Three Young Pilgrims

By Cheryl Harness, 1992, Aladdin Picturebooks

This book was my first real introduction to the Pilgrims; it is the book that made them real for me. Sure, I had heard about them in elementary school – those men who wore those black hats and shoes with buckles on them, and who invited the Indians (we called them that back then) to Thanksgiving dinner and ate turkey and pumpkin pie or something like that… But this is the book that first brought them and their story to life for me.

Told as the story of the three Allerton children (the youngest of whom, Mary, was the last of the Pilgrims to die in 1699), what makes this book come alive is the illustrations. Looking through it to choose images to scan, I almost wanted to scan them all. Every page is wonderful!

First Cheryl Harness shows us the different decks of the Mayflower: what they looked like, and what each was used for. She shows us how crowded the Pilgrims were on board and how dark and dreary it was below decks. You can almost feel their sickness and discouragement, but also their tender care for one another.

Best of all are the maps. Why can’t all books have maps like these? How can anyone understand what is happening if they can’t see where it was happening? You will see where it all happened in this one.

And the illustrations show us, through group portraits, the Saints (essentially, the Puritans) and the Strangers (others who joined the Saints on the voyage to found a new colony, but who had different religious beliefs.) Every single person who came to Plymouth is depicted, and a little icon by their name shows which ones survived the first winter. It was only half of them.

And that is the illustration that helped me begin to understand – for the first time – what it cost those very real people to start the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first colony founded by family groups, rather than by gentlemen adventurers. The first colony founded on the principle of freedom to obey and worship God according to the principles in the Bible, rather than according to the dictates of king or pope.

This lavishly-illustrated picture book is a perfect book for very young readers. But the reverence with which the author tells this story of the Pilgrims gives it the power to move adult hearts also.

I highly recommend it for all ages.


November 9, 1620 – The Pilgrims sight land

On this day, 397 years ago, the passengers on the Mayflower sighted land at Cape Cod.  After 66 days at sea they had been scanning the horizon eagerly for days, hoping for a glimpse of land.

Then, through the mist… there it was!  This land which would be their new home.  Rocky, windswept shore and then forest -that’s all there was. It was cold.  That cold, raw wind blowing off the ocean is bone-chilling.  Colder than anything they’d experienced in England or Holland. November was a hard time to begin life in a new country.

I’ve been to Plymouth Rock.  I was eager to see the spot – the very spot! – where they came ashore, imagining that my being right there would give me some feeling of spiritual connection to the past.  That perhaps standing where their very feet had stood would allow me to feel some kind of connection to their human experience.  Or something.

The ghastly Grecian-Temple-looking structure they have built over the Rock could hardly be less appropriate.  An architectural style perfectly antithetical to all that that the Rock and those who stepped ashore onto it symbolized.  Sigh.

I had the same disappointing failure to connect with the past at Paul Revere’s house (tourists everywhere) and at the Alamo (parking meters right in front.)  Try as I might, being in those places couldn’t transport me back to the past the way I had hoped it would.

To my mind, the best way to forge a connection with the past – to almost feel you were there – is through books.  A well-written account can help you imagine just how it felt, sounded, smelled, to be there.  I love that.  Best of all is if it’s a first-hand account, the actual words of those who lived it.

We have three first-hand accounts from the people we call the Pilgrims.  They are treasures.  All three are wonderful vehicles for traveling back to the past, and you can find them all online for free, though they would be worth reading if they cost a fortune.

My favorite is Mourt’s Relation. Written, historians think, by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, it covers the events of their first year establishing the new colony.  It’s short and easy to read, and reading the actual words of someone who was there builds you a connection to the past like nothing else.

Of this day Mourt’s Relations says,

“…at length, by God’s providence, upon the ninth of November following, by break of the day we espied land which we deemed to be Cape Cod, and so afterward it proved.  And the appearance of it much comforted us, especially seeing so goodly a land, and wooded to the brink of the sea.  It caused us to rejoice together, and praise God that had given us once again to see land.”

Good Newes from New England, by Edward Winslow, was published in 1624.  It’s a similar account to Mourt’s Relation, but focuses more on their relations with the Indians.

Of Plymouth Plantation was written by William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth colony, between 1630 and 1651. He starts by describing the years in Holland before they made the Atlantic crossing in the Mayflower and goes on to tell the whole story of the first years, concluding with a list, written in 1651, of all the passengers on the Mayflower and what happened to them in the intervening years.

Read these accounts and learn from our Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers what they understood about God and their relationship with Him.  Observe their thankfulness to God for His providence and lovingkindness to them even in the first year when half of them died.

We need faith and vision and purpose like theirs.  You must read these to your children so they can begin to understand what this country was once all about, and to give them a vision for making it that way once again.



A Free Reformation Resource for the Littles in your Life

You could easily spend months, years, studying the Reformation, and there are lots of great resources I didn’t even mention yet. Like these for older readers: D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, a hefty three-volume set available from Sprinkle Publications– weighty tomes, for sure, but not in the least tedious or hard to read.  And T.M. Lindsay’s modest-sized paperback, The Reformation – A Handbook, a nice, succinct overview.

There are so many wonderful books about the Reformation that it’s hard to stop raving about them just because November is upon us.  But… I have a stack of great books for November -the month for reading about Thanksgiving and the Mayflower and the Pilgrims – which I can’t wait to share.  .

However, this free little gem for the younger set is much too fun (and educational!) to leave for next year.


Timeline of the Reformation

A few years ago our family’s passion for stories from the long war against the suppression of biblical truth, our love of maps, and our passion for layout and graphic design coalesced into this beautiful timeline of the Reformation. (If you’re thinking you detect overtones of maternal pride here, you’re right.)

The text explains the contributions of Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in Switzerland, Henry VIII in England (one can hardly call his self-motivated rejection of Roman Catholic Church authority in England a contribution, but it did work for good,) John Knox in Scotland, Gaspard de Coligny in France, William the Silent in the Low Countries, and John Smith in the New World.

The map and most of all, the timeline of events itself, are hugely helpful in understanding the succession and interplay of events in this most important era of history.   If you haven’t already gotten around to making your own timeline, you’d better order this one so you’ll have it in time for the 500th anniversary!

Buy Your Own Timeline of the Reformation Here!

Often referred to as “the most important event in history”, the Protestant Reformation was actually a sequence of amazing events which exploded across Europe in the 16th century and changed history forever. This illustrated timeline, designed and created by the Botkin family, introduces key Reformers, maps out strategic locations, and orders the sequence of Providential historical events, chronologically. Printed in full color on heavy paper – 39″ x 14″


Martin Luther: A Man who Changed the World

Paul L. Maier, Concordia Publishing House, 2004

The reading level of this very readable biography of Luther is a couple steps up from the Strackbein girls’ Katharine Von Bora, going into more detail on Roman Church error, the veneration of relics, the sale of indulgences, and the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses. And the cast of characters is larger, including his mentor, von Staupitz, his prince, Frederick the Wise, the slimy indulgence-peddling Tetzel, Cardinal Cajetan, Charles V. and all the rest.

The author could have made Luther’s kidnapping more exciting, I thought; after Luther’s trial at Worms, which left him branded as an outlaw, he was riding through the forest in the dead of night trying to get home alive, when suddenly from the shadows burst a band of horsemen who captured Luther and took him…no one knew where! All of Germany was asking whether Martin Luther was dead or alive, and it was months before either his friends or his enemies knew. (You’ll find out right away, though.)

The author was right, though, to focus more on what Luther did during his captivity than on his kidnapping, though it may not seem as exciting at first. Because what Luther did – and it changed history – was to translate the New Testament from Latin into German, the tongue of the common people, so that for the first time ordinary German people could read it for themselves. And German-speaking people are still reading the Luther translation today.

Luther’s marriage, teaching, and the spread of the Reformation into other countries are touched on briefly in the remainder of this beautifully-illustrated book. It’s a very nice introduction to the Reformation for a more mature audience than Katharine Von Bora.


Book Review: Katharine Von Bora

Katharine von Bora – The Morning Star of Wittenberg, Jenna and Shanna Strackbein, Unbroken Faith Productions, 2017

Children aren’t much interested in history if it’s presented to them as a meaningless string of dates and names of battles, and who was Secretary of State. That’s how they taught history in the government schools when I was young. (Probably they still do; I mean, is it really in their interests that we know history? But that’s a subject for another day…)

What children like are stories, stories about people. And this book goes about the telling of this very important story in just right way for the younger audience. It’s the story of a little girl who lived long ago, “… in the days of kings and queens, and knights and peasants…” and it explains what was going on in the little girl’s world, and the theological error that made the Reformation necessary, in a way that even youngish children can begin to understand.

I don’t know of a better introduction to the Reformation for a very young audience. It’s a tricky thing to explain to that age group; the theological, ecclesiastical and political situations are above their level of understanding, but if you leave those out entirely, the telling of the story is pointless. Somehow this book manages to balance the giving of just enough information to explain why the events in the story happened, without bogging the reader (or listener) down with information they totally can’t understand.

Katharine Von Bora, by Lukas Cranach

It does this by describing Katharine’s life in the convent: her work helping to care for the sick, but also the endless prayers for the dead, the masses in Latin which she can’t understand, and all the tedious empty efforts to try to earn salvation. The book goes on to describe Katharine’s dawning realization that her life in the convent was not according to teachings in the Bible, hence not God’s will, and to tell about her daring escape from the convent with several other nuns.

Of course Martin Luther and his bold stand for the truth of Scripture figures large in the story, so it’s a nice introduction to him as well. As Katharine ends up marrying Martin, the story goes on to explain the important role she played in supporting and encouraging his work by managing their house, their children, their farm and the entertainment of the constant stream of guests to their home. It must have been a very full life.


Time to celebrate the Reformation’s 500th!

So it’s October, 2017, and we’re counting down the days now until the 31st – the actual 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses up on the door of Wittenberg Church thus starting off the Reformation with a bang (probably two bangs.)

Yes, I know Luther didn’t start the Reformation single-handedly. There were others who went before him, like John Wycliff, Peter Waldo, and Jan Huss, but I wanted to make my little joke.

Some historians say the Protestant Reformation is the greatest event in history.  (That’s excluding events like the creation, the flood of Noah, the Advent, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, which are in a different category all together, being Acts of God.) Well, given its historical significance, the Protestant Reformation deserves real study and with this anniversary approaching, it’s the perfect time to start.  There’s certainly theology involved, but don’t expect it to be a dusty, dry academic subject; these people were flesh-and-blood heroes and heroines who performed amazing exploits for their faith! There were midnight escapes through the forest on horseback, death-defying stands against tyrannical rulers, hair-raising rescues, and sometimes heroic deaths.  Exciting stuff.

I’ll be trying to review several books in the next few weeks that will be useful for readers of a variety of ages in the study of the Protestant Reformation.

Roland H. Bainton, Abingdon Press, 2013

For starters, this classic biography  of Martin Luther, by Roland Bainton called, Here I Stand.  Published by Abingdon-Cokesbury Press in…well, it says MCML in my lovely, old copy; let’s see…that’s 1950, right?  (I love how Roman Numerals look but am I ever glad we don’t use them for everything!)

Here I Stand has been the standard – the quintessential – biography of Luther for many years. With the 500th anniversary hard upon us there are many more recent biographies, but I’m sure I won’t have time to read or review them.

This book, however I have read twice (the first time, forty years ago) and have found it enlightening, very stirring, and a perfect foundation upon which to build further study of the Reformation.

Probably best for High-School-aged readers and up, though the most exciting bits could possibly be read aloud to a younger audience.


Time to sign up for the free Homeschool Teaching Summit!

Dear Friends,

I was very excited to be invited to be one of the featured speakers this year at the Homeschool Teaching Summit this October 16-21. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a wonderful free event hosted online. You can watch my interview on Friday, October 20th at 2:00 pm CST. I hope you’ll join us! Registration is at

We mothers know that juggling parenting and homeschooling and the responsibilities of managing a home can be very challenging! It’s really no wonder we feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped at times, and if you’re like me you feel you’ve dropped the ball more often than you’d like. Well, the Homeschool Teaching Summit is designed to refresh you for the homeschooling journey, equip you with practical teaching tools, and transform your vision for Christian education and discipleship. The sponsors’ hope is that this year’s Summit will prepare you for your best year of Christ-like teaching ever.

How can this event do that? Each video from this event will focus on the truths found in God’s Word and the hope that lies in trusting in Jesus Christ for today and for the future.

In each of the video interviews, the speakers bring a Christ-centered focus to essential topics like:

Teaching Foundations (the big-picture homeschooling vision)
Teaching Mechanics (teaching how-tos and strategies)
Teaching “That” Kid (struggling learners and parenting helps)
Teaching with Sanity (schedules and simplicity)
Teaching for Eternity (Gospel-powered homeschooling)

The entire event is free if you sign up by October 16th. In addition to the video content, you’ll also get access to an easy-to-search online vendor hall (with exclusive discounts and freebies) and a private Facebook group to connect with speakers and other attendees.

I encourage you to sign up today for the Homeschool Teaching Summit for a week of being refreshed, equipped, and transformed on the journey of homeschool teaching for God’s glory!

Learn more and register for free (for a limited time only!) at

Hope you will be joining us!


Book Review: Alpha-Phonics

Alpha-Phonics – Samuel L. Blumenfeld, the Paradigm Co.  1983

The teachers and reading experts would lead you believe otherwise, but really, teaching children to read isn’t that hard.  Parents have been doing it at home for centuries, often using nothing but the Bible.

Alpha-Phonics is what I used it to teach my oldest to read in 1986.  We had started with The Writing Road to Reading, by Romalda Spalding, but my energetic little boy was not interested in memorizing a bunch of rules; he loved books and wanted to read!

Thanks to Alpha-Phonics, he soon knew how. And over the years, our six younger children learned to read using this book. It truly makes both teaching – and learning – to read about as easy as it can be. (It does take longer for some than for others, though.)

Later, after our six-year-old Eliza mastered reading she thought it was so easy that she couldn’t see any reason why her four-year-old brother couldn’t learn to read too.  He was always willing (at that tender age,) to cooperate with his big sister’s schemes, so before long he was reading too.  She sat down with him and our copy of Alpha-Phonics and taught him what she had just learned.  The teaching process really is easy enough for a six-year-old.

Mr. Blumenfeld’s painless method of teaching the 44 phonograms a child needs to learn to be able to read starts in the first lesson.


In Alpha-Phonics the beautifully hand-lettered text is nice and large.

So in their first lesson the child learns the short “a” sound and the sounds of most of the consonants.

As a busy mother, I loved the simplicity of Alpha-Phonics. Some of the other popular programs at the time involved little race cars, reward tokens, game boards –too much for me to keep track of.  All I needed was just this book and my child.  (And ten minutes or so without any interruptions – that was the hardest part.) No reward system was needed; the child’s own desire to learn to read, and the satisfaction they gained from making progress, seemed to be motivation enough.


Book Review: Children of the Dust Bowl

Children of the Dust Bowl – The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp, Jerry Stanley, Crown Publishers, 1992

Books about the Great Depression tend to be… depressing. And for good reason-it was a time of economic ruin resulting, for many people, in poverty, hunger, dislocation and the beginning of the welfare system which continues to bring about ruin to lower income families in this country today.

But Jerry Stanley’s Children of the Dust Bowl is different, not being depressing in the least. It has the same Grapes-of-Wrath-looking photographs of Okies with rocking chairs tied on top of the trucks, and the haunting Dorthea Lange photo of the despairing mother with her children’s faces buried in her shoulder. But this book is about hope. About refusing to quit, pulling up your socks, making the best of what little you have, and overcoming the obstacles in your path.

Children of the Dustbowl tells the story of a tiny town in California, where during the Great Depression there lived a man who made a difference. His name was Leo Hart and he was the superintendent of education in Kern County, California.

His idea was for the Okie children, despised and unwanted by the tax-paying citizens of the county, to build their own school building from the ground up, using donated materials, as part of their education. In his school, the curriculum included the three Rs, of course, but also framing, plumbing, electrical wiring, carpentry, and masonry. The students learned animal husbandry, butchering and agriculture through raising the food for their school lunches. And in a C-46 airplane which was no longer flight-worthy, aircraft mechanics. In chemistry class the girls learned to make their own cosmetics. It was that kind of school, giving the student a practical education, designed to give the students important life skills; Leo Hart described it as “a broader and richer curriculum.” And students who did well in their studies were allowed the privilege of helping to dig the hole for what would become their swimming pool – the first in the county.

Ironically, after a few years, the people who had made building a separate school necessary because they hadn’t wanted the down-and-out Okie kids in their own schools, were trying to get their kids into Weedpatch School – it was the best in the district.

My copy of this book was discarded from a middle school library, so I guess that’s the age range publishers intend it for, but it could be read aloud to younger children and I totally enjoy reading it (and re-reading it) myself.