Monday, July 1, 2013

To Purl Along Pleasantly With the Pages of History

To Purl Along Pleasantly with the Pages of History

historic log house


     There are a good many log cabins around Lancaster County. Passing one on the road I am impressed that it has been kept up by the husbandry of generations.

historic log house

     “There are sixteen still standing in our town,” a white haired lady, in an antique shop, told me. I don’t remember how this casual chat began. I do remember pausing a moment before I asked her if she were a member of the historical society. She sounded informed. “I’m the vice president,” she said.

historic log house

     With some congenial coaxing and a smile that proved that my interest was genuine, I asked a few more questions. I learned that most of the log houses are hidden. Having been “renovated” with siding their logs (felled from the enormous forest trees that once grew here) are no longer visible. “Do you see that house on the other side of Main Street? That’s a log,” the lady said. She pointed to a Victorian clapboard. I stepped closer to the shop’s window to have a look.
     “Hmm, I never would have guessed,” I responded.  But I hadn’t missed its sign. It tells tourists that soft pretzels are made inside.  

     In another shop I enjoyed picking out some quilter’s fabric for a log cabin design I was dreaming up. I was feeling patriotic when I assembled a collection of red and blue calico, with a mind to convey an early American feel to my piecing.

     With the fabric washed and ironed, on another day I cut my logs.  

     I decided to use a quick method of piecing that builds four identical cabins at a time. The center square is red. This represents the warmth of the hearth. I sewed four red squares to a long strip. Then I cut along the edges to separate the cabins, turned them and lined them up on another long strip, sewed down the strip, cut the cabins apart, etc.

     By following this code of multiplicity my log cabins were ready to be joined. I’m hopeful the pucker in the middle will be remedied with quilting. And I’m still undecided about what fabric to use for the border and binding.     
log cabin quilt top

    While I was fabric piecing I was reading Abraham Lincoln’s World by Genevieve Foster. The time period studied is 1809 to 1865, Lincoln’s lifetime – a time when log houses, like the one Abe Lincoln was born in, were built in the new villages being settled in the mid-west. Some villages, such as Chicago, would have clusters of hundreds. 

Genevieve Foster history books

     Are you a teacher who has little to no interest in history? No need not feel embarrassed if this is true. Your impressions may have come by having to rush through or cram through history. Or perhaps, like me, you were given social studies, not history. Those who like history are those who’ve been able to take their time with it. Learning this way, along with my young children, my previous impressions of the subject were transformed.

red bee balm
Lilies and bee balm in the garden

     A good biography or history book has story-telling competence. The pages

“purl along pleasantly as a forest brook, tell you ‘all about it,’ stir your heart with the story of a great event, amuse you with pageants and shows, make you intimate with the great people, and friendly with the lowly. They are just the thing for young people whose eager souls want to get at the living people behind the words of the history book . . . A child who has been carried through a single old chronicler in this way has a better foundation for a historical training than if he knew all the dates and names and facts that ever were crammed for examination.” *1

     We shouldn’t be surprised when young people, confronted with an overview bristling with names, dates and events, loose their taste for the subject of history. Working closely with children and observing what is was that opened the doors of their mind, Miss Charlotte Mason recommends letting students

“linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.” *2

       Abraham Lincoln’s World gives children a look at the life of Lincoln. But it is largely about his times and the discoveries and contributions made then. Students who read the bite-size biological sketches of men and women (1 to 4 pages in length) learn about a whole cast of prominent characters mostly living in America but also some from around the world. 

     This panorama of people, political events and political influences, allows children to see how America fits into a wider scope.

     Chronologically arranged and interwoven in the story are, what we can call the main characters. They reappear in the big picture, now and again.

     The five collage pages are advantageous to seeing and studying the big picture.

“Let him know the great people and the common people, the ways of the court and of the crowd. Let him know what other nations were doing while we at home were doing thus and thus.”*3

     Genevieve Foster both wrote the stories and drew the pictures in 1944. Traditional Christian virtues are assumed and accepted as the norm. They are not replaced or antagonized by today’s immoral tolerances. A scene in chapter two took me by surprise. Napoleon kisses his new young wife enthusiastically in the wedding carriage. To skip this colorful detail I suggest reading the first two chapters aloud, as a “starter,” before your student reads the remainder of the book himself. Some of you, having read this tidbit, are smiling. I’m smiling too, but my face is not as pink as that of Napoleon’s Marie Louise.
     Overall, I think Genevieve Foster’s histories are suitable for silent reading for students in 5th through 9th grade and make for pleasant reading. They are part of the history courses by Beautiful Feet Books, which also rely on other biographies to round things out.

     A notebook of written narrations would be a good accompaniment to any of Genevieve Foster’s books. The student familiar with narration, for a change, could pose one or two questions himself on select chapters as he reads them.  He can then answer these - orally or in writing. Forming questions is an intelligent exercise. Of course the teacher can set narration questions, too. The simplicity of this method does not diminish its strength – quite the reverse is true.
red bee balm
I brought the red bee balm indoors.

A Convenient Stage
     To give a young student stories of people that take him to live in their settings, that evoke him to sympathize with their struggles, disappointments, discovery and accomplishments, is to lay a foundation for high school. By that time any overview of important names, dates and events, put in front of the student will cue his mind to make associations. His imagination formed in his younger years, will be there in readiness to recall what is needed to fill in any dry text with a pageant of actors on a convenient stage. 

Thank you for visiting,
Karen Andreola

End Notes

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, first published in 1886
*1 page 282
*2 page 280
*3 page 281
The terms “bristling” and “convenient stage” are borrowed from Miss Mason.


  1. I love G. Foster's books and BF guides. When I was in school, I really did not like history but, since we began homeschooling 14 years ago, history is my favorite subject. These books have been some of my favorite and my children have loved them too. In fact, this year my youngest son will have the pleasure of reading Abraham Lincoln's World. I can't wait.

  2. Lovely post...I'm IN LOVE with old log cabins and frequently ask my husband to drive past one that is near our home...I'm always imagining what it must have been like when there was no road right next to it, lonely in it's big woods in WI, sorta like the Ingalls. I LOVE the log cabin block...I recently did a baby quilt using it, but while I loved the fabric I choose, I think I used one fabric that was a bit too bright and I wasn't sure about the outcome. My baby niece Gabrielle doesn't seem to mind though. :) I'll know for next time! These books look so neat, thanks for sharing!

  3. What a lovely history visit!

    I grew up in a historic town near Boston. We were surrounded by living stories and curiosities. That may have helped my lifelong love of history.

    This love has been passed on to my children. We read many biographies and old diaries from our large library in town. Our favorite room in the library held the vintage collections. I am amazed we were allowed to borrow many of them for reading at home.

    Mrs. White
    The Legacy of Home

  4. I have begun to love history since I stopped taking formal classes. :O( I was all set to love it going to college, but the freshman class (dawn of time to the present) pretty much squashed that sentiment! I did enjoy teaching the Civil War period to my fourth graders, and now love history. I am enjoying it along with my children.

  5. I love the history books of Genevieve Foster! Foster proved that history is not a "dry" subject when presented as the stories of men and women. Of course, Charlotte knew this long before, didn't she?

    I,too, learned "social studies" in public school. I learned about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln...and precious little else. I'm ashamed to say that I was a homeschool mom before I had ever even heard of Lewis and Clark! (And I was not a poor student either.)

    Learning history along with my children these many years has been a delight!

    Your log cabin quilt is lovely! Please share the finished product later?

  6. I love Genevive Foster's History books too! They are so readable and they accomplish what I want for my children. The entering into the lives of people, to get a sense of what life was like for people living in in the past, what the thinking of the day was etc...

    I will ever be grateful, friend, for your Charlotte Mason Companion, and the things you shared in it. It transformed our lives.


  7. Genevieve Foster's books have an honored place on our shelf.

    Our friends have an old log cabin that is used mainly on weekends. It has that lovely wood smell. When I visit, it's all I can do to be sociable. I just want to sit and stare and smell the lovely wood smell. It is nestled in a valley where there are no other houses in sight. Lots of room for dreaming and imagining!

    I'm starting a quilt for my son. The urge struck the other day when I was glancing at our shelf that holds the quilting and knitting books. The fabric is washed and neatly stacked, awaiting ironing and cutting...


  8. You are so right....Having been educated in public school I did not care for history, or rather as you said, social studies.

    I really think this method of teaching would have made *all* the difference in the world.

  9. I loved your post especially considering that I just bought John Smith's World to finish off our Foster collection.

    We just finished reading George Washington's World and will soon pick up Abraham Lincoln's World.
    These books have been some of my children's favorites.

  10. A smile came to my face upon reading that you "hadn't" missed the sign regarding the hot pretzels.

    I think the fabrics you chose for your quilt and how they are placed together are a pleasure to look at.

    Thank you for the encouragement to those of us who had to "rush and cram" our way through History/SS - that it's not too late to learn and appreciate it. It has sparked the desire (for this much older student) to begin again, to take my time and read the books you have suggested!


  11. Oh, it is so good to hear that you've been delving into living books. Home teaching carries with it lovely benefits for the mom who finds out so many interesting stories behind the "information" she may have been given in her growing years, either what didn't seem to reach her mind out of a dry government textbook - or what was simple not taught at all.

    That "sign" in town gets my appetite up.

    I like local history, too. Touring (walking inside) historical houses is on of my favorite leisure things to do.
    Karen A.

  12. How lovely you combine your everyday observations with teaching/ reading suggestions. This makes me just read on - I am always sad when your articles reach the end!
    Thanks also for the beautiful photos, as usual.

  13. I love it when you intersperse teaching and homemaking in a post.