Saturday, May 6, 2017

Welcome Home

Welcome Home
Spider Sparrow 
What are you doing for your Mother Culture? I hope you can snatch some moments to enrich yourself. At the end of the day, in just a few page-turning evenings, I read this sweet story. It pulled at my maternal heart strings. It ministered to my Mother Culture.

Perhaps you've seen the film, Water Horse, or Babe. Both are based on the children stories by British author, Dick King-Smith. I happened upon a lesser known story of his: Spider Sparrow. A used-bookshop sits a few doors from where Dean and I eat California Rolls on the occasional lunch date. I can't resist popping in. Of course.

Spider Sparrow has a James-Herriot-feel to it with its colloquial dialect and farm folk. It's lambing time in the 1930s. A tiny baby, wrapped in a shawl is deposited, under cover of darkness, at the door of a shepherd's hut. "What's this?" Tom, the shepherd, cradles the baby in his arms before a warm fire. With a beer bottle covered by a nipple, he feeds the scrawny, hungry baby the same milk he happens to be feeding to an orphan lamb that night.

He's smitten by this tiny one. Molly is smitten, too. Tom and Molly were married 15 years but hadn't been able to have a baby. They would have liked a son of their own. With help from the lord of the manor (and farm boss) Tom and Molly adopt the baby, who, village gossips believe, was abandoned by a young girl who had a fleeting love affair with an American soldier.

Tom and Molly eventually notice something strange about this baby. 

He doesn't crawl like other babies. At age 2 he gets around, keeping off his knees, on his hands-and-feet in the back garden; thus his nickname Spider. He eventually walks. But he walks funny. He talks funny, too, using a word rather than a sentence, by the time he is school age. Tom and Molly accept him as he is. Spider is docile, curious, and pleasant. And he is "slow." Unable to learn how to read, however, he isn't accepted into the village school. Molly is relieved, really, because most of the children make fun of him. Therefore, he's brought-up entirely at home.

Although unable to use language fully to express himself, he can mimic the sounds of nature. He imitates the birds and other creatures all around the farm, remarkably well. He doesn't mind being alone with nature. Animals are drawn to him. They are pacified by Spider's simpleness and gentleness.

When Spider reaches his teens England is at war. (The author was a soldier in WWII.) But Spider's world is the farm. Its workers (all older than he is) are kind to him. Eventually, he helps out on the farm in a way that is tailor-made for him.

Because of bits mentioned above, and the light swearing of a gruff farmhand ("bloody . . . ") you might prefer reading the story aloud with trifling omissions. Otherwise, it claims to be for age 10-up.

No matter what a child's abilities or disabilities, no matter how bright or slow he is, no matter what a child's strengths or weaknesses, a child is a person, created in the image of God. I know you will like Spider Sparrow for your Mother Culture, especially if someone you love and care for is "slow."

When a Christian reads fiction she can't help wonder whether the main character has ever been imparted a saving knowledge of Christ. In this case Spider is depicted without sin-nature. Although the lord of the manor and his wife attend the parish church no other character in the story does.

Master Cornhill
All my children read, Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw during their home-learning years, and were impressed with it. They remember it with fondness. (I've recently verified this.) Although out-of-print for some years (I obtained ours 25 years ago) Sonlight is publishing it I am told. I hadn't read it. Until this year. When I spied our copy on my daughter's shelf (she is homeschooling now) and I borrowed it back.

Although this historical fiction is filled with authenticated details of London, the year 1666, and The Great Fire of London, it moves swiftly. The details of clothing, buildings, street names, and best-of-all, persons, draw the reader into "being there" like no history textbook can.

Our sympathies are stirred for Michael who the year before, at age 11, had to leave London and his foster family there, to escape the Great Plague. When he returns he can't seem to find them. Thousands had died or fled the city. Where will he go? What will he do to earn a living at his age?

Fire of London by painter Stanhope Alexander Forbes
Seeking to avoid the dreaded workhouse he agrees to join a minstrel/storyteller who sells scripts. The minstrel gives Michael a few coins a week and a place to sleep, for being part of the audience. All Michael has to do is listen to the storyteller, fascinated. Just like he did the first time he heard the minstrel. It's an easy job. One that gives Michael a roof over his head and food to eat. But not one he is guaranteed to keep long.

One very minor character drinks too much. This brief scene ushers in the natural consequence of hardship (as it should.) Overall, you and your children will like Michael and his circle of friends (all older than he is.) These friends are caregivers in his life that ease mounting anxiety. How does any civilization survive? When difficulties are met together while kindness is at work.
The print is small, making it probably best for ages 12-14-up.

The Chestry Oak
First published in 1948, The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy is back in print. The story begins in a royal castle in Hungary at the onset of WWII. The old-way-of-life is described with a kind of dream-like-remembering. When the Nazis occupy the castle, young Michael, prince of the House of Chestry, is given strict orders by his Nanny and his father-the-King, how to conduct himself. These two grown-ups guide young Michael discretely through their new oppressive castle-life. To not frighten him they tell him they are playing a game of pretend.

Graduating from pony to horse on his birthday is an exciting step-up for Prince Michael. One beautiful black stallion plays an important role during an air raid (when the Americans intervene.) Then, the formal-feel of the first half of the book ends. The war is over. Michael's life changes dramatically.

I wouldn't be recommending the book if the second half of the story kept to the same strained-feel as the first. When we follow Michael to America a contrast between a life of oppression and one of freedom-from-oppression becomes evident. I read about Michael's new life with relief and rejoicing, grateful I was born in America. Your shoulders will relax, too, when you read about his new life. Therefore, keep reading and you'll be enriched. Age 12-up.

East,West - Home is Best
I've intentionally left out the best parts of these stories. You'll happily discover them for yourself.
All 3 happen to be about orphans who are welcomed into the homes of kind-hearted, seemingly God-fearing people. The caregivers are everyday heroes. A loving home is what is central to everyone's well-being. Adults who persevere through life's difficulties in making a home for their loved-ones, will find these stories as touching, or more touching, than the children who read them. They will relate to the care-givers. They will be encouraged to persevere in love, putting kindness to work in the common duties of life.

Giving Thanks for Home
I am a Bible-believing Christian. Although I am not Mennonite (my neighbors are Amish) I picked up a book of Mennonite children's prayers. It's been by my bedside this week. Here is one adapted from the Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht 1739, that fits my theme today.

O God,
We give thanks for the goodhearted people
who love us and do good to us and who
show their mercy and kindness by providing
us with food and drink, house and shelter
when we are in trouble or in need.

End Notes:
Linked to Amazon:
Spider Sparrow, 

Master Cornhill, and available through Sonlight.

The Chesty Oak

This Antique Star Bed Quilt, I discovered on close inspection (through my bifocals) is a genealogy quilt. Inside each star is a faded name penned with a birth date such as "Jacob 1820". I'm partial to this star quilt block. I quilted the mug rug (above) for a long-distance friend. I call it "Midnight Garden."

Farm paintings are by Agnes Clausen

Keep up your Mother Culture, ladies.

Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola


  1. Keeping up my mother culture DAILY these days and I'm always reminded of a quote or something that reminds me of you. Thank you for the reviews but mostly the encouragement. Bless you.

  2. It always brightens my day to see a new post here on your blog! I appreciate your writing.

    I have been trying to keep consistent Mother Culture happening in my days while mothering and homeschooling. It is never at the same time of day - with 9 children life is too unpredictable for that - but it is often and regular. Thank you for the encouragement.

  3. Hello Karen,
    Thank you for these book recommendations. I am aghast that this is the first I have heard of any of them. 'Spider Sparrow' sounds like one to share with my boys as they have a handicapped cousin. We always enjoy stories of people with special challenges finding a niche in the world.
    The shades of blue in your mug rug are lovely. ������������
    Between homeschool and working at night I admit I am looking forward to summertime! I am going to give myself more leeway for leisure time this year (unlike most summers) and I hope to re-read a little Fairacre, for starters, and finish a few crochet projects. Thank you as always for reminding us to make time for resting and growing. It really is easy to forget.
    God's peace be yours,

  4. I always loved your idea of Mother Culture when we were homeschooling. Time goes so fast. Now my daughter is not only homeschooling her five kids (she was not homeschooled but her brother was) but her oldest is now in high school. Yikes! They started using Classical Connections a few years ago, not having to prepare every subject has helped a lot.

  5. I am always glad to have your book recommendations.I will look for Spider Sparrow as I have enjoyed other books by this author.Master Cornhill is available new from Sonlight books.Your little quilts are lovely.Love the blue fabrics.

  6. As always, your post is delightful and enriching. Three books I've not heard of - thank you. Time for a library visit!

    For those who enjoy "Master Cornhill", may I also recommend "The Door in the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli.

    Here's a brief outline from Good Reads

  7. I love Mother Culture! I've never heard of any of these books. I'm going to see if we can get them from the library. We read and recommend "The Door in the Wall" also.

    You'll have to tell me where your used bookstore is!

  8. Thank You for his wonderful post. I have never heard of these books but they are worth searching for.

  9. Good morning, Karen. I enjoy the delight of discovering the mother characters in stories I enjoyed as a child: Almanzo Wilder's mother, Laura's mother, Marmie, Mrs Beaver from Narnia, Marilla Cuthbert. As a child, I soaked up the joy of being those children. As a grown woman (who also now wears bi-focals) I am encouraged to be better by these remarkable women.

    Our family welcomed a new great-niece in November. I am looking forward to sharing these stories with her. Maybe some day she and I will discuss the new perspective that she gains when she reads them along with her own children.

    My husband and I have been reading a book by Anthony Esolen titled Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.


  10. Dear Karen,

    This is really not about Mother Culture, but I am very excited about the 3 books you reviewed. What I have to ask is about science and what you think about the Apologia books. I was pretty excited about them a year ago, but then they seemed kind of big and intimidating. I know you talk about using living books and just wondered if you consider these such books. They are written by 1 person, but still in textbook form. Many people I know love these books and it almost feels like if you don't use them you won't be learning with the best possible products. If you can take the time to let me in on your opinion I would be very blessed!

    Thank you,

    1. My husband read Jeannie Fulbright’s Human Anatomy-Physiology and liked its writing style. (This book was published after our children were graduated). He read some of it aloud to me. It seemed like something that a student might be able to narrate. The narration-test is a good indicator for any material being used during the young years of home teaching, especially. For high school I know that some of my friends used Apologia in preparation for their students taking tests in college. A medical degree requires an enormous amount of memorizing facts for tests. But students also have to write papers in college. And I know of no better way to prepare for college than by reading a selection of different books on a topic and writing an essay (a kind of narration.) You can see that I am letting the parent decide for themselves. Thanks for writing, Erika.

  11. What an amazing read. I love when you do blog posts like this. I'm definitely going to read these books, The Chestry Oak is next on mylist. Love the post!

  12. It is always been great to see some books recommendation to read.

  13. Thank you for another splendid post. I look forward to reading the Spider Sparrow. I homeschooled my "slow son", and now he is slowly making his way through college. I have a soft spot for the elderly and disabled in this world. I am sure this book will touch my heart ❤️, and bring a tear or two as well. You are very inspiring, and help me to remember my Mother Culture.

  14. Not knowing any of the books you mentioned, it was lovely reading about them, anyway.
    I also have a soft spot for used bookstores...
    What a poetic, beautiful name for the tiny quilt! And how very pretty it looks. It's thoughtful of you to ship light, flat surprise gifts which unfurl into their full beauty at their destination. I am sure your friend loves it a lot!
    Sorry for the late comment - I am still drowning in accompaniment jobs for juries and end-of-the-year-recitals and didn't spend much time online.
    Any news from your hollyhocks already? I tried again to get some from seeds, but they are more than tiny. Don't think they will make it in time... So last week, I got myself a large one grown at the nursery. I just love them too much.
    The bleeding heart was larger than ever this year. Makes me always think of you!
    Love to you and your loved ones! Martina

  15. I have not visited your site for quite some time. I am so glad I did today! You are refreshing! Thank you for sharing yourself, your gentle encouragement, your educational insight, and your lovely ways with all of us!

  16. I love Spider Sparrow! However, I have 2 new books on my reading list! Thank you, Karen! I just love your book posts!!