Monday, February 18, 2019

The Fault in Our Stars – a Christian Mom’s review

Christian Review of The Fault in Our Stars

Plot Summary & 
Christian Review of 
A Fault in Our Stars 
by John Green.

Spoiler Alert!

I got this book in a grab bag of kids’ books from my thrift store. Since I was unfamiliar with it, I thought I’d read it before deciding when and if it would be appropriate reading for my young daughter. I have since discovered that the book was also made into a movie – which I have not seen and am not reviewing here.

The main characters in The Fault in Our Stars are a teenage girl, Hazel Grace, and her boyfriend, Augustus Waters. At the beginning of the story, Hazel is terminal, but Augustus is in remission. By the end of the book, his cancer has recurred, and he has died, and she does not have very long left to live. Their friend, Isaac, is also suffering from cancer, and in the course of the story is blinded by the disease, and his girlfriend callously dumps him for being blind. Much of the story’s action centers around the support group they all attend in their Episcopal Church basement. The characters are all nominally Christian, but their faith seems to be a very thin veneer over their lives, one that is more cultural than deep and profound.

The book focuses largely on Hazel’s obsession with a book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. (The book itself is a literary device of the author of The Fault in Our Stars – you can’t really go get it from your library).  An Imperial Affliction is a book about a girl with cancer, which abruptly ends with the main character’s death, leaving many unanswered questions. Hazel is obsessed with finding out how the book’s author envisioned what would happen to the characters after the end of the book. She shares this obsession with Augustus who then uses his “wish” (granted by a cancer charity) to transport them to meet the book’s author in Amsterdam. There they find that the book’s author is a huge disappointment, but they fall in love with each other. They return to America for the final stages of Augustus’ illness, and his death.

John Green is a very skilled writer, and presents the story eloquently. I found it a very compelling read, full of thought-provoking phrases, concepts, and symbolism. It might be a very helpful book to read to understand the psychological struggles of young people going through this experience – and experiencing this great trial with only a superficial Christian faith, or none at all.

I have very conflicted feelings about this book. The book examines the very real emotions and doubts that children and their parents deal with when suffering such a tragic, terminal illness. Throughout the book, witnessing the existential crises of the young characters, I was really pulling for them to find meaning, Truth, and, yes, God, in their struggles. And they themselves were looking for these things diligently.

In the course of the book, the characters swore a lot, referred to sex crudely, drank illegally, and had sex on their second date. There was no concern over whether risking pregnancy while terminally ill was fair to the baby they could conceive if their protection failed. There was no concept – at all – not even a passing thought– that sex should be in the context of marriage (other than a flippant remark in another context that Christian girls should "save it for marriage"). To the author’s credit, the sex scene was not titillating or graphic.

I suppose that many folks believe that books for young people must have this sort of content to be “authentic” or “real.” But, the fact is that many authentic young peoples’ lives are not filled with these things, and filling Young Adult genre books with these things actually serves the function of encouraging young people to make these things “normal” in their lives, too.  What reader of fiction has not gone out and tried a new food or a new experience after reading about it in a book?

I can understand a person who is confused about life and angry about being ill, might engage in all the above behaviors in the course of a search, so I was not overly concerned about this as an adult reader. But, since as a family we do not have the habit of swearing, or of thinking of sex as a thing that should happen on a second date, I would be greatly concerned at my daughter reading such things and deciding such behaviors were "okay."

The book’s characters theorized about whether eternity existed, some believing in an afterlife, some not. They were affiliated with a Church, and went to a cancer support group in its basement.  Augustus’s funeral was at a Church. But, they seemed to not worry much about whether God existed, much less to reach out for any personal relationship with Him (except with the symbolic representations of him). Sadly not a single adult in the book provided the children with the support or guidance that might help them understand life’s ultimate meaning.

A concept that runs throughout the book is "hamartia" - which many Christians will recognize as the Biblical Greek word for sin - but in this book it is translated as a fatal or tragic flaw, often outside a person's control. Cancer is referred to as an hamartia.

The book has a couple of men who symbolize God (according toFAQs on the author’s website) – one a character in An Imperial Affliction known as "Dutch Tulip Man"– and the other the author of that book, Peter Van Houten, . These men were SO exceedingly unlike the God of the Bible that I didn’t even realize their symbolism until I read the author’s explanation after finishing the book. The young people diligently search the book to find the meaning of life and death, with Hazel even referring to it has her “Bible.” The symbols depict God as either impotent, or worse, wounded, despondent, angry, alcoholic, pathetic, and largely malicious toward creation.  At the beginning of the book, Hazel believes that if she could just connect with the author of the book, she could die happy. By the end of the book, Hazel has completely and angrily rejected this man who is the book’s symbol for God, and instead has effectively made her beloved, dying boyfriend into her “god.”

The parents in the book were excellent, caring parents in every secular meaning of the word. They truly loved their children, did everything they could to help them and to communicate love to them,  and care for their psychological health. But other that the occasional vague feel-good reference to God, the parents were as spiritually rootless as the children, and so were unable to help in the ways that truly would have mattered the most.

At the end of the book, the characters sort out their own answer to the meaning of life, death, and suffering – which the book depicts (among other things) as eulogies that the teens write for each other, in advance of death. The book’s conclusion seems to border on nihilism – that the most we can hope for in a well-lived life is to not injure each other too much. No eternal purpose in life is really envisioned, as the existence of Eternity itself seems to be a matter of opinion among the characters. The final lesson seems to be that it is up to each person to figure out what the meaning of life is for them – and there are no right or wrong answers. No thought is given to the Revealed Truth that Christianity offers us. Instead, sentimental opinions about human kindness are offered to replace it.

Whether to let a young person read this? Tough question. If they tend toward depression and despondency, this book’s nihilism might tip them over the edge. The book’s endorsement of swearing, vulgarity, and premarital sex might encourage them to also take these things casually. Since those things were done by sympathetic main characters, it is very easy to see these actions as okay, or even right “in their circumstances” –which is of course, an extremely dangerous conclusion. The book might pull the teen toward Atheism and/or Nihilism. But, if you are a parent whose child is drawn to this book, you might read it at the same time they do, and use its text to open up great discussions with them on these very issues, and help them find the very real answers that God offers us on these questions. A good parent read-along might be (in addition to the Bible, of course) TheProblem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. I don’t think it would be wise to allow any young person to read The Fault in Our Stars without any parental guidance or assistance. Indeed, a lot of adults might even be spiritually damaged by reading this if they lack a strong Christian faith.

All human beings struggle with the questions of life’s ultimate meaning, the reality of a God who Loves us, the purpose of suffering, the reality of life after death. For many people, the teen years are a time when this struggle is most pronounced (others deal with this question at other stages of life). And, of course, a terminal disease amplifies these questions for all of us.

This author's gifts give him a HUGE potential to reach out to young people and help them find the Ultimate Truth. He is an extremely skilled writer, and has a great way with kids (my own daughter LOVES his Youtube Crash CourseHistory videos – and begs to watch them despite the swearing. Sadly, I can’t always permit it – because of the swearing and occasional political commentary in some episodes.) He has the potential to do a lot of good in this life with his gifts. I can only conclude that it is possible that he himself has not yet developed the kind of deep spiritual life that provides the Saints with heartfelt, unshakable answers to life’s most difficult questions. Not “easy answers” but the kind of certainty of God’s Love that allowed these Saints to embrace martyrdom without hesitation.  I pray that John Green might progress in his own spiritual journey, to a certainty of the Goodness and Love of God, and His Resurrection so that we might share in His Eternal Life. And, with that experiential knowledge of God, might use his great gifts to reach out to young people and help them.

Edited August 2021:
Long after writing this post, I encountered another resource I would recommend.If you are looking for a way to discuss these ideas with a young person, but in a way that encourages his or her faith, I would encourage the Movie, Until Forever, on Redeem TV . It is a true story about a young couple in love who are dealing with cancer. It is portrayed very well, with a positive faith message.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Homeschool Writing & Typing - for Cheap or Free!

Homeschool Writing and Typing - Cheap or Free!
Writing involves a complex set of skills, making it a daunting subject to homeschool. But, when those skills are broken down into groups or categories of skills, quite frequently the teaching of it seems much simpler, and in fact, it can be done - like the other subjects - for cheap or free!

These are the materials that have worked, or are still working well in our homeschool. I used some trial and error finding these resources - I'm sharing "the best of" here : )

Here are some categories, and the resources I have used for them - most are free!

Modeling through Reading- FREE

It is my firm belief that the most effective writing instruction is READING well-written books and other materials. The BEST modeling resource is a well-translated Bible. It is impossible to be a good writer without reading well, and reading a lot. For this reason, I allowed my daughter several years of reading before I embarked on any sort of rigorous writing curriculum. In the early years, we just practiced writing letters and words, copywork, typing, and the occasional short composition. So, here are my posts on reading:

Teach Reading with Confidence: Homeschool for Chea...  

Read-Alouds, Best Family

Manuscript - Forming letters - CHEAP OR FREE

For the earliest writing practice, we used a wipe-off book like this (long out of print), that I found at a thrift store. There are lots of models of this sort of wipe off book for kids - choose one that appeals to your beginning writer:

Fisher Price Little People Wipe Off Alphabet Book

 Later, we moved into doing copywork from this site. They have a few free downloads, they also have inexpensive books to download and print.

Copycat Books

Cursive - forming words - FREE

I tried several resources to teach this skill, and it just wasn't working very well. I found this great, free resource, and it worked great for us. And, even better, it was free & didn't take very long!

This is a direct link to the PDF, but I enthusiastically recommend Don Potter's Website - it has a HUGE number of great free resources, including many on teaching reading well.

Direct Path to Cursive

Typing - FREE

Typing is a skill that many think may be more important than handwriting in the coming years. Touch typing is a skill that is necessary for academic success - and for success in many careers.  (altho there are brilliant hunt-and-peck typists, they waste a lot of their own time by not developing this skill!)

Here are a couple of typing sites that we have found tremendously helpful.

Typing Club


We also saw a BIG boost in skill levle when we did these, but we did spend under $5. for purchase.

 Typing Instructor for Kids
(and it's Disney themed cousin- which we found in a thrift store : )

Spelling - FREE

For Spelling, I simply use the McGuffey Speller. It works great for us.  I actually inherited a hard copy from my Mother - but if I hadn't I would have downloaded it for free!  I encourage my daughter to study by observing which rules are followed by the words, and which words are spelled differently that she might expect from simply sounding out the word. Where are there double consonants? etc. She has become very efficient at learning new spelling words by this method.

Grammar - FREE

In the home, most of our skill with grammar comes from two sources: 

1) Speaking correctly in the home environment makes proper grammar "sound right" when we hear it. And of course, speaking incorrectly on a consistent basis does the opposite.

2) Study of a foreign language. Figuring out which word in the target language to replace with which English word - and why - provides a great foundation for English grammar.

But, additionally, here are some of our favorite Grammar resources

 Parts of Speech Poem

Our Favorite Online Videos
Khan Academy Grammar 

Grammar Gorillas Game 

E-Learning for Kids Language Arts 

We also liked this book, which we found at a thrift store:

Painless Grammar 

Composition and Creative Writing - FREE

The number one source of writing skill is practice and then revision with an adult who can write. Two great resources we have found are: 

When my daughter was very young, we used a book called "Story Starters" from the Target Dollar Bin. It was simply a book of fun writing prompts with pictures and some space with wide lines for a little one to write in big letters. I cannot find these books any more, but if you do an internet search for "Writing Prompts for Kids" you'll find a slew - and some of them are likely to resonate with your student!

After that, we have LOVED for both grammar and composition:

Amy Maryon's FREE English Texts

Mrs. Maryon's books are Workbook style, with only a short explanation of the assignment. For example, She might say something like, "Write a descriptive paragraph about your favorite meal" For assignments like those, I hop over to youtube and search for "writing descriptive paragraphs for kids" - and find a few explanations for my daughter to learn from along with Mrs. Maryon's excellent lessons.

We also used basic instruction on "P.E.A." Writing structure. Though we prefer to call it "T.E.A." - Topic, Examples/Evidence, Analysis.  It's an easy way to learn to construct a basic paragraph, and later, a basic paper.

This video has been a great help, too, along with some other Nessy channel offerings : )


If you liked these ideas, you might like the other posts in this series:

Teaching Math: Home School for Cheap or Free

Science Fun Homeschool Video Day

Teach Reading with Confidence: Homeschool for Chea...

Home School for Cheap or Free: Why Greek is Better than Latin!
Home School for Cheap or Free: Greek Reading

Home School for Cheap or Free: Greek Conversation

Great Ways to Homeschool History 

History & Geography Videos, Homeschool Video Fun Day
Teaching Music: Homeschool for Cheap or Free

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Pokeball Pinata, Quick, Easy, Frugal, No Mess - in under an hour!

Pokeball Pinata, Quick, Easy, Frugal, No Mess- in under an hour!
It's no secret that my daughter LOVES Pokemon! Like most kids, she also loves parties. For years now, she has wanted tp offer a Pinata at a party that she hosted.

I looked for Pokemon-Themed Pinatas online, and they were pricey. Cool, but not my spending style.

I thought about making an old-fashioned Papier Mache Pokeball at home, but I didn't relish the time and mess involved!

So, I devised this work-around. An easy-to-make Pokeball Pinata in well under an hour!

First, I bought a Paper Lantern at the Dollar Tree. I also picked up some Red Tissue Paper, White Tissue Paper, Double Sided Clear Tape, and Black Electrical Tape. Total Cost, about $5., with lots of leftover supplies for other projects : )

At home, I opened the lantern, and cut a couple of pieces of scrap cardboard (from a cereal box) to block the lower opening. It was a simple matter of "weaving" the cardboard under the bottom wire, while putting the ends inside the lantern.

My daughter and I did this project together, one holding while the other taped.

We found the "equator" of the sphere, and used the double sided tape to attach a rectangle of white tissue paper - starting at the equator. Then, creasing and folding the paper, we taped it, shaping it to the form of the sphere, until the bottom was covered, and the bottom opening was concealed.

Then we turned the turned the sphere over, and taped the red around the top edge of the equator, folding and taping to shape to the top half of the sphere, tucking the ends in the top opening (rather than covering it) so that we could fill it later.

Next, we taped the electrical tape around the equator itself, concealing the place where the red and white papers met.

Last, we made the front "button" of the Pokeball, by cutting a circle from the lid of an old 1 Quart Yogurt container. We edged the circle with more electrical tape, and fastened it to the front.


Now, it was a simple matter of pouring goodies into the top opening, and attaching a cord to the top wire to hang it.

The kids loved hitting it with a stick on party day! And it was JUST durable enough to allow several children a chance to smack it, without being SO durable as to frustrate them with it taking too long to burst.

A great time was had by all! The young party guests loved it!

Happy Crafting!

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