Felix Mendelssohn

• Nicolai Gogol

…and no doubt a great many other memorable people. A lot of world-changers born that year, eh?**

* Doesn’t matter that I’ve heard the Snoopy soundtrack probably five hundred times over the course of my life (between my own high-school devotion to it and the obsession of more than one of my kids)—I still laugh every single time Charlie Brown chimes in with what he’s pretty sure are titles of Poe’s most famous works, and one of them is “Dickens’ Christmas Carol.” Hee!

** This post doesn’t really have a point. I just like to make lists.

Since You Asked

September 11, 2010 @ 7:45 pm | Filed under: ,

Got lots of requests to post photos of the timeline. Here you go, but I must point out that you didn’t specify *good* photos.

We began this timeline when Jane was about six years old. She was on a major Magic Tree House kick that year, and she got super excited by the idea of printing out little images of the book covers and gluing them onto a timeline. (Glueing? My spellcheck says no, but it looks better to me that way. Whatevs.)

I bought a roll of art paper and tacked it to the hall wall. The length of the timeline was determined in the following scientific manner: when I got to the end of the hall, I cut the paper. I drew a mostly straight line along the middle with a Sharpie. Then I measured the line (this is such a backwards way to approach it) and figured out how many centuries I wanted to include, and divided it up more or less evenly. I probably hollered down the hall to get Scott to do the math for me, because I can’t hold a ruler and divide at the same time.


Yikes, the fold-wrinkles really look awful in this picture, don’t they? They don’t show up that way in real life. I suppose it’s in pretty good shape considering it spent the last four years rolled up and semi-smashed under a poster tube. Why it wasn’t inside the poster tube, I cannot say.

I think if you click on the pic you’ll go to Flickr where you can see a larger image. And you’ll see it’s nothing fancy. The yellow tags at the top say ANCIENT HISTORY, DARK AGES, MIDDLE AGES, MODERN TIMES. These are, of course, rough divisions.


A few closeups. We began, as I said, with the time periods Jack and Annie visited in the MTH books. (Over the years, most of those pasted-on book covers have fallen off.) Later, we gradually filled in other events we read about. Sometimes we printed out pictures to help us remember, like the little illuminated manuscript we glued on probably six or seven years ago. It was fun to discover it again yesterday, just minutes after we’d clicked all over the internet looking at illuminations.


Look! One of the Magic Tree House covers survived!


This is my favorite section because it’s got so much of wee Jane in it. That wobbly six-year-old’s handwriting spelling out “Golden Age of Pirates,” couldn’t you just die? So sweet. The pirates’ heyday was hugely important to her, back then.

And the Little House girls. She had me cut them out and show her where to stick them on. She herself cut the blue gingham border and Little House logo off a notepad my editor had sent me; these were vital decorations, you understand.

It’s funny now to look back and think of all those books we read together, Child’s History of the World and whatnot, when she was So. Very. Young. We continued to add to the timeline after our move to Virginia in early 2002, but in that house it was up high on a wall over the piano and after a while I got tired of climbing on a stool to reach it, and we stopped adding things. And then in 2006, the move here, the dearth of wall space, the forgetting.

Well, it’s up again, and Beanie and Rose had a fine old time exploring it for what is basically the first time in their memory. Rose faintly recalls it from the old house. They like the book-cover idea and want to print out Adam of the Road and other covers. So off we go again. Yay!

Middle Ages Rabbit Trail

September 10, 2010 @ 6:51 pm | Filed under: , , , ,

In no particular order, some books and links we’ve been enjoying this week:

Adam of the Road. Newbery-winning middle-grade novel by Elizabeth Janet Gray. We’re only on chapter three so I haven’t much to share about it yet, but it’s delightful so far. Young Adam’s father is Roger the minstrel, and Roger has been off at a respected minstrel school in France while Adam’s attending school at St. Alban’s. And now Roger’s coming back, and I’m guessing from the title that Adam’s hopes will be fulfilled and he’ll be accompaning his father on a journey. Loads of good rich detail here, including, in today’s chapter:

Sumer Is Icumen In,” a very old English round which I remember learning in a college poetry class. We had to memorize it in Middle English. (I can also still recite the opening of The Canterbury Tales, thanks to Prof. Kraus.) The modern English translation of “the bullock sterteth, the bucke verteth” had, naturally, my nine- and twelve-year-old daughters in hysterics. Scatological humor has no statute of limitations.

I only knew it as a poem, not a musical round, so of course we had to turn to YouTube for help. Here’s a pretty rendition, and here’s a sound file with sheet music for two parts.

Beanie reread the St. Alban chapter of Our Island Story to refresh her memory of that tale, since the book opens on the feast of St. Alban in the town of St. Albans. On a walk, Adam and his friend Perkin pass the crumbling remains of the old Roman buildings from centuries past, and we found pictures of these at Wikipedia.

We’ve been reading bits of Gombrich’s A Little History of the World as well as sections of The Rule of St. Benedict. I looked all over for our copy of The Sailor Who Captured the Sea, a lavishly illustrated picture book that tells the story of the Book of Kells, but it hasn’t turned up yet. (We read it a few months back, though. It’s around somewhere.) Sister Wendy’s The Story of Painting has a nice section on the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

We keep returning to this Society for Creative Anachronism Flickr pool for illuminated manuscripts. I am repeatedly astonished by the lovely things people can make. Beanie shares my fascination and is eager to try some of the tutorials at the Gutenberg School for Scribes, another SCA gem.

I had the pleasure of seeing this scroll (scroll down, no pun intended) up close in real life at our visit to Sandra Dodd’s house in Albuquerque last month. It’s a marvel. (I am still kicking myself for forgetting to take pictures during that visit. It was a good lesson for me—I kept my camera close at hand for the whole rest of the trip!)

Yesterday, by chance, Rilla pulled Barbara Cooney’s picture book Chanticleer and the Fox off the shelf, based of course on the Chaucer tale. We meant to read that (again) today but we got distracted by our old timeline, the one Jane and I began in New York in the year 2000 and which graced our wall for the four years we lived in Virginia, filling up with colorful entries. It has been in a roll on top of a cabinet the whole time we’ve lived here in California because I couldn’t find wall space for it. Too many bookcases! But today it occurred to me that it would fit in the living room/dining room if we stretched it all the way across the fireplace. It just barely fits—the dinosaurs wound up tucked behind some bookshelves, but we know they’re there.

ETA: More links & books I forgot in the comments.

Related posts:
Books about the Middle Ages
Heraldry & Illumination Links

Heraldry & Illumination Links

May 28, 2010 @ 6:34 am | Filed under: , , ,

More middle ages fun.


Roger the Herald’s Notes on Blazonry. Wonderful starting point for learning the language of blazonry. Sable, a lion rampant or, in chief azure three stars or. There’s a game set inside a story, for helping you get the lingo down. Huge hit with Beanie.
design your own coat of arms
SCA heraldry primer


Book of Kells
• The Fitzwilliam Museum’s interactive animation about how illuminated manuscripts were made. This is extremely cool.
SCA Illumination pool at Flickr Examples of recent work by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. It awes me to see people putting so much care and time into mastering this ancient art. There is some truly stunning work here.
Gutenberg School for Scribes. A how-to site for people interested in trying their hand at illumination.
Wynn the Wayward. An SCA scribe doing breathtaking work.


Some Dover activity books have made their way into our middle ages collection.

Design Your Own Coat of Arms (has been a big hit)
Life in a Medieval Castle and Village Coloring Book
Medieval Fashions Coloring Book (there’s a paper dolls version too—these are some of those gorgeous books by Tom Tierney).

Eight Words

December 30, 2009 @ 10:38 am | Filed under: , ,

An SS noncommissioned officer came to meet us, a truncheon in his hand. He gave the order:

“Men to the left! Women to the right!”

Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother. I had not had time to think, but already I felt the pressure of my father’s hand: we were alone. For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sisters moving away to the right. Tzipora held Mother’s hand. I saw them disappear into the distance: my mother was stroking my sister’s fair hair, as though to protect her, while I walked on with my father and the other men. And I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever. I went on walking. My father held onto my hand.

—from Night by Elie Wiesel, on his family’s arrival at Auschwitz in 1944

One Day in Elizabethan England

April 7, 2009 @ 9:54 am | Filed under: , ,

While I was working on my book review master list, I came across this post about a book that, four years later, remains a family favorite. I read it to our Shakespeare Club, too, last year when I was launching the group, and that bunch of nine- to twelve-year-olds (at the time) guffawed all the way through it.

One day in Elizabethan England by G. B. Kirtland, illustrated by Jerome Snyder.

Zounds! It’s a pity this book, originally published in 1962, went out of print. I’m writing about it anyway because many libraries carry it, and a quick Google search turned up a number of online booksellers that have used copies in stock. My family’s copy was a library discard, and this is definitely a case of one person’s (or library’s) trash being another person’s treasure.

The title page proclaims that the place is England, the time is 1590, and the characters are: “You.” You wake up one morning, and a busy day begins as “you pull open your velvet bed curtains and pull off the cap of lettuce leaves you wore to help you sleep.”

The chambermaid comes in to draw your bath, despite your protests that you “already had a bath just this past winter”—for this is an important day, a majestical day, a fantastical day, a day which calls for special preparations. This explains why your father has dyed his beard purple to match his breeches and your sister has donned her new popinjay-blue kirtle and her pease-porridge tawny gown. Everyone is all in a dither, anxious for this important festivity, whatever it is, to begin.

“Oh, Madame,” you say; “Oh, Sir,” says your sister. “Will it soon be time to go?”

“Nay,” says your mother; “Nay, says your father.”

“Alas!” says your sister. “Alack!” says she. “I cannot hardly wait. I wonder what she will be wearing?”

“I wonder,” you say, “will there be tumblers tumbling for her?”

“I wonder,” says your mother, “will there be mummers mumming for her?”

“And I wonder,” says your father, “I wonder will you remember your grandiloquent speech for her?”

Ah, there’s the question, and it haunts you throughout the book until at last the great moment arrives. So wrought up are you that when dinnertime comes, “you are not very hungry and so you eat rather pinglingly, having only: a sip of soup, a snip of snipe, a smidgeon of stag, a munch of mutton, a bite of boar, a pinch of pheasant, and a little lark.”

I love what author G. B. Kirtland has done in this whimsical little book. The language is delicious, the style unique, and the peek at Elizabethan life is fascinating. My kids giggle the whole way through, every time (for this is a book that demands repeated readings). By my troth, ’tis the perfect compliment to a study of Shakespeare—and a majestical, fantastical, grandiloquent remedy for a humdrum afternoon.

If your local library lacks a copy (alas and alack), try this website to see what other libraries in your area carry it.

For more book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.

From the Archives: Life on the Trail

August 14, 2008 @ 7:52 pm | Filed under: , , , , ,

Originally published in Februrary 2005.

It’s been a rough morning. Our wagon tipped over while fording a river, and we lost fifty pounds of salt pork and our only shotgun. Then Rose took sick—cholera, we think—and died before we could do anything about it.

My girls are undaunted by this stunning double tragedy. They push on across the prairie, estimating the number of miles to the next fort. Maybe we can trade our mule for a new gun.

“At least we still have the fishing pole,” says Rose. She seems to have accepted her own death gracefully.

“I don’t like wattlesnakes,” announces Beanie.

Jane cracks up. “Who does? Remember when I got bit, back before we crossed the Platte?”

We found ourselves on the Oregon Trail by way of a great read-aloud, one that vaulted unexpectedly to the top of our Family Favorites list: By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. I began reading this hilarious novel to the girls on a cold winter afternoon, but after Scott got caught up in the story during a coffee break, it became a family dinnertime read-aloud. At times, the kids laughed so hard I feared they would choke. We sailed with young Jack and his unflappable butler, Praiseworthy, from Boston Harbor all the way around Cape Horn and up to San Francisco. Along the way we visited Rio de Janeiro and a village in Peru. We panned for gold in California and made friends with half a dozen scruffy, optimistic miners. We found ourselves caring deeply about such oddities as rotting potatoes, dusty hair clippings, and the lining of a coat.

Our westward journey has occurred at a fairly brisk speed. After Great Horn Spoon deposited us in the thick of the California Gold Rush, there was much conversation about the many reasons and ways in which people migrated west. Our trail led to other books: Moccasin Trail, Seven Alone, By the Great Horn Spoon!, and now Old Yeller. We discovered the absorbing Oregon Trail computer game and have outfitted a dozen or more separate wagons for various westward journeys. Rose got hooked on the food-gathering part of the game. I can’t tell you how many baskets of dandelions and wild onion she collected. Jane seems most interested in the game’s diary function. She clicked her way through the journal of the young pioneer girl who appears in the animated sequences at certain points along the trail, and then she began to write a trail journal of her own. The sad death of our sweet Rose, the disastrous river-crossing, and Beanie’s encounter with the rattlesnake are now chronicled for posterity.

I don’t know what lies around the next bend in the trail. I’ve stopped trying to pave the road ahead of time. The best adventures, it seems, are to be found in the bumps and detours. We’re well outfitted for the journey with books and maps and eyes and ears and that burning appetite for knowledge that can make a hearty meal out of buffalo grass and brambles.

—Excerpted from an article appearing in the Virginia Homeschoolers newsletter.

I Bet the Snails Smelled Worse

August 4, 2008 @ 5:10 pm | Filed under: , , ,

I already put this Blue Yonder post in my Google Shared Items, but I know from my stat counter that only about a dozen of you will click through, and this post is waaaay too funny to be missed: Purple Daze.

“I want you to know that my house stinks. It stinks really badly. It stinks like a man from Tyre.”

We took our own little purple dye rabbit trail once, but I wasn’t ambitious enough to promise a tie-dyeing session of our own. (This is possibly a case of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot. Goodness knows I wrote enough natural dyes in the Martha books. Matter of fact, the part where Auld Mary uses stale urine as a color fixative was one of the favorite parts of the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate attorney, who, along with the heir to the estate, had to approve all my manuscripts before they went to press.)

Anyway, my hat is off to intrepid homeschooling mom Stefani for following through on her stinky, stinky promise. Those are some gorgeous shirts, by the way.