Posted in Book Lovers Community


I haven’t finished reading G.K. Chesterton’s autobiography yet, but, as usually happens when I read nonfiction, one thing led to another.  In the chapter on his boyhood and school days, Chesterton mentions:

“The first of my friends, with whom I fought in the field, has since written the best detective story of modern times and still conceals a very powerful sense of humour under the almost impenetrable disguise of a writer on the Daily Telegraph.”

Ooh, really?  The best detective story of modern times?  I had to know what Chesterton thought that was.  I figured that if his friend hadn’t really written something good, Chesterton would simply have not mentioned it.  I love a good detective story and particularly like those of that “modern” time.  The friend to whom he is referring is E.C. Bentley.  Bentley published his first detective story in 1913, but the title to which Chesterton is likely referring is Trent’s Own Case written in 1936.     

I didn’t want to read this story badly enough to spend much on the best detective story I’d never heard of, so I settled for a free Kindle version of The Woman in Black, the 1913 murder mystery, to get a taste of the author’s style before deciding whether to spring for $8.99 for the best one.  It was a quick, enjoyable read with a twist upon a twist at the end.  But that isn’t what this is about.  

Chesterton goes on to say about his friend:

“He had extraordinarily well-balanced brains and could do almost anything with them; even writing an ordinary leading article for a London daily.  But he could write clear and unadulterated nonsense with the same serious simplicity.  It was he who invented that severe and stately form of Free Verse which has since been known by his own second name as ‘the Clerihew’ (his name is Edward Clerihew Bentley) or ‘Biography for Beginners’; which dates from our days at school, when he sat listening to a chemical exposition, with his rather bored air and a blank sheet of blotting paper before him.  On this he wrote, inspired by the limpid spirit of song, the unadorned lines,

Sir Humphrey Davy
Detested gravy.
He incurred the odium
Of discovering sodium.

Even in those days I used to draw pictures, or what were called pictures, to illustrate these biographical rhymes; though of course it was not till decades afterwards that we either of us had a notion of publishing a book, or of publishing anything.”

In my eagerness to discover a new detective story, I had pretty much skipped over the reference to the “Clerihew” until I went online to look for Bentley’s books and also discovered this:


In this book, Bentley says he thinks this sort of nonsense verse must have come into existence when he and his friends were about 16 years old, which would have been about 1890.  Each member of the group tried his hand at writing “Clerihews.” E.C. copied them into a notebook and G.K. drew the illustrations.  Chesterton’s father even contributed a few.  Bentley later gave the notebook to a friend whose wife, when he died, gave it to the library at St. Paul’s School, which Bentley and Chesterton had attended.  This notebook was “lost” until 1981.

In 1905, Bentley published forty Clerihews in a book called Biography for Beginners: Being a Collection of Miscellaneous Examples for the Use of Upper Forms, with illustrations by G.K. Chesterton.  Since the original notebook had been lost, he and Chesterton must have written those forty Clerihews from memory.  More Biography was published in 1929, and Baseless Biography in 1939.

In 1982, The Complete Clerihews of E. Clerihew Bentley, was published.  It was a collection of all the Clerihews from those three books.  The Sunday Times ran a Clerihew-writing contest.  This attracted the attention of St. Paul’s librarian, who contacted the Press and told them of the existence of that old notebook.  


Part of the introduction to The First Clerihews is “The History of the Clerihew,” which Bentley had included in his 1940 autobiography.  In it, he fabricates some of his “research” into the fascinating life of Sir Humphrey Davy in order to establish the first Clerihew as biography.  He goes on to discuss the proper way to write such biographies.  

“One must not, in the first place confine oneself merely to what is historic, in the large sense, about the life that is in question.  One has to depict the man as he was, not his achievement only.  I may cite as an example of failure in this sense, a biography which, because of the weakness I mean, has not been included in either of my published volumes.

Frederick the Great
Became King at twenty-eight.
In a fit of amnesia
He invaded Silesia.

In this there is nothing with which the dry-as-dust historiographer could possibly quarrel.  The facts are undeniable . . . Truthful and reliable– yes; even slavishly so.  But where is the human appeal?  Where the probing psychological touch?  Frederick, after all, was something more than a dynast, a militarist, and a mental case; but in these sapless lines what hint is given us of the riches of that daemonic personality?”

What then is the proper approach to Clerihews?

“Without going so far as to say, with Mr. Henry Ford, that ‘History is bunk’, I do consider that the personal element far transcends it in importance when this special literary form is in question.  For example, who can deny the excellence of the following biography, the authorship of which I do not know, and which has not, so far as I know, been published?

The Emperor Pertinax
Possessed a certain axe
With which he used to strike
Those whom he did not like.

This is an admirable presentation, not of the Emperor as he played his part in the world’s stage, but of the man as he was known to those nearest and most intimate–a spirit by nature impatient, hasty, temperamental if you will; but sincere, direct, honest, in essence lovable”

Why, yes.  Of course.  The personal touch.

And the complete lack of shame in reaching for a rhyme.  I can almost see this group of boys lounging in one of their parents’ living room revelling in their own cleverness. Bentley and Chesterton seem never to have lost the sense of fun that inspired the Clerihew.   



Posted in Book Lovers Community

Little Britches #1: Father and I Were Ranchers

“Ralph Moody’s books should be read aloud in every family circle in America”—Sterling North

In 1950, Ralph Moody enrolled in a writing class at a local community college and was inspired to write his first book, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. The book went on to serve as the first of an eight book series chronicling Ralph’s childhood, certain moments of his adolescence, and his young adulthood. Many have called it Little House on the Prairie for boys. It is a fair comparison, but it is so much more than that as well.
Autobiographies are a very unique genre of books. And, in my opinion, they often fail to merit much true attention. Autobiographies written such that they can be shared with the entire family are even more unique because that which makes a life interesting does not always make it family-friendly. Finally, autobiographies that span a series of books are rare – and when done well – very special. In the case of the
Little Britches series, families have the opportunity to grow up with Ralph and spend hours upon hours sharing in his remarkable story.

Ralph Moody lived a very storied life. I’m not sure why it took him until the second half of his life to discover that he was a writer, but maybe it was because he was too busy living it to really capture it on the page until then.

It’s often said that you should write about what you know. Perhaps Moody became such a successful storyteller because he spent so much of his life really coming to know things. His early life was blessed with a strong and excellent father who wasted few opportunities to help Ralph harness his natural intelligence and raw potential and build his character. As we see in Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph had a knack for attracting good mentors who genuinely loved to walk alongside the boy and share their wisdom.


There are three things in particular that Ralph knows very well and is able to convey with absolute sincerity, intrigue, and passion: horses, the vanishing West, and traditional American values. It is the way that he blends these three subjects that makes him such an important author for young people today. His stories capture a bygone era and do so in a way that shows respect for the reader and the subject matter.

Moody’s writing voice could be compared Louis L’Amour, but it has a more wholesome and more youthful tone. Where L’Amour tends to describe things beautifully, Ralph has a habit of speaking about them more simply, almost more honestly. In all of the Moody books I have read, I have been struck that Moody’s appeal is not in how he says what he says, but in what he chooses to say. Moody has an inherent sense for the tidbits and stories that will matter the most. Perhaps the fundamental difference between L’Amour and Moody is that L’Amour wrote fiction and Moody wrote nonfiction. While Moody would likely never have use this word, I think that it is fair to say that Moody was a curator of stories. He knew what readers wanted to know and gave it to them.

“Should be read aloud in every home in America.” – Chicago Tribune (as noted on the cover of the audiobook)

Since its publication in 1950, Moody’s Little Britches books have been continuously in print and have proven to be a great American story. In 1906, eight-year-old Ralph’s family has just moved from New Hampshire to Colorado in the hopes of saving Mr. Moody’s life. Charles Moody had worked in the woolen mills and his lungs were infected and giving out on him. It was hoped that the dry and clean air of a Colorado ranch would restore him to health.


Charles Moody is a man of intensely good character and his wife Mary Emma (Mame) is strong, smart, loving, and thoughtful. The family arrives in Colorado only to discover that they have been misled and cheated. Their easy ranch life would be painfully hard and often desperate. Throughout the story, we watch their situation unfold through Ralph’s eight-year-old eyes and learn, as he does, how valuable good character really is. Despite so much bad luck, the Moody’s scrape an existence out of the harsh landscape in large measure because of their keen intelligence, faithful commitment to doing what is right, and ingenuity. Their integrity, sense of community, and traditional values win them loyal friends among their neighbors.

Throughout the story, we have a foreboding sense that no matter how hard they work something devastating is always around the corner. Time after time, they put their shoulder to the plow and push forward trusting in Divine Providence and the making of their own good luck.


Ralph is a wonderful storyteller. He spares no expense when recounting his own childish sins. Instead of trying to make himself look good, he owns his mistakes and then reveals his father’s parenting genius. Charles Moody was a father for the ages. Wise, patient, loving, firm, and good at explaining things to Ralph. This book, Man of the Family, and Mary Emma and Company are some of the most wonderful examples of excellent parenting I have ever studied. If I could be half the mother that Mary Emma was, I would count myself fortunate indeed.

A fantastic family read aloud, this book is living history, a true story, a handbook on parenting, a love story about horses, a Western adventure, and a treatise on family values. I introduced this book to my very young children and they return to it almost annually in audio and in print. My littlest one was so taken, at 3 years old, with Ralph’s stories that his entire Christmas was dedicated to horse themed Playmobils that we called “Little Britches Playmobils”.

A word of warning: there are a couple of occurrences of the word d**n. It is not intended disrespectfully, but is the vernacular of the cowboys. Also, there is the tragic death of Ralph’s beloved horse. In fact, Ralph has to kill her to stop her acute suffering. It may go over the heads of young listeners and could be glossed over if read aloud.


The end is painful. Even on my third reading I sobbed through it. Parents of sensitive readers will want to read ahead and prepare their children. It ends with hope, but only after total tragedy.

Our family has loved the printed text because of the illustrations (done by Moody) as well as the incredible audio book. Cameron Bierle is a wonderful narrator and he does all of the books in the series. He sounds just as a cowboy should sound.

Reviews of all of the other books in the series can be found here.

“A most appealing book . . . Its genuineness and its simplicity will build up a large audience of enthusiastic readers.”—San Francisco Chronicle




Posted in Book Lovers Community

Mere Motherhood

Last week I had the immense privilege of attending the CiRCE National Conference in Charleston, SC. It was an incredible week, and one of the main highlights of the conference was watching homeschool mother Cindy Rollins accept the Russell Kirk Paideia Prize, given in honor of one who has dedicated a lifetime to the cultivation of wisdom and virtue. Most people know Cindy from her (now inactive) blog Ordo Amoris, or from her podcast on the CiRCE podcast network, “The Mason Jar.”  She speaks primarily about how she used a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education in her homeschool, and she is frequently sought out for her wisdom and experience as a mother of nine grown children (8 boys and 1 girl).

Mere Motherhood

In conjunction with the awarding of the Paideia Prize, CiRCE also released Cindy’s debut book entitled Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Toward Sanctification. At her book release and signing, where they recorded an episode of The Mason Jar, I was lucky enough to grab one of the first autographed copies. My roommates and I then met a few new mom friends in the hotel lobby.  We all went back to our room and immediately began reading the book aloud together.


We each took turns reading, but it was hard to get through a page without laughing or getting teary-eyed. Cindy writes in a very conversational tone; you feel as if you are hearing her stories over a cup of coffee in her living room. And, Mere Motherhood is very much Cindy’s story. More memoir than mommy-manual, the book is filled with recollections of her children and her homeschool days. Full of grace and encouragement, she recounts both her successes and failures in a way that tells the beautiful story of her sanctification and God’s constant hand in her (and her children’s) lives.  Our little reading group only made it through a couple of chapters because we kept stopping to exclaim how much we could relate to one of her stories, or to commiserate with her feelings about a particular aspect of motherhood. I had to finish the rest of the book after I returned home from the conference and I am so glad that I did because, by the end of the book, I was utterly sobbing. Cindy’s beautiful accounts of her fleeting time with her children and the impact that time had on them after they left home hit my mama-heart hard. I cried as I realized the influence that a mother truly has in the lives of her children. Sometimes, as a mom with a specific mission to raise little men who are followers of Christ and preserve the Christian Classical tradition, I feel as if I am spitting into a hurricane. But I must continue to daily cultivate a love of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the hearts of my little boys. In the end, it will matter.


Someone asked Cindy during the conference what is the one thing that a new homeschooling mom needed more than anything and Cindy answered, “Perspective.” And that is exactly the gift that she has given us through this beautiful book. She has run the course; she has finished the homeschooling race, and she writes as one looking back through all of her mistakes and victories and shares what mattered most. It is a beautiful love letter to her children and to the books that she read with them.  As I closed the last page, I went and watched each of my three small boys sleeping soundly in his bed, and I vowed to take Cindy’s words of wisdom, encouragement, and warnings to heart. I felt a pang of melancholy as I realized that it will only be a brief moment—I will blink—and I will be in Cindy’s shoes. I do not want to squander even one second of the time that I have for this sacred work of motherhood.


This book is for the weary mama who needs to know that what she is doing really matters.  This book is for the new mama, who is full of visions and ideals about life with this precious new little person. This book is for the mama who is trying to trust the Holy Spirit to guide her while the cacophony of “experts” sings in her ear. This book is for the mama poring over curriculum magazines, burdened by all of the choices at her disposal, praying to make the right choice. This book is for the lonely mama, whose children have already left the nest and is wondering “what’s next?”


Cindy talks frequently about the “long haul” of mothering and homeschooling, and I will be forever grateful to her for giving us this book to fuel us for the journey. It is a beautiful book of encouraging words that I know I will turn to again and again.




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Spelling V: Blended Families

Part five of our Spelling series:

Blended Families

You’ve been working with your child on the single-sound consonants and the first sounds of vowels.  He knows that most of the e’s on the ends of words are silent but busy.  He’s wanting to know how to spell everything and trying to read signs and cereal boxes, so you are practicing with simple consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, and can’t explain everything fast enough.  Or . . . you’re not quite there yet?  That’s okay.  There’s no rush!

This is already tricky, so I won’t say that things start to get tricky once you move on to words of more than three letters.  But let’s add some more tools to the toolbox.  Remember the Berenstain Bears Bike Lesson?  Papa Bear keeps adding “one more” lesson before Small Bear gets to ride his new bike.  At least we do get to read before we get through all the lessons.  

One tool that will make it easier to learn longer words is to be aware of consonant blends.  You already do this without thinking about it and, for many children, their ears will tell them how this works without too much trouble.  “Blends” are two or more letters that work together to make one sound, or that run together in such a way that it seems like one sound.  The ck blend is an example of two letters that make only one sound.  There are two-letter blends that can be at the beginning and/or the end of words (twin, camp).  There are also three-letter blends (scrub, three, bench, catch).  

When I’m teaching reading, I don’t usually belabor the concept of blends with flashcards or worksheets, because, as I said, the ear of an English speaker will usually make short work of the concept.  But should it be necessary, here are some of the common beginning blends: bl, br, ch, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, sc, sh, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, th, tr, wh  

Some common ending blends: ch, ck, ft, lf, lk, lp, mp, nd, ng, nk, nt, pt, sh, st, th, xt  

The Writing Road to Reading teaches ch, sh, ck, ng, and wh as separate, single-sound phonograms rather than blends.  Th has two sounds, as in think or this.     

The internet is awash with worksheets, should you require reinforcement beyond simply reading.  

I think most of us appreciate words that sound like they look and look like they sound.  Word “families” are just what they sound like, words that are related by letter patterns.  This is where we get into how vowels find the help they need to say something besides their first sounds.  We already know that the silent e in a VCV word ending usually makes the vowel say its name.  Let’s look at some pattern families that also help the vowels say their names.  

We’ll start with a.  There are two phonograms, diphthongs, that have the letter a in them and make the sound of a’s name, ai and ay.  When we practice these in class, we said, “Ai, never used at the end of an English word.”  Because English words don’t end with i.  We say, “Ay, the a we use every day,” because the word day and all the days of the week end with this phonogram.  I can point to the days of the week on the calendar or the chalkboard each time we say this.  If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to make up something that does.  “We play in the hay every day,” or something like that.

Word families that use these phonograms would include: 

ail, bail, hail, braid, laid, maid, brain, main, pain, chain, bait, wait, faint, paint

bay, clay, day, gay, gray, hay, lay, may, pray, ray, say, stay, stray, tray, way

Again, we don’t spell this way just to make it harder for kids to learn.  The original pronunciation of words with ai would have been ah-i, or ah-ee (bah-il or bah-eel, for bail).  The ay would have been more like aye, as in, “Aye, aye, Sir.” But more open-mouthed than the way we usually say aye these days.  A shift several hundred years ago in the way we use the inside of our mouths to pronounce these vowel sounds is responsible for our pronunciation not matching our spelling.

Four other phonograms sometimes sound like a:

ei: rein, veil, their (Anciently: ray-in, vay-il, thay-ir)

eigh: eight, weigh, sleigh (ay-ight, way-igh, slay-igh)

ey:  prey, they, grey

ea: break, great, steak (bray-uk, gray-ut, stay-uk)

There are four phonograms for the e sound: ie, ei, ey, ee:

ee is the easiest. We memorize this as, “Ee, the two-letter e.”

ie: “E, ī, ĭ; If you say e, i, and you write e, i, you’re wrong.”

ei:  “E, ā, ĭ; e squeezed together make an ā and ĭ.”  Which may not make a whole lot of sense on close examination, but that’s how I learned it, and the concept is that the e and i have squeezed the middle sound, a, out of the picture.  

ey:Ay, ee; They see a monkey.”

Two phonograms for i: ie and igh. For igh we say, “igh, the three-letter ī.”

die, lie, pie, tie and fight, high, light, night, right, sight, tight

Sometimes y will say ī: by, dry, fly, sly, try, why

One of the WRtR spelling rules is, “Vowels i and y usually say ĭ, but may say ī.”  Perhaps we should add, “We don’t know why.”  Probably simply because we no longer say, bee, dree, flee, slee, tree, or whee.

For o, the phonogram oe.  O, the o of toe.”  And doe, foe, hoe, sloe, woe.

When it comes to u, there could be some confusion between the sound of the letter’s name and more of an oo sound.  Some of that is regional, which is fine, since that’s how we got this messy spelling in the first place. We learn the phonogram ew as “Ewww, you,” and I hold my nose like I smell a bad smell.  I find, however, that I often have a hard time figuring out how our book determines which sound certain words should have.  

chew, dew, drew, flew, grew, new, threw, and few, mew, pew.

The same for ou and ui.  I pronounce you as yew, but soup as soop. To me, fruit sounds like froot, and juice sounds like joos. Even in words like prude, rude, and rule, in which the e ought to be making the u say its name, they sound like prood, rood, and rool to me.     

So I’ll throw oo in here.  We learn this phonogram, “Oo, ŏ, ō, put your boot on your foot on the floor by the door.”

oo: boon, moon, soon, toot

ŏ: cook, foot, hook, look

ō: door, floor

We have more vowel blends, but we’ll leave it at vowels saying their names for this time.  I’m sure it makes them happy to get to do that once in a while.  

Posted in Book Lovers Community

How The West Was Won

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.21.33 AM

In April, 1959, Life Magazine started what they called “a great new series” entitled “How The West Was Won”. The series included photos and stories of the American expansion into the West. A story of the struggle between the settlers, wagon trains, railway lines, cowboys, ranchers, and Native Americans who were all fighting for different ways of life in the same space. The photo series was the creative impetus for a screenplay by the same name credited to James Webb, and turned into an incredible classic Western film.


Divided into 5 segments spanning, more or less, two generations, the movie runs 162 minutes and boasts an incredible Hollywood roster of all-stars including Jimmy Stewart, Carroll Baker, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, Karl Malden, Agnes Moorehead, John Wayne, George Peppard, Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda. The movie rightfully won all of the awards and was re-released recently with all kinds of digital scrubbing to clean up film quality. An all-star cast, a compelling drama, a magnificent score, and an incredible visual presentation made this Western beloved by millions, including me.

Take a look at this movie trailer

I grew up watching this film again and again and again. To my childish mind, this was not a “Western” (whatever that was, I could not say) but a great American story. A living history film of sorts. When, as a thirty-something mom, I discovered the author, Louis L’amour, I was shocked to find out that there was a book by the same name. Naturally, I presumed that the book preceded the movie, but I was wrong. Apparently, Louis L’Amour was one of many Americans who thought that it was one of the most interesting Western stories told, so he decided to capture it in a story that’s approximately double the length of many of his more popular books.


Thanks to his Lonesome Gods, I was already convinced that Louis L’Amour was one of the greatest cowboy writers. I was not at all surprised by his treatment of one of my favorite childhood films. The last three sections in particular, L’Amour takes the genius of the film and treats it as a skeleton upon which he can build flesh. He gives us new backstory for many of the characters, he explains the culture of the wagon trains in a way that the movie conveys only visually, and his love for the West is poured out in his descriptions. Where the movie presumed our knowledge of Westerns, L’Amour tells the story of the West so that we better understand the context of the action. For lovers of the film, it is a deeply fulfilling reading experience.


On my first reading of the book, I was a little saddened by what I perceived to be a lack of passion for the early sections of the story. On my second reading, I thought that the writing was stronger than I did the first time, but still lacking. It seems to me that two things are at work. Firstly, Jimmy Stewart’s genius is in his nonverbal’s and his accent. I think it was very hard for Louis L’Amour to capture Linus Rawlings in the text as well as Stewart conveys him in the film. Secondly, I think that Louis L’Amour has less sympathy for the journey west than he does for the actual life in the west – and it shows in the way he writes about both.

Both the film and the book have essentially five main sections. Each section is governed by one specific idea and specific characters feature most prominently in that particular section. In this way, we have many vignettes strung together through one family bloodline. Perhaps a little bit like L’Amour’s Sackett series, this is a series of stories of people who are connected in two meaningful ways: their family membership, and their need to move west. In each case, the section and the characters have their own stories to tell and have their own needs to resolve, but they work in such a way that we get a composite picture of two generations who claimed the west for America.


At one point, Zeb Rawlings sincerely gives his word to an Indian leader that the Iron Horse will not stop on their hunting land. The railroad, he promises, will go through the hunting land but it will not bring settlers to this space. This was a catastrophic misunderstanding on Zeb’s part and it is, more or less, the theme that propels the entire story forward. The West would be settled, no matter the cost, no matter the harsh environment, no matter the wars. It was not a question of whether or not the West would be won for America, it was simply a matter of who would get there first and who would make the most money doing it.

jimmy stewart

This incredible look into American history is obviously fiction, but like any good living history book, it beautifully captures the essence of what was happening and answers the question as to why. More importantly, this is one of those themes that is uniquely American. It is the story of a people, and some of their story persists in Americans today. Additionally, like Ralph Moody‘s desire to capture the stories of the West before they were gone, Louis L’Amour is reminding us that progress and expansion will always be a part of our story and that if we fail to remember the stories, we will lose the history that reminds us of where our future is.


I am always asked in which order to read books, and which order to read or view a book-to-movie project. Nearly always my answer is the same: publication order. This is not an exception. I think that L’Amour does a beautiful job of honoring the film, but I believe he thought that we would all know the movie before we picked up his book. While I think you can appreciate them in any order, I highly recommend starting with the movie, and then feasting on the novel.

One word of warning: there are one or two scenes in the story that are not for younger readers. I am including a photograph of the most concerning of them here. Parents may want to use some discretion as to how to handle this section if using the book for family read aloud or sharing with a cowboy loving young reader.





Posted in Book Lovers Community

Rory Story Cubes

Several years ago I *really* discovered Rory Story Cubes from a homeschool friend. Until that time, I understood that these funny little dice were a family game. Gathered around a table, families would roll the dice and then make up stories based on the pictures rolled. Interesting, potentially fun, but also anxiety producing in my crew. I just wasn’t interested. My friend, however, talked about using them differently. Using them as narration prompts, and that had my attention.

After experimenting with several approaches over the years, our family has found a way of using them that never fails to inspire meaningful conversation while being fun!

We call our morning table time Morning Symposium. We call it this to help us remember that this is a time of conversation and shared learning. During our Morning Symposium we read a variety of good and great living books. We do some Charlotte Mason style narration, but we strongly prefer animated conversation. Rory Story Cubes gives us that in spades. I could work to explain it, but I think that sharing a recent conversation may be more telling.

Before I share the conversation, I wanted to mention that we have used Rory Story Cubes in other ways as well. For example, we passed them around the dinner table and used them to tell stories about things we had thought about that day.  Anything respectful was fair game as long as it connected to the picture that was rolled. Another creative use has been to roll for our next read aloud – we choose a book that connects with whatever we have rolled.

The hardest part about the cubes is remembering to pull them out! My anxiety about being locked into story telling (instead of re-telling) has disappeared and now we see them as conversation prompts that take us on lovely and interesting family conversation journeys.

Over the last three years we have used the basic starter set and layered in a speciality set for added creative options.


Morning Symposium – June 2016 – Burgess Bird Book

Me: Ok, so we have a shooting star. Greta, you said that the shooting star reminds you of something.

Greta: Because it flies.

Me: Because a shooting star flies through the air?

Greta: Because of the house sparrow.

Me: The house sparrow in the Burgess Bird Book… what is the name of the house sparrow?

Greta: Bully.

Me: and Mrs. Bully?

Greta: Yep.

Me: But we also rolled a troll. How does the troll remind us of this story?

Michael: A cat!

Greta: Bully!

Me: How is Bully a troll?

Greta: Because he is being very mean.

Me: Good, because he is being mean. Mike, you said ‘a cat’ – how come?

Mike: Because trolls try to catch people and hurt people.

Me: Keep people off of their bridge, right? So who in the story was trying to block something or keep something back?

Greta: Mrs. Jenny Wren!

Me: Not Mrs. Wren… but

Greta: Mrs. Bully.

Me: Mrs. Bully was doing what?

Michael: Keeping the Wrens out of their house.

Me: Keeping the Wrens out of their house, right. Jack, what were you going to say?

Jack: Because they fighted and then they got the house back? The Wrens. That would be good.

Me: Yes, it would be good if they could get their house back. Is it easy to beat a troll?

All: No.

Me: Why is hard to beat a troll?

Mike: They are big.

Greta: They are strong.

Me: Do they threaten?

All: Yes. And they are mean.

Greta: Unless he is Ood in Wingfeather – because he is very nice.

Me: Unless he is Ood in Wingfeather, because he *is* very nice. Ok!

Michael: Yeah, the other trolls too!

Me: Well, once Janner recruited them, right? How about we go back to, who else is a troll in this book.

Michael: The cat, I think.

Me: Yeah, the cat. Why?

Michael: The cat wants to eat them!

Me: And that’s what trolls do, right? They try to eat people?

Michael: Yeah, they try to eat the billy goats. But, I think, the one-eyed troll from Greek myths is really bad and tried to eat Odysseus’s men!

Me: Oh! The Cyclops is a troll. That is a good idea! He is a Greek troll. What did he try to eat?

Michael: Odysseus’s men!

Me: Absolutely. Good job guys! Should we roll two more and see what we get?

Michael: Yes. Actually, could we roll them all?

Me: Ha! I think that rolling them all might be a little bit much for today! Ok, now we have garden tools – a rake and a shovel. How would garden tools connect with this story?

Michael: I know! It is set in an orchard!

Me: They are in the orchard – right!

Michael: And you rolled an eye! That’s for the cat’s eyes!

Me: Right! What color were the cat’s eyes?

Michael and Greta: Gold!

Me: Right, gold and menacing. What else could the eye mean? Greta?

Greta: Like Kalmar’s eyes when the Fang took over.

Me: That’s a great point! Good job. But what else could the eye signify in the Burgess Bird Book?

Michael: The birds SEE the cat.

Me: Yes! Was anything mentioned about watching in this story?

Michael: Yes! Peter Rabbit was watching the fight.

Greta: And he didn’t help. That is not good.

Me: Well, why didn’t Peter help.

Michael: He likes to watch and gossip.

Me: He doesn’t have a sword, does he?

Michael & Greta: Yeah.

Me: He is definitely not Picket, is he?

Greta: Peter is not that good of a character.

Me: Who does he remind us of in Black Star?

Greta: Galt!

Michael: I know! Kyle!



Me: Ummmmm… is he? If mom and dad tell you to do something awful, should you do it?

Michael & Jack: NO!

Me: So Galt and Kyle – they are like Peter Rabbit, how?

Michael: They are rabbits who betray.

Me: Who has Peter Rabbit betrayed?

Greta: The Wrens. By not helping.