Quote of the Week


“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Harper Lee “To Kill a Mockingbird”


Book of the Week: The Real Thomas Jefferson

the real thomas jeffersonRecently, our family was discussing the upcoming spring break vacation. For the past three years, our vacation has revolved around the topic of American History. A few of the historical landmarks we have visited in the past include The National Mall, The United States Capitol and Capitol Hill, Arlington House and Arlington National Cemetery, The Washington Monument, and Mount Vernon. During our discussion The White House tour, Ford’s Theater, Colonial Williamsburg, Independence Hall and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello were among the historical sites mentioned by family members. As the discussion continues, all of us are in agreement that Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is definitely on the list this year.

Since we will be visiting Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, I decided I wanted to read up on the gentleman who authored the Declaration of Independence, and was our nation’s third president. After posting the question on a homeschooling forum board, the administrator, Rachel, pointed me in the direction of Andrew M. Allison’s book, The Real Thomas Jefferson: The True Story of America’s Philosopher of Freedom. 

In The Real Thomas Jefferson: The True Story of America’s Philosopher of Freedom, the author, Andrew M. Allison paints a portrait of Thomas Jefferson’s life and ideas utilizing Jefferson’s own words. The first part, Thomas Jefferson: Champion of Liberty focuses on the story of Jefferson’s life and ideas. The second part of the biography focuses on An Intimate View of Jefferson by His Grandson and Timeless Treasures from Thomas Jefferson. The latter portion contains the most significant passages from Jefferson’s writings.

The Real Thomas Jefferson: The True Story of America’s Philosopher of Freedom by Andrew M. Allison is part of the American Classics Series available for purchase through The National Center for Constitutional Studies.

Kathy Alphs

Quote of the Week


book_of_imagination.jpgMy childhood dream was to study mechanical engineering. After reading ‘The Mysterious Island’ – which I read 25 times as a boy – I thought that was the best thing a person could do. The engineer in the book knows mechanics and physics, and he creates a whole way of life on the island out of nothing. I wanted to be like that.
Dan Shechtman

(Image Credit: t1na at Deviant Art)


Book of the Week: Goodnight Mister Tom


bowgoodnightmistertomDiana, Princess of Wales once said, “Family is the most important thing in the world.” Author Michelle Magorian’s best-selling novel, Goodnight Mister Tom embodies this theme.

Goodnight Mister Tom is the story of two individuals: Tom Oakley and William Beech. Tom Oakley, a widower, has taken to living a hermit like existence since the death of his wife and infant son. Willie Beech, an eight year old evacuee from London, with an abusive past, is billeted to live with Tom as Britain prepares for war with Germany. Under Tom’s guiding hand, Willie is transformed from a scrawny, illiterate, frightened waif into a young man who embodies the virtues of compassion, responsibility, friendship, courage, perseverance and loyalty. As Willie is transformed, so is Tom. Willie’s presence has changed Tom from a bitter recluse into a loving parent.

Goodnight Mister Tom is a novel which touches the emotion of the human soul on so many levels. Fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust, surprise, trust and anticipation are present throughout the story at various times. Yet, while the story is broken one, there is healing in the end.

As with the sudden discovery of the lowness of his peg Will noticed now how old and vulnerable Tom looked. It unnerved him at first, for he had always thought of him as being strong. He watched him puffing away at his pipe, poking the newly lit tobacco down with the end of the match.
Will swallowed a few mouthfuls of tea and put some fresh coke on the range fire. As he observed it tumble and fall between the wood and hot coke, it occurred to him that strength was quite different from toughness and that being vulnerable wasn’t the same as being weak.
He looked up at Tom and leaned forward in his direction.
‘Dad,” he ventured.
‘Yes,’ answered Tom, putting down his library book. ‘What is it?’
‘Dad,’ repeated Will, in a surprised tone, ‘I’m growing!’ (1)

Kathy Alphs

(1) Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian; Puffin Modern Classics,; 1996

Book of the Week: The Emperor’s New Clothes

As a child, my favorite Hans Christian Andersen story was The Emperor’s New Clothes. Our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bottorff, read from the edition authored and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

bowemperor'snewclothesburtonThe story is simplistic: A king who loves clothes hires two weavers to make him a new suit of clothing with “invisible” cloth. The king issues a decree in his kingdom which states “those who can not see my new clothes are unfit for office.” At last the new suit of clothes is finished. The king summons his staff to look at his new suit of clothing, but when each looks upon the king, they realize the king is naked. In order to save their positions, they fawn over the king’s new suit of clothing. The king awards the weavers for their efforts and decides to hold a parade to show off his new clothes. The crowd cheers and praises the weaver’s workmanship as the king parades through his kingdom.
However in the end, it the voice of a child which shakes the kingdom to its senses: The king has nothing on!

The story teaches us the virtue of honesty. William J. Bennett in his book, The Book of Virtues makes the following comment on the virtue of honesty: “To be honest is to be real, genuine, authentic, and bona fide. To be dishonest is to be partly feigned, forged, fake or fictitious. Honesty expresses both self-respect and respect for others. Dishonesty fully respects neither oneself nor others. Honesty imbues lives with openness, reliability, and candor; it expresses a disposition to live in the light. Dishonesty seeks shade, cover or concealment. It is a disposition to live partly in the dark.” (1)

bowemperor'snewclotheslewisAs a parent seeking to introduce my child to this timeless tale, I began to peruse our local library catalog for picture books of this title. In the end, my search was rewarded with The Emperor’s New Clothes translated by Naomi Lewis with illustrations by Angela Barrett. Lewis and Barrett set their retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s story in the waning era of belle epoque. Belle Epoque is the era right before World War I. At this time in history, Europe was composed of many little kingdoms. This hallmark of this era was characterized by economic prosperity, optimism, provincial peace, scientific and cultural advances. The era of Belle Epoque was considered the last golden age before World War I. Naomi Lewis’s translation gives the classic children’s story sophistication and finesse. As you flip through the pages, Angela Barrett’s watercolor paintings transport you to the era of Belle Epoque, enhancing the story line. This picture book is published by Candlewick Press and is available for purchase at various online book retailers.

Kathy Alphs

(1) The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett; Simon & Schuster.; 1993