Monday, October 5, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 5: Seeker of Knowledge

Book Detectives ~ Seeker of Knowledge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Read the Introduction to this 31 Days series here.]

[Read a little more about our analysis process here.]

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs is the perfect length for reading aloud at a Book Detectives meeting. It’s a fascinating biographical story, blending history (ancient and modern) and literature with wonderful illustrations. If you’re wanting to add a craft to your Book Detectives meeting, this story is begging for a hieroglyph art project!

Crime Scene [Setting]


Paris, France [house, roof]

Egypt (Rosetta), Nile River

Real world


Champollion’s whole life (40 years)

Born 1790 (George Washington, French Revolution, Napoleon) [Fair warning: CC students will be breaking into song…]

True historical story

Suspects [Characters]


Jean-Francois Champollion—seeker of knowledge, loved ancient languages, obsessive, passionate, young

Brother—encouraging and helpful


Napoleon—wanted to dominate world, fascinated by Egypt

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Seeker of Knowledge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Sunday, October 4, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 4: Temple Cat

Book Detectives Temple Cat @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Read the Introduction to this 31 Days series here.]

[Read a little more about our analysis process here.]

Temple Cat is a simple picture book, perfect for younger ages or for beginning-level analysis. It is short and the illustrations are rich.

Authorship: Some kids may be familiar with a chapter book by the author, Frindle, which is one of the books discussed in Deconstructing Penguins. I try to point out other books by the author or share a bit about his or her life if possible.

The protagonist in this story isn’t a typical protagonist. When animals are the main character in a story, the character who needs or wants something, they are usually given human traits. They talk. They think. They have human emotions or needs or desires. When we are discussing the conflict, I remind kids that “man” (as in “man vs. society”) means hu-man, as in a character with human traits. It can be an animal or a boy or a woman or even a thing that has been personified, such as a toy. In Temple Cat, however, the cat is most definitely a normal cat and not a human (or a god)—but that is the point of the story!

Crime Scene [Setting]


Neba, Egypt

Temple—formal, regal, shiny, glamorous, magnificent, somber, boring


Fisherman’s Hut—enjoyable, delicious, plain, tiny, humble, comfortable

Real World


Ancient Egypt

Whole life—from the time he was a tiny kitten

3-4 days of traveling

Suspects [Characters]


Cat—Egyptians think he is a god, he acts like a cat, does not talk but thinks and feels and wants

Servants, priests, Egyptians—worship and spoil cat

Fisherman and children—love cat

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Temple Cat @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Saturday, October 3, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 3: Gilgamesh the King

Book Detectives ~ Gilgamesh @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Read the Introduction to this 31 Days series here.]

[Read a little more about our analysis process here.]

Gilgamesh is the second oldest recorded fiction story in the world, also originating from the city of Uruk in the ancient civilization of Sumer. Gilgamesh the King, retold and illustrated by Ludmila Zeman, is the first in a trilogy of gorgeous, simple picture books, a perfect length for reading aloud at a book club meeting.

I found the conflict a little more difficult to identify in this story. Gilgamesh wants to be the most powerful person in the world, but what he needs is a friend. He is battling his own nature, but he also fights Enkidu for supremacy. And, clearly, the people of the city also need mercy. The battle between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is the turning point for all of these, though, and it symbolically takes place on the great wall. Gilgamesh does not get what he wants but he gets what he needs, and the people also get what they need and want as a result.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Land of Mesopotamia

Great city of Uruk—dazzling, beautiful, great wall

Forest—lush and full of animals

(The location is a real place, but at least part of the story is mythology.)


“Long ago”

Ancient civilization of Sumer

Suspects [Characters]


Gilgamesh—King, sent by the Sun God to rule Uruk, part god and part man, looked human but didn’t know how to be human, had power and wealth but was alone, bitter and cruel

People—overworked and hungry, in despair

Enkidu—sent by the Sun God, made from clay of the earth, strong as Gilgamesh, wild creature-man, lived with the animals in the forest, kind

Shamhat—woman, musician, beautiful, loved by all, tender and kind

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Gilgamesh @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[FYI: The author has altered the story in order to avoid the graphic nature of the original. This picture book is appropriate for younger ages. There is one page that some parents may take issue with, however. The illustration shows Enkidu and Shamhat kissing and reads, “In the days that followed, Shamhat taught him to speak and to sing and she fell in love with him. They explored the ways of love together and Enkidu promised he would stay with her always.”]

Friday, October 2, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 2: Lugalbanda

Book Detectives ~ Lugalbanda @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Read the Introduction to this 31 Days series here.]

We have jumped in the “Way Back” time machine and returned to ancient history this fall in our homeschool, so it is fitting to kick off this Book Detectives series with a few ancient literature selections.

Lugalbanda is about as ancient as it gets. It is the oldest recorded fictional story, dating from 2400 BC (hundreds of years before the earliest text of Gilgamesh). This is a long picture book retelling, with lovely color illustrations on each two-page spread. It also contains six pages of excellent historical notes by way of introduction and conclusion.

In our Book Detectives meetings, once we’ve read the story, we begin discussion by exposing our “crime scene” and “suspects,” in keeping with our detective theme from Deconstructing Penguins.

Our “crime scene” is the setting, and our “detective tools” are the questions where? and when? I often ask specific questions from the extensive Socratic List in the Teaching the Classics syllabus, such as: “What is the mood or atmosphere of the place where the story happens? Is it cheerful and sunny, or dark and bleak? Is the setting a real or imaginary place? Does the story take place in a particular era? In what season? Over what period of time?

Our “suspects” are the characters in the story, and our main question tools are who? and what?  Who are they? What are they like? Man or animal? How old? What (quality) adjectives describe them?

When we’ve exposed our setting and characters, we move on to the plot chart. We usually identify the protagonist at the end of the exposition, when the first sign of trouble begins and causes the rising action. We identify the protagonist by asking Who wants or needs something? What is holding them back?

We then fill out the rest of the plot (rising action, climax, denouement, and conclusion) before writing in the conflict and finally discussing the theme. The plot is the specific, concrete details of the story and the theme is the universal, abstract ideas we take away from the story. Adam Andrews of Teaching the Classics says that the theme is different from a moral, and stories can say something about an abstract idea without giving the reader a moral conclusion (particularly in more complex works of literature). But children’s stories often lend themselves to specific moral lessons, and the kids often come up with one on their own.

My short disclaimer: I do not claim to have the “right answers.” These notes are merely my own interpretation (and those of the kids participating in discussion) of the clues in the text. Just as two detectives at a crime scene may come up with different conclusions based on the evidence, my interpretation may not match another reader’s.

Crime Scene [Setting]


Uruk—a Sumerian city-state in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). A great city with brick buildings and paved streets

Zabu Mountains “where the cypress trees grow”

Lullubu Mountains “where no cypress trees grow”

Aratta—a legendary city with great artists and fine crafted objects, metals and precious stones


“A very long time ago.” Before 2400 BC. A time when people worshipped nature as gods.

The main part of the story happened over a year’s time, roughly.

[This was the culture in which Abram of the Bible lived.]

Suspects [Characters]


King Enmerkar—powerful ruler of Uruk, proud, jealous

Many gods

Inana—the greatest of all the gods, goddess of love and war, the evening star, chooser of kings and fates, home in Uruk

Lugalbanda—young and weak, loved and admired his brothers more than anything in the world, brave

Brothers—young men in the prime of life, princes, commanders in the king’s army, loving toward Lugalbanda

Anzu bird—gigantic, terrible monster of the skies, teeth of a shark, talons of an eagle

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Lugalbanda @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We usually don’t cover literary devices in our Book Detectives meetings due to time limitations, but this retelling of Lugalbanda contains wonderful examples of alliteration, similes, metaphors, repetition of phrases, imagery, personification, and more. For IEW students, this is great material for identifying dress-ups and decorations.

“For days men flocked to the city in answer to the king’s call. They covered the ground like a heavy fog and stirred up a cloud of dust so big it whirled up into the sky. Their shields clattered. Their spears spiked the air. They stormed through the fields of barley that surrounded the city and crossed the plains like a herd of wild bulls. And Lugalbanda went with them.”

“War won’t wait.”

“In the Lullubu Mountains, where no cypress trees grow, where no snakes slither and no scorpions scurry, where the little prince slept and the night was dark, the multicolored mountain of the goddess Inana rises like a tower higher than all the others. At its top grows a tree so big its branches cloak the mountain slopes in shade and its roots drink like snakes from the seven mouths of the rivers far below.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Day 1: Introduction

31 Days of Book Detectives ~ Introduction @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[It’s October, which means you’ll be seeing 31 Days of ________ series popping up all over the blog world. I’ve never attempted a 31 Days series in all my 8 1/2 years of blogging, so this is a new experience for me. Let’s see if I have the perseverance…]

Several years ago, I was introduced to the idea of a parent-child literary analysis book club by the inspiring book Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading. After my first read-through, I was itching to begin my own book club, but I felt deeply my lack of experience with literary analysis. Sure, I could try to reproduce the fascinating discussions laid out in Deconstructing Penguins, with the specific books recommended by the authors, but I simply didn’t possess the confidence.

Some time later (a little over four years ago, to be exact), I had the opportunity to sit through a practicum using the Teaching the Classics DVDs and Syllabus. A fire was lit. I finally had universal literary analysis tools that could be used to discuss any piece of literature, from simple picture books to Hamlet.

Armed with these new tools from Teaching the Classics and the “book as mystery” concept from Deconstructing Penguins, my sister and I launched our very own Book Detectives parent-child book club with 12 kids (ages 5-10) and 10 parents. [You can read about our first meeting here.]

We all learned together by trusting the process and discussing books with each other. We started with picture books and then began to throw a few simple chapter books in the mix. I’ve shared some of our discussions here on the blog. [Scroll down to read the early discussions.]

Since then, I’ve led various Book Detectives groups, with various kids at various ages in various quantities, and they have all been a blast! I’ve discovered that picture books are magic, an accessible portal into the world of literary analysis for any age. I have been astounded at what I’ve learned from a focused look at simple books such as Brave Irene or The Real Thief, even if I had read them numerous times before.

I’ve found other helpful resources for literary discussion, as well. We’ve used the “ANI” chart from The Lost Tools of Writing to discuss whether a character should have performed an action in the book. [Example discussions here and here.] I’ve participated in a fascinating discussion of a picture book with other adults using the 5 Common Topics (also introduced in The Lost Tools of Writing or explained well in The Question by Leigh Bortins). The 5 Common Topics have become one of my favorite general discussion tools, whether for literature or life.

Honey for a Teen’s Heart is an excellent resource for discussing books with teens, including worldview questions that can be asked of any piece of literature.

A year ago, I was a guest on Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud Revival Podcast. We had a delightful time chatting about Book Detectives there. [Lawrence Goldstone, author of Deconstructing Penguins, and Adam Andrews, author of Teaching the Classics, also appeared as guests on the podcast.]

Sarah then asked me to do a video master class (over an hour of video!) on leading a Book Detectives group, and that can be found at the Read-Aloud Revival Membership Site along with a plethora of other master classes and read-aloud goodness such as author events, podcast extras, printable resources and quickstart guides, and more.

And now, for the next 29 Days, I will be sharing literary analysis notes and plot charts for Book Detectives, a book a day.

I am not an expert at literary analysis, and there is no official answer key, but I hope my notes will encourage you all to start your own Book Detectives groups! The last day of the series will be reserved for final thoughts and a list of all the book post links.

Stick around, put on your detective hats, and let’s uncover some book mysteries together!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Food for Thought ~ A Feast of Straw

Food for Thought @ Mt. Hope Chronicles


:: On Praise and Criticism by Michael Clay Thompson @ Royal Fireworks Press

"It seems to me that praise is the difficult thing, the advanced thing, the thing that requires the most thought and courage. Criticism, by comparison, usually (not always) seems cheap to me, and much of our intellectual culture seems filled with cheap shots...The flaws are the low-hanging fruit. So you can always find things to criticize, and being negative seems socially safe. It has an element of cowardice in it. The crowd cannot call you a fool if you beat them to the ironies, and a satirical countenance is always superior. In the face of that, we must learn how to praise."

:: We Are Difficult People by Tresta @ Sharp Paynes

"All I can really say at this point is that people are difficult at every stage and our desire to complain about our restless baby, tantrum-throwing toddler, tormented teen, or even our aging and forgetful parents, is a desire to put ourselves in the middle of whatever it means to be grown-up."

:: Children Who Never Play by Michael J. Lewis @ First Things

"To teach them is a joy, but they will risk nothing, not even for one facetious question on a minor exam."


:: Housekeeping by Peter Leithart @ First Things

'“What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?” That question from Housekeeping haunts Robinson's other novels, and is a clue to the Robinson's depiction of “a longing for wholeness and repair that has no answer in this world.”'

:: Matters of Conscience – Reactions to Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman by Missy Andrews @ Center for Lit [Oh, how I adore this review of Go Set a Watchman!]

"To love a hero is the stuff of childhood. To love a man is the mark of maturity."

:: Fantasy and Faith by Sally Thomas @ First Things

'We have all encountered novels, poems, paintings, and music of ­sincere and unimpeachable sentiment that were nevertheless so bad they made our teeth hurt. What L’Engle intuited about art was a principle that Flannery O’Connor named: “The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that, because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality . . . . But the real novelist, the one with an instinct for what he is about, knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly, that he must penetrate the natural human world as it is.”'

:: A Defense of the Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s Art @ The Imaginative Conservative

Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks of Christ as “the image that reveals the invisible God” (The Glory of the Lord, vol. 1, 32). Christ is therefore the greatest icon or image (even from eternity as the Word of God, but made accessible to us in the form of man in the Incarnation), through which we can contemplate reality. The highest expression of this image on earth, however, is grotesque. When we love Christ, we “have been inflamed by the most sublime of beauties—a beauty crowned with thorns and crucified” (ibid., 33). The ultimate meaning of human life and the deepest glimpse that we have into the eternal love of God comes to us on the Cross. This tells us something of the deep meaning of human suffering, in which we can catch a glimpse of this love, or at least an order toward it, even if unfulfilled.


:: Good Writing vs. Great Teaching by Andrew Pudewa @ IEW

"Let us encourage children to experiment and play with words, remembering that what they do and how they learn is vastly more important than what they produce. Children who are free to play with words will fall in love with words; time, maturity, and life will help them balance creativity, eloquence, and conciseness. It is okay, in fact good, for children to be bold with words—even to an extreme. We don’t know what they will be called to do in life. One may become a technical writer or a playwright while another may become a novelist or journalist. Our job is not to decide what is “good” or “right” and chisel too early, but to feed, nurture, encourage and build up the child with the “stuff” of language and the joy of using it. Our work is to help form the linguistic marble from which they will create their profession or vocation; and others will help carve it away. For a sculptor, more marble is better than less."

:: Descartes Visits Chemistry Class And Is Asked to Leave by Marc Hayes @ CiRCE

The unique wonders of the human eye, of light, of time, and of color allowed us to see colors that we hadn’t drawn on the paper. Does that mean the ink was not there? Of course. Does that mean the beauty was not there? Of course not.

:: Rediscovering the Forgotten Benefits of Drawing @ Scientific American

"But knowledge isn’t enough; if it were, anyone graduating with a biology degree could recreate Audubon’s bird portraits or Leonardo’s anatomical figures. Observation skills are crucial. The abilities to see without bias and to focus on detail and pattern require training, not talent."


:: Quiddity #55: Andrew Pudewa [CiRCE]

:: Quiddity #54: Jenny Rallens on Why (and How) Memory Cultivates Virtue

:: Melody, Mystery, and Mayhem

And a few interesting thoughts on the movie War Room:

:: Lazy Writing, Cheap Restoration by Kenneth Morefield @ Christianity Today

:: Genie Jesus and the War Room Problem by John Mark N. Reynolds @ Patheos

:: The Heresy of Christian Movies: War Room @ A Day in His Court

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Math @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We are using a combination of Teaching Textbooks, Life of Fred, and Khan Academy for the boys’ math this year.

If I can muster the energy, I may begin Lola on RightStart Math. But that’s a big if.