Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: A Child's Geography, Volume I

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I might be shunned by the home school community after this post.  I mean, I purchased this book based on the handful of years' worth of highly and positively charged reviews of my fellow "living book" lovers, but . . . I'm gonna say it because I have an innate need to be honest about books. . . this, in my humble opinion, was no living book. 

There, the stewing of my heart is finally out of my mouth.

But I cannot stop here.  I must tell you why.

Living books are not merely textbooks that an author wrote in a conversational tone, which seems to be the trend in newly published books for home schools.  Anyone could do this.  But an inspired education is like attending a lush banquet for the mind, not a family potluck.  You see, the analogy here depends upon the rich content of the feast, the fine quality of the foods presented, not merely because it's being presented by someone [who seems] familiar.  We do not merely provide our children with a wealth of information because information alone is not an inspired education.  If the knowledge presented does not stir the mind, causing the child to bind himself to the material, it matters not if he can recite it with precision, if he can recite it at all.  It cannot be said enough: instruction must be married with delight, it must quicken the heart and mind of a child, or it is merely vacant facts, here today and gone tomorrow.

Simply put, the child must care.

Children are reasonable beings, persons of mind and heart and conscience like ourselves.  And children are intelligent.  They know when someone does not take seriously their ability to understand, talking down to them in simple terms that dull the mind and offend the heart.  They also know when someone clothes a load of facts and vocabulary with a first person narrative and calls it "living."

Simply put, my children loathed this book. 

And so did I.  Where is the delicate poetry of her blog in this?

Because of my kids' collective knee-jerk reaction to cringe and shudder whenever I pulled this book from our shelves, and in order to continue our study of physical geography, I had to change the way I used it.  Instead of reading aloud from the text, I scanned each chapter and then found related and topical materials at our library and in the free domain.  Our favorite of all was Charles Kingsley's Madam How and Lady Why, a truly living book that inspired my children to conduct their own experiments with soil and water and ice and...

Now, before you call for my neck, I don't entirely discount Ann Voskamp as an author.  Her heart is in her work; one cannot miss that she cares.  But the depth and richness conveyed through the follow-up activities for Christian service is wherein lies her strength.  Her dear heart is revealed in her love for God and His creation, and I do fully respect and appreciate this.  It is why I cannot part with this book.  It's a great "faith-in-action" resource that inspired my children to generosity through service that connects them to their larger Earthly home.  And, if you feel at all the way I do, you'll at least agree with me that this kind of resource is infinitely valuable. 

So, no.  You cannot have my book, but I don't blame you for trying.


  1. Thanks for your review. I think that you've given me a lot to think about. We've been using this book this year and I think that what you have to say is very fair. My own thought is that it seemed like a lot for my 1st grader to chew off, information-wise. But you're right--there are some redeeming qualities to it that keep me from wanting to part with it, too.

    Do you have any more recommendations for geography materials for the lower primary grades?

  2. Sarah, for the primary grades I would recommend introducing your child to the greater world through stories like Jane Andrews's The Seven Sisters and also her Each and All: The Seven Sisters Prove their Sisterhood. They are being reprinted by Yesterday's Classics, but can also be found in the free domain at The Baldwin Project. Also, both (connected) sites have many titles from the "twins series" by Lucy Fitch Perkins. I'm reading The Eskimo Twins with my 6yo right now.

    Although A Child's Geography is recommended for grades 1-6, I don't think we could ever expect our very young children to really care about such abstract ideas. I should've stated that my own children were 8, 10, and 12, when we tackled this book, and I barely required my youngest student to participate.

    But, young children LOVE to learn about other peoples and cultures of this world through delightful stories and other picture books and through foods and art and music and dance--and maps! DOn't forget the maps! There's something very rewarding about being immersed in a foreign culture and land, even if only through books, videos, CD's, play-doh (think: relief maps) and our own kitchens. My older children are much more interested in now learning about the history of a people to which they previously and delighfully bound themselves when younger!

    Home schools have nearly no boundaries! Enjoy yours to the fullest. :)

  3. Thanks for the advice. I'll try those books right away. I can't tell you how much I love getting input. We're just starting and it seems like there's so much to know!

  4. Laura, I cringe when I pull Vol. II off the shelf. Never read Vol. I. Yes, I was surprised as well as one of my favorite bloggers adores it. I figured it was just us but now I know I am not alone and there is one more CMer out there that isn't squealing with delight.

    We're only a few weeks into it and I haven't totally figured out why it isn't resonating with us. Lots of useful information but it isn't opening those broad, spacious places that I'm used to with living books.

  5. Can I ask you a question also? Do you in some ways feel this way about the Apologia books? (Speaking of the familiar, conversational tone yet packed with maybe too much information similar to a textbook.) I mean, it is universally accepted science to get if you do CM! (Writing this with a grin!) seems like it's not quite what it needs to be. Any thoughts, or maybe you've posted about this before?

  6. Richele, I was really hoping that Volume II might be different. My daughter read this one on her own for Year 6, and although she didn't mind it, she was glad to be done with it. Boooo.

    I think you're on to something and I've encountered it with other reading lists and curricula: after reading the rich language of classic literature, common language and ideas uninspired grate upon the ear and take prisoner the mind. Boooo again. :)

  7. Pam, it's something I'd like to write about in the near future. I use the Apologia texts in a wholly different way than intended also. ;)

  8. AAAHHHH!!! Thank you for writing this review so I don't have to! Although I probably should write my own anyway. I just CAN NOT get into this book -- for exactly the reasons you say. I find myself pre-reading (skimming) the chapter so I can reteach it in my own words. My 9yo can totally handle the material, but the presentation is so kindergarten teacherish I can't stand it. I HATE this conversational, emotional style that's popping up in so-called Christian science textbooks. UGH. I can't bear to read her writing aloud in my own voice as if they're my own words. I've found myself dreading Geography, even though my boys aren't reacting so violently to the book. If they were interested in reading it to themselves, that would be different -- they could read her words from her, but it just doesn't work as a read-aloud.

    And yet, I totally respect and enjoy her blog! Go figure.

    Anyhow, your review was much more diplomatic than my emotional outburst in this comment.

  9. Ummm, I agree with you, she says furtively, glancing behind her as she speaks.

    Actually, I don't like her blog either...Oops, now I'll be lynched.

  10. Amanda, I must confess: from almost the near start of this book, I found that I could not read it aloud and keep my "take-me-seriously" club card. I often found myself rewording or completely rephrasing the author's text. I mean, there were moments when my kids looked at me and rolled their eyes, like, "Really??" And, I couldn't let that happen twice!

  11. Jeanne, you're the best! If we stick together, I have a feeling we'll win. ;)


I'm gonna shut up now. Please, tell me what YOU think.