Texas Yankee by Nina Brown Baker

Texas Tuesday: Texas Yankee; The Story of Gail Borden by Nina Brown Baker.

Benito Juarez, Peter the Great, Simon Bolivar, F.W. Woolworth, America Vespucci, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Nellie Bly are a few of the other celebrities and historical figures that Nina Brown Baker wrote about in her prolific career as a children’s biographer. Texas Yankee, about the inventor of condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk, is a biography in Ms. Brown’s short, slightly fictionalized, and highly readable style. The story begins with twelve year old Gail Borden and his family moving from New York to Kentucky and ends 129 pages later with Gail Borden’s death at his ranch near Columbus, Texas in 1874 at the age of 72. Borden’s life in-between these two events took him from New York to Kentucky to Ohio to Mississippi to Texas and back again up north to Connecticut and New York to try to sell his inventions and ideas to an Eastern seaboard audience.

Then, came the disruption of the Civil War, and Gail Borden found himself on the opposite side of the slavery and Union issues from most of his fellow Texans and therefore in exile so to speak from his beloved Texas. But after the war and the bitterness from the war had died down, Gail Borden was able to return to Texas a successful man who gave travelers and immigrants and settlers of the West a way to transport good, healthy milk over long distances without having it go bad and without having to purchase milk for their children from questionable sources along the way.

I once met a restaurant owner who read a book about Gail Borden when she was in fifth grade and was so inspired by her reading that she looked to him as an example for her business dealings and also made a lifelong study of the history of Texas. Nina Brown Baker’s book about Gail Borden may have been the book she read as a fifth grader, for all I know. At any rate, I can see how this book and Gail Borden’s life would be inspirational. Mr. Borden’s commitment to Christ is a thread throughout the biography, not over-emphasized but definitely acknowledged. The only problem in recommending this biography to your fifth grader is that it was published in 1955 and is now out of print. I do find one other biography of Borden, Milk, Meat Biscuits, and the Terraqueous Machine by Mary Dodson, but it’s from 1987 and also out of print. And there’s a Childhood of Famous Americans series volume, Gail Borden: Resourceful Boy by Adrian Paradis, also out of print.

It seems as if the subject of Gail Borden, supporter of the Texas revolution and persistent inventor, might be ripe for a new biography by some up-and-coming adult or children’s biographer.

Projects, Plans, and Themes for 2017

I love planning projects, making lists, and deciding on reading and study themes for a new year or semester. I used to satisfy this urge by making up homeschool plans and imposing them upon my unsuspecting and mostly unprotesting progeny. Now, I only have one homeschool student, and lest she bear the brunt of all my schemes and dreams, I will make this list for myself and for whomever would like to join me in these projects for 2017.

1. My spiritual and intellectual mentor for 2017 is Jonathan Edwards, a fascinating philosopher and pastor in Colonial America. Most people who know of Mr. Edwards have read nothing of his other than his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” However, he was a much more prolific writer and thinker than that one sermon could embody. In fact, he wrote more about the love of God than about His anger, although he would have insisted that both were compatible aspects of the One God. Anyway, I plan to read about Edwards, and I hope to read some of Edwards’ own writings, at least those that I can understand and assimilate, for myself.

2. In keeping with my Jonathan Edwards (b.1703, d.1758) project and with my and my children’s current fascination with all things Alexander Hamilton, I plan to read a lot of books (and maybe watch some movies) set in the 18th and early 19th centuries (more in a separate post). I hope to post here at Semicolon on Thursdays about something, probably a book, eighteenth or early nineteenth century related.

3. 2017 Friday Night Film Club. Films on Fridays, reviews and afterthoughts here at Semicolon on Monday mornings. I’ll write more about this project in a separate post.

4. Meriadoc Homeschool Library, of course. I have story time every other Wednesday morning, and then there’s just the project of keeping the books organized and checked in and out—and adding to the collection from time to time.

5. As far as Bible study is concerned, my Bible study group will be studying the book of Hebrews for the first six months of 2017. I hope to post about Hebrews and what God teaches me there once a week or so, maybe on Sundays. I also plan to continue Bible journaling, which for me involves notes written in one of my Bibles, not drawings, and the copy work I have been doing from the Psalms. I have been copying one Psalm or part of a Psalm two or three times a week to enclose in a letter to my son. He seems to appreciate it, and it does my soul good to write the Scriptures out.

6. Texas Tuesday. I plan to read a Texas-related book each Sunday or Monday, mostly children’s books, and then post about it on Tuesday mornings.

7. My word for 2017 is TRUST. I want to learn to trust God above all, but also how and when to trust others, how to rebuild trust when it has been betrayed, and how to regain the trust of others when I have failed them. I want to trust more and worry less, even when things look dark.

8. I’d like to try out at least one new recipe each week, but I’m usually more ambitious in the thinking than in the doing when it comes to cooking. If you have an excellent (easy and tasty) recipe for me to try this year, please leave a comment with link to the recipe or with the recipe itself. Bonus points if the dish is also healthy. We don’t do healthy around here much.

9. Daily exercise project. I need it, and I’m abysmally bad at it. Enough said.

10. I have several boxes of books to sell, mostly duplicates of books in my library, older children’s titles, ex-library, Landmark histories, Childhood of Famous Americans, and others. I hope to get those posted online, sold, and shipped in January or February. If anyone here at the blog is interested in seeing the list of books for sale when I get it made, leave me a comment or email me privately. (sherryDOTearlyATgmailDOTcom)

That plus family and church and reading wildly and widely ought to keep me busy and out of trouble, as my mother would say. What are you doing to stay out of trouble in 2017?

100 Poems by George Herbert

Such a lovely volume of poems by one of my favorite poets! George Herbert lived and wrote in the early seventeenth century, and he is “widely regarded as the greatest devotional poet in the English language.” In fact, for modern Christian readers, reading a poem a day from this book of one hundred of Herbert’s best and most famous poems would be a significant and useful devotional practice. And for non-religious poets and poetry fans, the study of of Herbert’s poetry is well worth the time and effort. Helen Wilcox, the university professor who wrote the introduction to this collection says, “Reading and re-reading Herbert’s poems is a process of self-discovery.”

This selection of Herbert’s poetry, published by Cambridge University Press, includes many of my favorites, such as:
Love III
Love Bade Me Welcome
The Pulley
Christmas
The Dawning
The Sonne
A Wreath
Easter Wings

Others of the 100 poems were new to me. I particularly liked Herbert’s version of the 23rd psalm which begins, “The God of love my shepherd is/And he that doth me feed:/While he is mine and I am his,/What can I want or need?”

Herbert is one of the so-called “metaphysical poets”, along with John Donne and Henry Vaughan. I find all three of these Christian metaphysical poets both bracing and comforting. C.S. Lewis named the poetry of George Herbert as one of the ten works that most influenced his philosophy of life. Richard Baxter, the famous Puritan thinker, said, “Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth in God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books.” If you’re ready for some heart-work and/or heaven-work, I recommend the poetry of George Herbert. Prescription for a weary soul: Read aloud one poem each morning and meditate on it. Repeat each evening before bed.

Old Books by Margaret Widdemer

April is Poetry Month. Let’s celebrate by talking about poems.

Margaret Widdemer won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 for her poetry collection The Old Road to Paradise. She shared her prize with Carl Sandburg for Cornhuskers. Nowadays, Sandburg is known and remembered; Widdemer is forgotten. Ms. Widdemer also wrote novels, and her memoir Golden Friends I Had recounts her friendships with eminent authors such as Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

OLD BOOKS by Margaret Widdemer

The people up and down the world that talk and laugh and cry,
They’re pleasant when you’re young and gay, and life is all to try,
But when your heart is tired and dumb, your soul has need of ease,
There’s none like the quiet folk who wait in libraries–
The counselors who never change, the friends who never go,
The old books, the dear books that understand and know!

‘Why, this thing was over, child, and that deed was done,’
They say, ‘When Cleopatra died, two thousand years agone,
And this tale was spun for men and that jest was told
When Sappho was a singing-lass and Greece was very old,
And this thought you hide so close was sung along the wind
The day that young Orlando came a-courting Rosalind!’

The foolish thing that hurt you so your lips could never tell,
Your sister out of Babylon she knows its secret well,
The merriment you could not share with any on the earth
Your brother from King Francis’ court he leans to share your mirth,
For all the ways your feet must fare, the roads your heart must go,
The old books, the dear books, they understand and know!

You read your lover’s hid heart plain beneath some dead lad’s lace,
And in a glass from some Greek tomb you see your own wet face,
For they have stripped from out their souls the thing they could not speak
And strung it to a written song that you might come to seek,
And they have lifted out their hearts when they were beating new
And pinned them on a printed page and given them to you.

The people close behind you, all their hearts are dumb and young,
The kindest word they try to say it stumbles on the tongue,

Their hearts are only questing hearts, and though they strive and try,
Their softest touch may hurt you sore, their best word make you cry.
But still through all the years that come and all the dreams that go
The old books, the dear books, they understand and know!

C.S. Lewis said, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.”

Perhaps the older we get, the more the “old books” recommend themselves to our attention. Of course, the oldest Book of all, the Christian scriptures, Old and New Testaments, is to be trusted most. Ms. Widdemer doesn’t mention the Bible in her poem, but I think even non-Christians could go to the Scriptures and find the kind of comfort and recognition of kindredness that the poem recognizes and enjoins.

What other old books “understand and know” you in a way that new books or your own friends and contemporaries cannot?

Poetry Friday: For Our Children

For Our Children by Amy Carmichael

Father, hear us, we are praying,
Hear the words our hearts are saying;
We are praying for our children.

Keep them from the powers of evil,
From the secret, hidden peril;
Father, hear us for our children.

From the whirlpool that would suck them,
From the treacherous quicksand, pluck them;
Father, hear us for our children.

From the worldling’s hollow gladness,
From the sting of faithless sadness,
Father, Father, keep our children.

Through life’s troubled waters steer them;
Through life’s bitter battle cheer them;
Father, Father, be Thou near them.

Read the language of our longing,
Read the wordless pleadings thronging,
Holy Father, for our children.

And wherever they may bide,
Lead them home at eventide.

The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill by Andrea Warren

The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren.

Ms. Warren says in her author’s note at the end of the book that she set out to write a book about Kansas history, “Bleeding Kansas”, during the time prior to and during the Civil War. She needed a “hook”, a young person who lived in Kansas during the time period and who experienced the difficulties and vicissitudes of war-torn Kansas. She chose Buffalo Bill Cody who moved to Kansas with his family at the age of eight in 1854 and who grew up at the center of a conflict that shattered his family, tore apart the entire region, and made Billy Cody both a responsible man and a participant in the violence and fighting at a very young age.

What was fun for me in reading this new book, just published in November of last year, was how it serendipitously impinged upon and overlapped with several things we have already been reading and discussing in our homeschool this semester. We’re studying the Civil War right now—and its aftermath. So, a biography of Buffalo Bill, especially one that concentrates on his childhood in Bleeding Kansas before and during the war, is just parallel to what we are reading and studying. Then too, we have been reading the Newbery award winner Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith as our morning read aloud book. The protagonist in that book is a young Union soldier, Jeff Bussey, from Linn County, Kansas. I was fascinated to read, in conjunction with the fictional Jeff Bussey’s adventures, about Billy Cody’s adventures as the son of an abolitionist father and later, as a Jayhawker himself. Bill Cody, at age seventeen, went on raids across the Kansas-Missouri border with a group called the Red-Legs, “one of the most infamous Jayhawker bands of them all.” Jeff Bussey encounters Southern-sympathizer Bushwhackers who come to his home on a raid and give him good reason to join the Union army.

Another intersection between this biography and our other studies came as I marveled at the age at which young Billy shouldered responsibility for tasks and decisions that we in this day would never allow or even conceive of at his age. With my adult children I have been discussing the tension between over-protection of children in our culture and the need to protect them from the over-sexualization and violence that our culture promotes. Billy’s parents didn’t seem to be interested in protecting him from hard work, hard living men, or adult decision-making. Two examples:

“Billy drove the supply wagon back and forth to Uncle Elijah’s store in Weston (MO) to get supplies—a big job for and eight year old since it meant crossing on the ferry with the wagon and horses, loading all the goods into the wagon, and then recrossing the river, driving the wagon to the store, and unloading everything. But Billy liked the challenge and was proud that he could already do the work of a man.”

“Billy (age nine) worked alongside several other herders as they moved the cattle from one grazing site to another to fatten them for market. At night the herders ate by firelight and slept under the stars. Billy missed his family and worried about his father’s health and safety. But otherwise it was the perfect life.”

At age fifteen Bill Cody was a rider for the Pony Express. At seventeen, he joined the Union Army. These freedoms and responsibilities were allowed and even expected for young Billy Cody in a Kansas that was a much more dangerous place than 21st century Houston, TX. There were Jayhawkers, Bushwhackers, horse thieves, Native Americans who were still at war with the United States, knives, guns, and all of the other possible dangers that were part of living on the frontier in a state that was near to anarchy. And we are afraid to allow our children to walk to school by themselves?

Another book that my daughter and I are reading together is Jim Murphy’s The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War. In that book boys as young as ten or eleven join the Union or the Confederate armies. Some of them ran way from home to join up and lied about their ages, but others were allowed or even encouraged by their parents to sign up. Boys in that era were expected to be men at age twelve or thirteen, to do a man’s work and to shoulder a man’s responsibilities. (And girls often got married at thirteen, fourteen and fifteen and saw themselves as adults, too.)

I don’t say we should go back to those times and those mores in all respects, but perhaps we should quit infantilizing our young men and women and start asking and allowing them to meet challenges and gain the pride and maturity that comes from feeling that they can do the work of a man—or a woman. (Do hard things.)

Anyway, I read this entire book avidly and found it to be a fascinating account of a boy growing up on the frontier. There’s a little bit of information in the final chapters about Buffalo Bill’s show business career, but that wasn’t the focus of the book. And that wasn’t what made it so appealing to me. Bill Cody made some bad decisions (becoming a lawless Jayhawker) as well as good ones (becoming the sole financial support for his mother and sisters after his father’s death) as he became an adult during his teenage years. But he lived a rich and mostly honorable life, full of adventure and yes, responsibility. Young men (or women) who spend their lives playing video games and watching youtube would, I think, be incomprehensible to a time-transported Buffalo Bill.

December 15th: Bill of Rights Day

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. These ten amendments began as twelve “articles” authored by James Madison in 1789, the last ten of which were ratified by three-fourths of the States in 1791, becoming officially part of the U.S. Constitution on December 15th of that year. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 15 to be Bill of Rights Day in 1941, marking the 150th anniversary of the Bill’s ratification. The observance has been officially recognized by U.S. presidents ever since.

I thought I’d try to recommend a book for each amendment:

First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Read Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix in which freedom of speech, assembly, and religion are all curtailed in a dystopian future society that only allows two children per family.

Second Amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Read The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, the story of a boy in Colonial America who uses his grandfather’s gun to defend his family from the Indians.

Third Amendment:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Read The Summer of my German Soldier, a young adult book by Betty Greene in which Patty shelters a German POW.

Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Read Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow or Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartlett to examine a case in which the government almost certainly violated this amendment in the interest of public health.

Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie the plot hinges on some of these legal protections for accused criminals, British-style.

Sixth Amendment:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Read The Magna Carta by James Daugherty. Trial by jury was a key provision of the Magna Carta; the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial.

Seventh Amendment:
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Read Trial by Journal by Kate Klise in which Lily Watson becomes the first juvenile juror in U.S. history.

Eighth Amendment:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Read Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. This new book by Newbery author Stead is for older middle school and high school readers. It could be argued that the eighth amendment prohibition against ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ is violated in this tale of sexting, friendship, and middle school woes.

Ninth Amendment:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin tells about the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964.

Tenth Amendment:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Read In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman for an overview of all the first ten amendments and the events leading up to their inclusion in the U.S. constitution.

Happy Bill of Rights Day!

Christmas in Oregon, 1843

From the book, Westward Ho! Eleven Explorers of the West by Charlotte Folz Jones, “Mapping the Path for Manifest Destiny, John C. Fremont.”

“A week later, on Christmas morning of 1843, they camped beside another lake, which Fremont named Christmas Lake. It is either present-day Hart Lake or Crump Lake. By this time, they were in the desert. Fremont described it as ‘a remote, desolate land.’ Having to spend Christmas in such isolated, barren, and forbidding land, the men’s spirits were low, so Fremont poured everyone a drink of brandy to toast the day. Louis Zindel fired the cannon and the rest of the men fired their pistols. They had coffee with sugar, then continued their journey.”

The eleven explorers in this rather lovely book are: Robert Gray, George Vancouver, Alexander Mackenzie, John Colter, Zebulon Montgomery, Stephen Harriman Long, James Bridger, Jedidiah Strong Smith, Joseph Reddeford Walker, John Fremont, and John Wesley Powell. I would imagine between the eleven of them there many, many Christmases spent in “remote desolate lands.”

I’m feeling as if my Christmas is shaping up to be rather remote and desolate, too, in spite of all the loving people around me and all the many blessings I have to be thankful for. The problem is not my surroundings or my circumstances. I just feel remote and not ready to celebrate Christmas. If you’re feeling the same way, maybe this post from singer and songwriter Audrey Assad will speak to you as it did to me.

The House That George Built by Suzanne Slade

The House That George Built is a beautiful nonfiction picture book about the building of the White House, the U.S. president’s home in Washington, D.C. Although George Washington was instrumental in planning and building the White House (which wasn’t officially called the White House until 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt renamed it), Washington never lived in the house he helped build. John and Abigail Adams moved into the President’s House at the tail end of Adams’ presidency and lived there for about four months.

This book tells about the planning, the building, and the first occupants of George’s house with prose on one page and verse on the adjoining or following page.

This is the design,
that would stand for all time,

that was drawn for the lot,
that grand, scenic spot
for the President’s House that George built.

The illustrations, by Rebecca Bond, spread across both facing pages, and give a sense of the expansive growth of the new house along with the new nation. The verse, of course based on The House that Jack Built, grows, too, and at the end a full poem complements a nearly finished grand house. (The staircase wasn’t quite finished, and the roof leaked.)

I have a couple of more prosaic, factual books about the building of Washington, D.C. and the building of the White House, but this books is so much more fun and “living”, while still providing children with information about the House that George Built. There are even more factoids, interesting tidbits about the history of the White House in the back of the book on a page called The Changing President’s House and on the facing page entitled simply Author’s Note.

I’m quite pleased to add this relatively new book, published in 2012, to my library.

The Flight and Adventures of Charles II by Charles Norman

This Landmark history book is not the best example of the series, nor is it bad. The narrative could have afforded to be a little more narrative, if you know what I mean. More story, fewer travelogue facts about where Charles ran to next. But it’s still a great improvement on the history books from nowadays with little boxes of facts all over the pages and no story at all. And although I searched at Amazon, I couldn’t find any books for children that told this story about Charles II and the English civil war and restoration at all.

The illustrations are delightful. The illustrator, C. Walter Hodges, won the annual Greenaway Medal for British children’s book illustration in 1964. He illustrated many, many children’s books in the mid twentieth century, including Ian Serraillier, Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), Rhoda Power (Redcap Runs Away), and Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse). Mr. Hodges also wrote books of his own and was an expert on Shakespeare, particularly Shakespeare’s theater. The book he won the Greenaway Medal for was called Shakespeare’s Theater. It’s a really lovely book, and I’m pleased to be able to say that I have a copy in my library.

To get back to Charles II, the Earl of Rochester is said to have composed an epigram about the rather frivolous king:

Here lies our sovereign lord, the King,
Whose word no man relies on;
Who never said foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.

Charles’ response: “Od’s fish! That is easily accounted for–my words are my own, my actions those of my ministers.”

He sounds just like some current day politicians I’ve heard–disclaim responsibility, and blame everything on the minor bureaucrats.