Saturday, November 30, 2019

Book Club: Review of When You Love a Prodigal

photo of house from Canva; book cover of When You Love a Prodigal

I received a free copy of When You Love a Prodigal from Bethany House Publishers in return for my honest opinion. This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Terms of Use and Disclosure Policy page. Thank you.

When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace For the Wilderness by Judy Douglass is a new paperback book from Bethany House Publishers to "remind you that God walks beside you every step of the way" as you travel with your prodigal. The book includes a foreword, introduction, message from Judy and Josh, resources, and is divided into ten chapters:

path photograph from Canva; book cover of When You Love a Prodigal

  • Love
  • Grace
  • Time
  • Rest
  • Trust
  • Prayer
  • Promise
  • Hope
  • Spirit
  • Gift 
Judy Douglass introduces her prodigal, Josh, in the opening pages. He is in a courtroom awaiting information regarding his arrest. The author then shares with the readers how Josh entered their life as an eight-year-old boy who needed a foster home. Eventually Josh would become adopted by Judy and her husband but his first eight years would continue to weigh upon them all.

Across 90 readings (one for each day), we learn more about Judy and her relationship with her prodigal as well as see how God walks alongside us and our own prodigal on the journey. There are a lot of specific examples provided in When You Love a Prodigal that take readers back to the Bible. References include how God provides grace to both us and our prodigal. Guidance on how to gain trust and hope on the difficult journey is given, as well. 

Each day's section provides a brief reading and ends with two questions. For example, on Day 38: Trust and the Glory of God, readers learn the Hebrew word kabod which means glory and read how we can see God through Jesus. 

photo of path from Canva; quote from When You Love a Prodigal

Day 38 closes with two questions for reflecting upon viewing the glory of God.

I do not have a prodigal in my life. I am very thankful that no one currently in my life has any addictions that control their lives. So even though the examples of a prodigal did not personally touch me, I found many points that I found useful. I made lots of notations as to points I want to review as well as opened my Bible a lot to read and re-read further the scriptural references Douglass was making in When You Love a Prodigal.

I would recommend When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace For the Wilderness by Judy Douglass for those who enjoy Christian non-fiction, those with a loved one who could be defined as a prodigal, or those in need of encouragement. Judy Douglass has an excellent way of helping one to open their eyes to the love and grace God gives us all. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Club: Raising Worry-Free Girls by Sissy Goff

Flowers; cover of Raising Worry-Free Girls

Note: I received a free copy of Raising Worry-Free Girls from the publisher in return for my honest opinion. This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Terms of Use and Disclosure Policy page. Thank you.

I was very excited to read and review Raising Worry-Free Girls: Helping Your Daughter Feel Braver, Stronger, and Smarter in an Anxious World by Sissy Goff for Bethany House Publishers. I suffer from anxiety and—probably like any mom with anxiety—I worry if my daughter will follow in my footsteps. While our daughter is only four years old and the book is written with 6- to 18-year-old girls in mind, I have seen some behaviors in her that concern me that she may be a worrier like me. I was very pleased to read very helpful suggestions, tools, and tips to not only potentially help our daughter but also with my anxiety.

Raising Worry-Free Girls is divided into three sections (Understanding, Help, and Hope) with two appendices to help parents learn about the different types of anxiety and to also beat the bedtime blues. The paperback is 221 pages in length with chapters also containing Key Points to Remember and questions entitled Understand Yourself and Your Daughter Better. Finally, there are notes at the end of the book if you wish to look up the references to articles and books for yourself.

Mother & daughter; quote from Raising Worry-Free Girls

What Did I Think? 

I found the organization of Raising Worry-Free Girls: Helping Your Daughter Feel Braver, Stronger, and Smarter in an Anxious World by Sissy Goff to be excellent. If you are looking for a specific piece of advice, you can skim through the pages to find just what you need. Or you can read the book cover-to-cover as I did and glean all the helpful information. (And if you have read Raising Worry-Free Girls, the set up allows you to go back and refresh your memory with helpful chapter titles, headings, and questions.)

Cover of Raising Worry-Free Girls; Heroine clipartWhile Sissy Goff presents lots of references to a variety of books, websites, and articles, she also presents scriptural references and Bible quotes. This is in keeping with her desire for girls to find "God's strong, safe love for her and the confidence she needs to thrive." So even though the book is Christian and emphasizes that God provides a safe, strong love to help our daughters build confidence, I didn't feel overwhelmed with Bible quotes. There were just enough for me to pull out my copy of the Bible to read the quotes in a different translation. (There is a whole chapter, Overcomer, with Bible quotes to help you and your daughter.)

I highly recommend Raising Worry-Free Girls: Helping Your Daughter Feel Braver, Stronger, and Smarter in an Anxious World. I found myself stopping to take notes, to speak with my husband about what I read, and even to try some of the suggestions with our daughter as I was reading Goff's book. One of the things that I have started with our daughter is the 'square breathing' as outlined in the fourth chapter. While I haven't incorporated the breathing with our daughter, I have asked her to 'draw' a square or flower on her leg when she is in the middle of a meltdown. On some occasions, this simple act of having to refocus has helped her calm down more quickly. As she gets older we can add in the breathing technique part, too. I love that Raising Worry-Free Girls has already provided me with one workable solution in our family.

If you are on the lookout for a book to help you better raise your daughter or perhaps you want to even help overcome your own worry and anxiety, I encourage you to check out Sissy Goff's Raising Worry-Free Girls from Bethany House Publishers.

Monday, November 25, 2019

J is for Jackson (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

photo of Thomas Jackson

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Thomas J. Jackson graduated from West Point in the famous class of 1846. Fifty-three members of the fifty-nine graduating in this class would serve in the Mexican War. Then, twenty of these graduates would fight in the American Civil War. Thomas Jackson was one of the ten who fought for the Confederates. He would go on to be one of the best generals and "a legend in his own time" (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 342)

Jackson was a former professor of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia before he accepted a commission in the Virginia militia. He held a Confederate garrison at Harper's Ferry (which was made famous by John Brown and his raid there in 1859) and then became a legendary figure at the First Battle of Manassas in 1861.

drawing of battle of Manassas from

First Battle of Manassas 

Most people know Thomas Jackson by his nickname that he gained at the First Battle of Manassas (also known as the First Battle of Bull Run). He earned the legendary nickname on Henry House Hill. The Confederate regiments were retreating across the hill at noon on July 21, 1861 when Jackson led fresh troops just behind the crest of the hill.
Drawing of Jackson on his horse from

General Barnard Bee of South Carolina, in an attempt to rally his brigade that was breaking down, pointed at Jackson and shouted something to his men like: "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall!" (There is actually some controversy as to whether the statement was meant to be positive or negative towards Jackson. Was it a compliment that Jackson was standing in the midst of battle like a stone wall, unconcerned with the danger? Or was it said by Bee because he felt that Jackson was standing still and not doing anything in the middle of the retreat? We will never know because Bee was killed soon after his statement.)

Jackson's brigade stopped the Union and they suffered more casualties than any other southern brigade that day. The actions of the Confederates here allowed them to hold the high ground from the Union and win the First Battle of Manassas.

Whether Bee meant it to be positive or negative, Jackson received the nickname "Stonewall" Jackson and his men became known as the "Stonewall Brigade." Jackson and his men would go on and fight a successful campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, in the Seven Days' Battles, the Second Battle of Manassas, at Fredericksburg, and at Chancellorsville.

photo of Stonewall Jackson from

Death of Stonewall Jackson 

After the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was reconnoitering with his men on May 2, 1863 and was struck by friendly fire. He was first taken to a field hospital near the battlefield and his left arm was amputated. Jackson was next removed to a second field hospital about 30 miles from the battlefield and died there on May 10, 1863. Personally, I can only imagine the advantage Lee might have had if Jackson had not died in May of 1863. The results at Gettysburg and the rest of the war may have been different.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Holidays – Thanksgiving


Holidays mean so many different things for each individual. Everyone has one or another holiday they prefer over others depending upon which they celebrate in their family. For some, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. It conjures up images of families gathered around a large table eating dinner, watching (or playing) football, and relaxing with a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin pie.


Over the course of my life, Thanksgiving has created many varied memories – from traveling three hours to my uncle's on Thanksgiving day itself or spending time with cousins when I was unmarried to enjoying dinner at our own house to spending it with my husband's family. I even have one memory of working during the early hours of Thanksgiving morning at the zoo helping my fellow Education staff care for our reptiles, amphibians, and insects in our education collection. (That is a fun memory I will always cherish.)

turkey clipartFavorite Foods 

For picky eaters, like myself, Thanksgiving dinner may evoke anxiety and fear. For the longest time, my mom (and later I) would bring something for me to eat in case the typical fare was not something I wanted. To this day, I am still not a huge fan of turkey (but I do love mashed potatoes and gravy!).

Over the years, I have discovered more dishes that I enjoy and found that there are even some that I like which my husband (who is considerably less picky than me) does not like. And of course, if you have children, you know how difficult it can be to find something they might enjoy. Or you find one Thanksgiving they eat everything on their plate and the next one you are bringing a can of Chef Boyardee for them for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Family Fun 

When my mom and I joined our cousins, Thanksgiving meant time to spend together in the kitchen and around the dining room table sharing stories and memories. On a few occasions, we might have played a game but mostly we talked and chatted.

As a parent of small children, Thanksgiving has, at times, been less about socializing with adults and more about keeping the kids entertained or at least not breaking anything. For the last two years, our son has entertained us with a game he created – Toss Pal – using paper (or plastic) cups and teams that attempt to toss their cup onto or into the cup in the middle. He was so excited about playing it this year – especially since Dad bought him his own set of special plastic cups.

Thanksgiving crafts and games

The Spirit of Thanksgiving 

With all the food and family fun, it is sometimes easy to overlook that the point of Thanksgiving is giving thanks. Being thankful and showing gratitude for the people in our life is so important on this day and the other 364 days of the year. So let us remember: "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 107: 1)

Psalm 107:1

How do you spend Thanksgiving? Is it a quiet meal at home? 
Is it in service to others? 

Looking for more Thanksgiving-related posts? Please check out the following:

corn shaker craft

Handprint Turkey craft

Leaf Turkey

I joined up with Timberdoodle to share this Holiday post!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Reading and Learning About Great Books: A Review of LitWits Kits

LitWits Kits logo

If you haven't realized it by this point in reading A Mom's Quest to Teach, most of our family loves to read. So I was excited to review the LitWits Kits produced by LitWits. When you first visit the LitWits website, you are met with the following:

"Make great books real! Because kids who read great books become great grown-ups."

According to the site, the Kits offer "fun, creative ways to engage kids with wonderful books!" These ideas fit right into our homeschooling philosophy. One of our main goals is to develop and foster the love of reading in our children. We have struggled over the years with fostering this idea in our older son, but so far both our younger children have caught the love of reading for us.

Using the LitWits Kits has helped us spend time discussing The Hobbit with our teen who is reading the classic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien this homeschool year. And I have also looked through two other kits to help introduce Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to our younger children.

For the review, we were offered the opportunity to select up to four LitWits Kits from their collection of 46 kits. We chose the following three to use and review:

If you are interested in seeing just what a LitWits Kit looks like, they offer a sample kit so you can see the 9 main components of the kits. Personally, I love that they provide so much information on their site so you can see what the products are all about before you make a purchase. 

The LitWits Kits are based upon the interactive, immersive literature workshops that the founders, Becky and Jenny, have been holding since 2010. Children who participate in the workshops have a particular classic book and they spend the workshop time doing what the characters in the book did and connecting them to teaching experiences. 

In order to help parents and homeschoolers, the LitWits Kits are a private webpage for each book that provides you with the ideas used in the workshop along with learning links and audiovisual links. Having a variety of links in one place makes it so much easier than having to create your own unit study or searching out links yourself in the middle of a lesson.

learning links for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz LitWits Kit
Part of the Learning Links available for The Wonderful World of Oz LitWits Kit

I did find because the Kits are based upon workshops for more than one child, some of the activities are a bit difficult for me to adapt to using with just our teen or with just our two younger children. For example, in The Hobbit Kit, one of the activities is called Whose Shoes? which first discusses the home of Bilbo and then asks kids in groups to examine a pair of shoes and describe the person who they belong to. We tried to hold this discussion at dinner time and actually switched it up by talking about baseball caps but it didn't work as well as it might have if the activity were completed in a co-op, group, or classroom setting.

Our teen is also in the middle of reading The Hobbit so we haven't been able to complete some of the activities such as The Triple Textural Arc project. This project allows your child to discuss how the events in the story helped Bilbo grow. There is even a script to help you facilitate the discussion. I hope to complete this activity with our son when he is finished reading the book. It will provide a good way to review the exposition, conflict, action, climax, and resolution of The Hobbit

The Hobbit LitWits Kits Arc
The Story Arc shared on the LitWits Kits site for The Hobbit.

Elvish Sword from The Hobbit

What Are the Key Parts of the LitWits Kits? 

  • Sensory Prop Ideas 
  • Bookbites Ideas 
  • Creative Project Ideas & Instructions/Templates 
  • Kinetic Activity Ideas & Instructions/Prompts 
  • Academic Handouts 
  • Creative Writing Handouts 
  • Takeaway Topics 
  • Learning Links 
  • Audiovisual Links 
  • Common Core State Standards Alignment 
Don't worry too much if you are not a fan of the Common Core. The Kits have links at the end that tell you how their activities are aligned with the standards. I did not feel that the idea of the Common Core standards was prevalent throughout the Kits.  So if you are interested in how they align with the standards, you can click on the link or—if you have no interest—you can bypass this small section of the Kits. 

How Did We Use the LitWits Kits? 

As I said earlier, our son is in the middle of reading The Hobbit. Since he could not remember much of the story from his dad reading it to him when he was little, I asked him to draw a picture based upon what he remembered of the Tolkien's Lonely Mountain Project. This project is drawn from the 1937 dust jacket of The Hobbit and allows one to discuss perspective, illustrations of book covers, and more with your child. I thought, as our son likes to draw, this would be a good way to have him think about the story before and after he read the book. We will revisit the activity when he has completed reading the book and I will ask him to draw another picture.

drawing of the ring from The Hobbit

Our younger children have heard part of the tale of The Hobbit and seen some of the movies so I thought it would be fun to have them complete the Elvish Sword with their brother. All three children enjoy being creative, painting with special silver paint, and using beads, buttons, and sequins to decorate their swords.

craft materials to make Elvish Sword from The Hobbit
Gathering the materials 

Making Elvish Swords from The Hobbit
Working on Elvish Swords

Other Fun Activities 

While we didn't get to use all the activities and ideas provided in the LitWits Kits, I would like to share a few more of the awesome ideas with you. For example, each of the three Kits we received has a section on food and refreshments. Using The Hobbit Kit, you could recreate Beorn's Feast or with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, children could enjoy peaches, bread, and lemonade (in the story they drink green lemonade in Emerald city).

Another fun activity from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz includes the Seeing Green project where children can create green-lenses glasses. This can help introduce the discussion of symbolization in the book. Over the years there has been a lot of speculation as just to what the different characters and things in the Frank L. Baum stories might represent (if they represent anything at all). This is a great topic for older children and even high school-aged kids who are studying the Gilded Age of America. The LitWits Kit offers an introduction and links to various views on the political interpretation of the story.

Seeing Green Project instructions

The final fun activity I want to share is one from The Journey to the Center of the Earth LitWits Kit. In the Stromboli Erupts project, kids build their own volcano to represent the one which helped propel the explorers back to the surface of the Earth. Our younger children really enjoyed putting together the volcano and watching it 'erupt.' We will probably do this activity again.
Stromboli Erupts Volcano activity
Our Reenactment of Mount Stromboli

What Did We Think?

I like that there are so many options for classic books and they are continuing to develop more through their workshops that will be released in the future. Click here if you want to see a list of 100+ book recommendations from LitWits.

Personally, I think the LitWits Kits would be a fantastic fit for families who have multiple children who are really close in age. One could then have several children read the story together and then use the Kit together as a family. With our children on the outside of the age range, I found it difficult to use the Kits to the fullest extent possible. I think that in a few years' time (when our two younger children are independently reading chapter books), we will be able to revisit the Kits again and more completely use all three of them. As we retain access to the Kits for the life of the company, I know I can return to them to access all the websites that the Kits have brought together for me. 

Do You Want to Learn More? 

LitWits Logo

With over 46 kits to choose from, be sure to check out the other reviews so you can see how other members of the Homeschool Review Crew used the LitWits Kits in their homeschool. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

I is for Iron Brigade (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

civil war cannon image from Canva

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The Iron Brigade was one of the many nicknames for an infantry brigade in the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. They were formed on October 1, 1861, with the following regiments falling under the command of Brigadier General Rufus King: 7th Wisconsin, 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana. They were also called the Black Hats due to their 1858 black-felt Hardee hats which caused the Westerners to look even taller and made them extremely distinguishable among the soldiers in the army and they were also called the King's Wisconsin Brigade. In addition to the broad-brimmed, high-crowned Hardee hats, they wore thigh-length frock coats in the field. The Iron Brigade, an all-western brigade, had the reputation of one of the best units in the army.

In addition to being the only all-western brigade to serve in the Eastern army on the Eastern front, they also suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the American Civil War by the end of the war. For example, they suffered a 60% casualty rate at the Battle of Gettysburg. One thousand one hundred fifty-three were killed or wounded out of one thousand eight hundred eighty-five who participated in the battle. The all-Virginia Stonewall Brigade had the same distinction within the Confederate army of suffering the highest percentages of casualties.

Some of the battles in which the Iron Brigade fought include Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. They earned their distinctive nickname at the Battle at South Mountain in 1862.

Civil War Reenactors firing cannon image by Wendy Luby from Pixabay
image by: Wendy Luby from Pixabay


At the Battle of Antietam, the Iron Brigade saw great frenzy on the battlefield. They were at the forefront of the opening attack. The 6th Wisconsin, part of the Iron Brigade, had 40 men killed and 112 wounded out of the 300 men engaged in the battle. In general, it was stated that they had only 400 to 500 left out of the 2500 men who were marching with the Brigade two months prior to Antietam. The men proudly stated that there were no sick men nor any stragglers. There were no cowards. The men who were not present had either died or were wounded on the battlefield.


Civil War CannonDuring the Battle of Gettysburg the Iron Brigade (or the Black Hats) was one of the hardest fighting. Perhaps, they were the hardest fighting outfit in the Army of the Potomac. The Iron Brigade was the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the I Army Corps. They were part of Reynolds' division that helped push back the Confederates on the morning of the first day.

On July 1, 1863, the Confederates were in the woods, on the other side of McPherson's ridge. The Iron Brigade was along Emmitsburg Road and they marched towards the Lutheran Seminary. The five regiments were commanded by Solomon Meredith and moved forward at double-quick to reach the Seminary.

The Iron Brigade moved through Herbst's Woods on the southern side of Cashtown Pike. They would have to move quickly into battle, actually loading and fixing their bayonets on the way.

One of the specific ways in which the Iron Brigade helped slow down the Confederate advance on the first day was with the charging of the 6th Wisconsin order by Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. The Confederates on one side of the railroad cut, the 2nd Mississippi, were able to quickly fire off one volley that seemed to knock over half the men of the three regiments that rushed the fifty-yard. Even with this attack meeting the Yankee charge, the men of the 95th New York, 14th Brooklyn, and 6th Wisconsin regiments surged forward and were upon the Mississippians. Dawes ordered the surrender of the Confederate regiment and this brought him 200 prisoners, a rebel battle flag, and officers' swords. With the position of this land, the Confederate advance on the morning of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg was slowed.

This history of individual regiments, brigades, and companies can be quite interesting. While researching the Iron Brigade, I was able to learn more about the events of the early morning of July 1, 1863, as well as about the uniforms of the different Union soldiers. I highly recommend researching not only battles and famous leaders during the American Civil War but also regiments like the Iron Brigade.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reflecting Upon Another Year with the Homeschool Review Crew: 2019

apple and books

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I am finishing up my second year as a member of The Old Schoolhouse® Homeschool Review Crew. While researching homeschooling, I found my way to and contacted them about writing a course for them. Eventually, I filled out an application to join the Crew and the rest has been history.

Our family has been blessed with many opportunities through my time reviewing for the Homeschool Review Crew as well as my time working in other capacities for I am truly thankful for the friendships I have built, the products we have received to review which have been integral in our homeschool, and the new work avenues that have opened for me. Last year, I looked back upon our favorite products from 2018 and in this post, I would like to share what we enjoyed the most in 2019.

pencil, book, geometric pattern blocks

Online Resources and Products 


One of my favorite online resources that we reviewed from 2019 has been IXL from IXL Learning. All three of our kids were able to have access to the program which has been very helpful during our homeschool days. I was able to assign review questions for geometry for our teen. For our two younger children, I often just let them work on areas of their own choosing. As we also had access to the program via their app on our tablet, our younger kids often thought of IXL as more of a game than an educational tool.

Our kids love the awards and prizes that are given out as they answer questions correctly, practice for a certain number of days, master skills, or complete categories. Our first grader loves working through the different subject areas for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade as he picks out new topics to test his knowledge.


As a mom, one of the resources I was very thankful to review and receive a family membership for was CTCMath, as all three of our kids can use it for their mathematics. Our homeschooling teen is using it for his Algebra II and our younger children are working through kindergarten and first grade. CTCMath makes it so much easier for me knowing that math is taken care of and I don't have to worry about what resources we will be using or need.

IXL web page and StoryTime books

Print Resources 

Memoria Press 

One of my favorite companies that I have been privileged to review several products from is Memoria Press. Through learning more about their company, I have discovered that I really like Classical Education. I love the idea of ensuring that our children are familiar with great books and the great thinkers of Western tradition.

We were able to review three different products from Memoria Press:

We used each with our six-year-old as he moved from kindergarten to first grade. The First Start Reading Program with the Classical Phonics book really was a great start to his working on reading and writing. As to the lessons he did not finish, we will be able to use those with his sister as she has been working steadily on reading and writing.

Classical phonics, StoryTime, Stone Soup book

I have enjoyed using both the Simply Classical Writing books and the StoryTime Treasures student and teacher book in our homeschool language arts lessons. We also get to incorporate Bible Study with our edition of Simply Classical Writing as we are using the Bible Story Edition. StoryTime Treasures allows both our younger children to enjoy classic books together as we read the story and then our first grader works on key language arts skills as he completes exercises in his student workbook.

I can easily see our homeschooling family using products from Memoria Press for years to come!

Crafty Classroom 

One of the fun homeschooling resources we reviewed as the Pattern Block Activity Bundle from Crafty Classroom. With such a huge selection of patterns to use with pattern/geometric blocks, I have had a great time picking and choosing different ones as we move through the seasons. With over 700 pages, there are always new ones to print and share with our kids.

pattern block picture

Books And Media 

We had the chance to review so many great books this homeschool year! From Heroes of History – Ronald Reagan from YWAM Publishing to the first two books in the Goldtown Beginnings Series from Kregel Publications, everyone in our family has been able to enjoy new books. With these additions to our homeschool library, I have been able to add more titles to our children's wishlists and incorporate new authors into our library.

We also started our collection of DVDs from Drive Thru History® with a review of Acts to Revelation. Our family enjoyed sitting down together after dinner to watch each new episode as Dave Stotts took us on a journey through the New Testament after the Gospels. We have since made several purchases to add to the collection with Discovering America's Founders and others. 

Drive Thru History DVDs

These, of course, are only a few of the excellent products we have reviewed this year. Other members of the Crew have also shared many reviews through 2019 and shared their favorite products on their own blogs. On November 15, 2019, please take a moment and check out what the rest of the Crew has to say about 2019. I look forward to what 2020 will bring for all of us. Happy Homeschooling!

Homeschool Review Crew Blue Ribbon awards

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

H is for Hancock (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

cover of Hancock biography

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Winfield Scott Hancock presents one of the typical soldiers of the time period. He graduated from West Point in 1844, served in the Mexican War, and then served in the American Civil War. And like other men of the time period, he was first highly regarded, then received criticism after the war, only to be seen in high regard again in the present day.

Hancock was described as one of the handsomest men in the army. He was always neatly dressed. Even in the middle of a long march, he had clean, pressed white shirts. In addition to his appearance, Hancock was also noted for several other key things in relation to fighting. Even though he was always in the thick of action during battle, he did not actually court danger on the battlefield but did what he was ordered. He had an air of command and cared for details. He was meticulous, thorough, and very businesslike in military manners but during social hours, Hancock was gentle and kind. He learned the names of every officer in his command. McClellan referred to Hancock as "superb."

drawing of Fredericksburg battle

Hancock was involved in several important battles and campaigns including:

  • Peninsular Campaign 
  • Battle of Antietam 
  • Battle of Fredericksburg
  • Battle of Chancellorsville 
  • Battle of Gettysburg 
  • Battle of Wilderness 
  • Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
  • Siege of Petersburg 
After the Civil War, he oversaw the execution of the conspirators who planned the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.


On November 17, 1862, Hancock's division arrived at Falmouth, Virginia, across the river from Fredericksburg. At the time there were only a few Confederate cavalry men in the town. With the delay of the arrival of pontoon boats till November 25, Confederate General Longstreet was able to become entrenched in the city of Fredericksburg and General Jackson was on his way. The element of surprise was gone.

Ambrose Burnside image from
Ambrose Burnside

During the time, there were two promotions that came through for Hancock. On November 29, he was promoted Major General of Volunteers and then on November 30, he was promoted to Major in Quartermaster Corps in the regular army.

Hancock was worried about the plan outlined by General Ambrose Burnside. He voiced this concern of attempting to take the fortified heights (Marye's Heights). He was not the only man who thought this was a disastrous move to make but the Union would send more than one attack up that hill.

Hancock's division was sent to support the engineers who were working on the pontoon bridges to cross the Rappahannock River, they then crossed the river on December 12 and spent the night in the ruined town of Fredericksburg. His division then followed Sumner's division in attacking Marye's Heights. He tried to support his men wherever he could and suffered a minor wound when he was grazed by a musket ball.

The Battle of Fredericksburg was a loss for the Union. There were 12,000 Union casualties with Hancock's division having suffered 1,200. He wrote to his wife, "It was desperate undertaking, and the army fought hard." After the battle, Hancock took a leave of absence so he could spend time with his wife and his children.

Hancock returned to duty and was involved in several other battles including playing a key part in the Battle of Gettysburg. If you wish to learn more about Winfield Scott Hancock, I recommend reading about his friendship with Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead and the Battle of Gettysburg.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Book Club: Review of Four Historical Fiction Books by Mattie Richardson


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Review: Author Mattie Richardson/Appaloosy Books
Product: Mattie Richardson's Horses in History Series

Our family had the privilege of reviewing four softcover books written by Mattie Richardson. Each of these books is set in a particular period of history and told from the viewpoint of one or more horses. They are written with 8- to 14-year-olds in mind but if your children enjoy history or horses, then younger or older children will also enjoy them. We also received a PDF copy of The Day and Night Enrichment Guide.

The four books we read are:
Book covers for Golden Sunrise, Appaloosy, Day and Night, and Dusty's Trail

Mattie Richardson wrote her first book, Appaloosy, at the age of thirteen. Appaloosy was published when she was sixteen. What an awesome start to a writing career! In addition to the four books we reviewed, Richardson has also written The Secret of Hemlock Forest (recommended for ages 12 and up) and Blackberry Blossom (suitable to teens and young adults). Currently, she is a full-time journalist and part-time musician.

Her passion is writing and sharing that passion with other young, inspiring writers. Richardson spends time speaking at schools and for groups of young writers to share her enthusiasm. 

Mattie Richardson

How Did We Use the Books in Our Homeschool? 

When our son and I talked about possibly reviewing the books by Mattie Richardson, he said he was interested in reading Golden Sunrise and Dusty's Trail so we started reading Golden Sunrise as a read aloud.

Book cover of Golden Sunrise

Golden Sunrise

The focus of the story Golden Sunrise is Jared and his horse Cheyenne and their involvement in the Texas fight for independence. From the Battle of Gonzalez and the famous cannon with the rallying cry "Come and Take It!" to the siege on the Alamo, the book is full of history to discuss and learn about with your children. Readers meet James Bowie, Davy Crockett, William B. Travis, Sam Houston, and Antonia Lopez de Santa Anna. 

I then read the other three books myself and thoroughly enjoyed reading each of them!

book cover of Day and Night

Day and Night 

While reading Golden Sunrise to our two younger children, I read Day and Night myself as I love reading about the Civil War. I love the fact that it is set in the Western Theater of the Civil War because there is already a plethora of books and information available for people who are interested in learning more about battle events in the Eastern Theater. 

four books by Mattie RichardsonTucker and Shiloh, the two horses who are central to the story, are brothers and Morgan horses. They are separated at the start of the Civil War as Casey sold his herd off. Tucker, the older brother, was sold first and ended up with Ben in the Union Army. Shiloh, remained first on Casey's farm, but was stolen at night to join the Confederate Army. In an early chapter, we read of an attempt to break Shiloh in a negative manner. I was very glad I wasn't reading this story aloud to my younger children and I even think those on the younger end of the suggested reading age would have a problem with the breaking of Shiloh. Fortunately for the younger horse, he was stolen again. And this time by a girl who would join the Confederate cavalry in disguise. 

I enjoyed reading Day and Night and even though Richardson moved around a few events and occurrences to help tell her story, the main historical facts were not greatly changed.

We also had the opportunity to review and/or use the Day and Night Enrichment Guide that accompanies Day and Night. The 98-page PDF is geared for 8- to 14-year-olds and can take approximately 8-12 weeks depending upon how much you choose to include in your homeschool day. There are 9 parts which include similar activities such as:

  • Reading Comprehension 
  • Vocabulary 
  • History
  • A Soldier's Life 
  • Geography
  • Horses and History 
  • Creating Your Own Stories
  • And more! 

We did not use the Enrichment Guide in our homeschool as the activities are too involved for our younger children and our teen has already studied the American Civil War. I enjoyed looking through it and anticipating using the Enrichment Guide in a few years with our younger two kids. I appreciate that the recommended resources for the advanced track include Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson and Shiloh by Shelby Foote. Two noted Civil War historians. Another feature I liked was the inclusion of bibliographies for both Northerners and Southerners like Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. 

Part One Table of Contents for Day and Night Enrichment Guide

Appaloosy book cover


Next, I read Appaloosy. The story itself was 116 pages long. Before the story begins, the reader is presented with several Nez Perce words and their meanings. At the beginning of the story, Storm is living with his family free but not really free. The Nez Perce tribe actually owns the horses and comes to gather up the young horses. Storm eventually ended up with White Feather until after the failed march to freedom led by Chief Joseph. Storm becomes the property of different people and had to learn "The White Man's Ways."

I think the central focus of the story about Storm is his time with Faith. During a brief time, Storm was owned by Amos who treated his 'demon' horse cruelly. While under the ownership of Amos, Faith visited Storm regularly and slowly became Storm's friend, gaining the ability to ride him. She eventually purchased Storm and he came to live at Faith's parents' farm. The story doesn't end quite yet. There is more action including a daring escape on the part of Storm and other horses.

Dusty's Trail book cover

Dusty's Trail

Finally, I read Dusty's Trail. This book is the story of a horse, Dusty, an American Quarter Horse, who served on the Pony Express. We will be adding this to our pile of read-aloud books for our younger children as I think the story is exciting and they will enjoy it. There are some scenes that may be scary to them – Levi who rides Dusty for the Pony Express is captured by the Paiute Indians – but I think because this tale is shorter (67 pages long), they will really like it.

During the story, we meet Dusty who is afraid of loud noises and jumps at shadows. His ability to overcome being afraid is tested when the Paiute Indians attack Levi and Dusty. An Indian appeared right before the horse and rider and an arrow buried itself into Dusty's shoulder causing Dusty to stop suddenly. This threw Levi from the saddle. Instead of listening to his heart, Dusty listened to his head "Run! Run if you want to live!" and he ran from the attack.

During the next few days, Dusty is sad over the fact that he left Levi behind. He feels the other horses and the humans look down upon him for abandoning his human rider, Levi. He and another horse plot a daring plan to rescue Levi. The events leading up to the rescue are so exciting!

What Did We Think?

I really enjoyed reading all four books. They were a perfect length. I think each topic was very well developed and introduced a variety of exciting topics to discuss.

Even though I love history, I do not know a lot about the Pony Express. I was amazed to read in A Blast From The Past at the end of Dusty's Trail that the Pony Express only lasted from April 1860 to October 1861. It is so well-known today, I would have thought the horses were in service for a much longer time frame.

While reading Golden Sunrise, our children were eager to learn more about the famous individuals in the story – Davy, Crockett, Jim Bowie, and others – so we went to our library to find books about them and the time period. I love books that encourage our children to want to learn more.

In the end, I was surprised but I think that Dusty's Trail was my favorite of the four. I really thought that the Civil War story, Day and Night, would be my favorite. If you have read them, which one was your favorite?

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading all four books, please note that the age recommendations are pretty accurate. I would not recommend Day and Night for younger children as there is a scene in which one of the horses is being 'broken' by a rider but don't worry; Shiloh doesn't stay with this individual. I would also recommend holding off on letting younger children read or listen to Appaloosy as there are some sad scenes in the book.

I do recommend all four books for children of middle school age. I think they would be a great fit for inclusion in a U.S. History homeschool unit study. According to the Day and Night Enrichment Guide, there will be guides for the other books coming out by 2021. Making all four books a perfect addition for homeschooling families.

Would You Like to Learn More?

Don't forget to read the rest of the reviews so you can see how else you can use these four books in your homeschool!