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.


How Do You Create an Educational Home Environment?

Dear Mrs. Botkin,

In some of your talks you talk about turning your home into an environment that stimulates creativity, curiosity, and learning instead of leisure and entertainment. Can you give me some ideas for how to do that? How did you do that in your home, particularly when your children were under 15?

Thank you so much!


Dear L.,

First off, you might consider getting rid of things in your home that aren’t helping educate your children – things that are a waste of time. These may be computer games or electronic devices that you have to monitor carefully to control when and how they are used,  so getting rid of them may actually make your life easier in addition to freeing up your children’s minds for better things.

I would replace passive-use devices with tools for creative play: building blocks, Duplos or Legos, art supplies of all kinds, blankets for building indoor forts, fabric for making costumes, wood and hand tools to build outdoor forts or birdhouses or whatever, art supplies, a camera, if possible a video camera, a sewing machine, musical instruments …

Providing the tools your children need, to do the creative things they want to do (or things you want them to do,) is only the first step, though.  You (or your husband or any cooperative adult) will need to teach them how to use those tools and give them some ideas for projects.  They’ll have to start out working with someone who can show them how to use the tools and what they can do with them.  And then, when they are ready, you can turn them loose and see where their creative urges take them!

This approach to life may require that you develop a new style of home décor; a home with a sofa strewn with books in the living room, a sewing machine set up in the dining room, and Fort Apache in the backyard won’t be a minimalist home or a Martha Stewart-Perfect-Showplace-home. But it will be a stimulating home where things are being created, and where children are learning that it’s more fun to make things than to sit, slack-jawed, and watch something.

In Christ,



Book Review: The Swiss Family Robinson

The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812

Written in 1812 by a Swiss pastor for the purpose of teaching appreciation of natural and physical science to his sons, Swiss Family Robinson is in a genre of its own that I would call scientific fiction.  I don’t mean science fiction; this book is to science what historical fiction is to history – a story based on real science. But the characters in the story demonstrate and teach Christian values and lessons like treating others with kindness and consideration, good stewardship of resources, respect for others, and selflessness and courage in the face of danger.

Critics will point out that the setting of this book, an uninhabited island in the Pacific upon which the family has been marooned, could not possibly exist. No single island could supply the diversity of flora and fauna in the story, they say. And even I, a lifelong fan, must admit that elephants, tigers, huge bears, ostriches and boa constrictors probably can’t be found together on a single Pacific island. Another of their complaints is that this book has been added to so many times in the 200+ years since its publication that the original story has been lost.

Well, it’s a critic’s job to point out flaws and there is only one Book without any. But growing up, I read and reread this book (the Kingston Edition, which is the best-known) dozens of times and none of these flaws kept me from appreciating it. But it would be more accurate to say loving it.

Swiss Family Robinson is a gold mine of information on almost every branch of science and I soaked it all in; how to tap rubber trees, the natural history of the agouti, the use of levers and pulleys. It’s also a great vocabulary-building book. You may find a number of unfamiliar words: verdure, anomaly, dulcet – but it’s a relatively painless way to learn what these words mean and how to use them, and that’s something you want for your child.

But best of all, the parents, and as they grow up, the children, display reverence for God throughout this book. They remember to thank God for their deliverance from the ship wreck, they pray for the crew of the ship, they pray before meals and for God’s blessing on their various projects, they quote Scripture. They think and act like Christians, something not always found in the offerings at the local Christian bookstore.


Coloring Pages

When our kids were young my husband and I made a conscious effort to keep passive-entertainment games and devices out of our house, encouraging active play instead. They learned to love creating and making things. We encouraged a lot of drawing because, as this was before the internet, there wasn’t much available for them to color besides the usual clownish cartoon coloring books.

So, it’s thirty years later and the internet has arrived, offering almost every kind of image, instantly. Coloring pages abound. Sadly, the banal princess-themed images and every other variety of infantile cartoon images abound too.

But hark, what light from yonder website breaks! Today there are other choices, many of them wonderful and educational at the same time. Using public domain images we’ve made some coloring pages of our own, using images from stained-glass windows, medieval tapestries, and old woodcuts or etchings. But there are many others of like mind who spend, seemingly, their whole lives finding wonderful images for children to color. This site, for instance, has some wonderful images (as well as some that are not my favorite). Artist and Art Educator Donna Grimm offers coloring pages on every subject from the alphabet, running through Art History, Architecture to bird pages, Bible pages, etc. clear down to Winter Fun.

Here are a few images that Anna Sofia found online and cleaned up to be easily printable and color-able for our little ones. You can click on each one to enlarge it enough to print it full-size.

Historic maps, so full of ships and sea monsters (like this one below of the Mediterranean), can be wonderfully fun coloring for children.

Anna’s not even entirely sure what this one below is, but it’s an old woodcut depicting sea monsters, always something worth coloring.

Albrecht Dürer‘s almost-photo-realistic “Young Hare” was an artistic sensation in the religious-iconography-dominated art world in 1502, but his “Rhinoceros” is what our children love coloring. He did this drawing in 1515, two years before Luther nailed up his 95 theses, entirely from a brief account and sketch of what rhinoceroses looked like, since of course he had never seen one in person.


The Bayeux Tapestry was practically made for coloring. This scene depicts (ostensibly) the legendary death of Harold by way of arrow in the eye, though some now wonder if Harold is actually the figure being hacked down by a sword.

The boys will love the fighting, and the girls will love it when you tell them it’s from a giant embroidery project done by nuns.

Medieval woodcuts are also practically made for coloring, being naturally black and white and with clean lines, and knights and dragons are always a hit with our little ones. The “Sergiant at Lawe” image below is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

My son David adds another idea:

I’m always on the lookout for good coloring pages for my kids. Well, yesterday I hit a homerun. PATENTS. Black lines on white backgrounds, often high resolution, TONS available on loads of subjects. And they are high-quality technical drawings. I want to instill in my children an appreciation for excellence, so I hope this will do it. And it turns out LucasArts patented lots of toys. :)


Show Your Children How the Gospel Spread

One of the most wonderful educational uses of the internet is Google maps.   And since geography is so closely linked with history, this tool would be an invaluable addition to your history studies.  As you study the life of King Alfred (and you should) follow the River Thames as it wends its leisurely way though England.  Fly over the Himalayas when you study Hillary’s ascent of Everest.  You can even visit the moon.

Maps are essential to the understanding of history, and as children, all my kids loved creating them.

And they are still at it.  Recently my son Isaac made this animation to show how the gospel has spread over the last two thousand years.

He also did a whole one-hour lecture explaining the history of this spread in more detail. This is a fascinating multimedia presentation, as he describes the impact and spread of the gospel over the entire globe in the past 2000 years of history. Explore the journeys of the apostles, the outposts of the early church, the hotbeds of persecution, and the staging grounds of the major theological battles of the Church. Be reminded of the power of the Gospel to transform “every nation and tribe and language and people,” and be inspired by the legacies of the brave brothers and sisters who faithfully carried the Gospel of Christ to the farthest ends of the earth. You can see a preview of this video here:

This one hour video download (which you can buy for $5 here) contains hundreds of pictures, maps, video clips and animations that helps illustrate the course of Christian history from 33AD until today, in a sweeping overview that provides context for our modern times and a good basis for further study.

He and his wife Heidi also made a full-color map which I sell in my store here: