Updated: Feb 6, 2019

Books are one of the great subjects of my Literature & Larder class, but they are also where I go digging for the information I share with my students, and the way I keep myself inspired to teach. I thought you might enjoy some of these as well!

Queen Victoria's Highland Journals, Edited by David Duff


This is the record of Queen Victoria's travels in Scotland in her very own words. She and Albert loved to escape to the beautiful, wild countryside of Scotland. Together they bought and rebuilt Balmoral Castle which became the Scottish home of the Royal Family.






Jane Austen's Country Life by Deirdre LeFaye


The by-line of this book sums it up quite well: "uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels." This book gives insight into daily life at the rectory where the Austen's lived, including the farm their family ran to supplement their income. The book also talks about the county of Hampshire they resided in, what a rural, farming year looks like, and some of the unique joys and trials of living in the country. The book includes period drawings, paintings, and sketches.




Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis


This was a fun, biography-like book which explored the lives of all the Brontes, but particularly focused on Anne, author of "Agnes Grey" and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall." Ellis' premise is that Anne may be the most talented of the Bronte sisters, even though the others tend to get the most attention. The book explores the family dynamics and relationships that cause us to see the Brontes the way we do now. (Ellis turns the book almost into a memoir by adding some of her own life story as she explores Anne's life, which is not my favorite part. Otherwise the book is enjoyable and very helpful.)



Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin


This is a full-length biography, and a well-written one for those interested in exploring at length the life of Charles Dickens. Close examination of a person's life usually reveals things that bother us, and this will be the case with Dickens. Understanding where a man or woman comes from is of great help in understanding their works, and Dickens' life, especially his childhood, informs his writing in every way.






Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott


Louisa May Alcott served as a nurse for six weeks in a Washington, D.C. hospital during the Civil War. These "Sketches" chronicle her time there in the hospital and the things she experienced. Those six weeks would have a life-long impact, emotionally and psychologically, but also physically.







A Passion for the Impossible by Lillias Trotter


This book tells the story of Lillias Trotter, a talented Victorian artist who decided to take her paint box and move to Algeria to become a missionary rather than pursue becoming England's "greatest living artist." The story of Lillias is one of tender yet steel-strong faith in God and how that faith was worked out in years of ministry in a foreign land.






A Blossom in the Desert by Lillias Trotter


This book contains quotes and artwork from Lillias Trotter. Lillias used watercolor and gouache to capture the beauty of the Algerian landscape and her paintings are breathtaking. The excerpts from her diary give a glimpse into the faith God built into her heart over the years.




House of Dreams: the Life of L. M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg


This recently published biography of L. M. Montgomery is aimed at young adults and thus is a very readable telling of Montgomery's life story. It's fascinating to see how so much of Montgomery's own life ended up in the characters she created such as Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon.





The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables by Catherine Reid


The next best thing to traveling to Prince Edward Island is opening this book and jumping into the natural world of Anne of Green Gables. Filled with picture after picture of the lush beauty of PEI, this book also gives glimpses into L. M. Montgomery's life and extended family. If you love Anne, you'll love perusing this book!





Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison


Dennison's biography is recently written and kept to a length that is easily manageable. Beatrix Potter's life is always fascinating and I particularly enjoyed reading about the literary influences in her younger years that formed her imagination and fueled her own writing.






Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C. S. Lewis


This is an easy-to-read autiobiography in which C. S. Lewis tells about his childhood and the people and ideas that influenced him. If you enjoy the Narnia books, you will enjoy seeing how specific events, interesting people, and good books, gave Lewis the inspiration for what he created.






Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan


This work of historical fiction tells the story of Joy Gresham, the woman who eventually married C. S. Lewis. The book is fascinating and well-written, and even praised by Joy Gresham's son, Douglas. It is a delightful way to learn more about C. S. Lewis and the intriguing relationship that formed between him and Joy. It was one of my favorite reads in 2018.






J. R. R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator by Hammond & Scull


Few people realize that Tolkien was an artist as well as a writer. In fact, he illustrated the first printing of the Hobbit! And, he wrote Christmas letters to his children each year complete with painted stamps on the envelopes and drawings in the letters! This book will introduce you to Tolkien the artist!






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Tea with Queen Victoria

This year got off to a fun start with two weeks of teaching at my kids' high school. Their spring semester begins with a January-term: a two-week session in which students take a three-hour morning class and a three-hour afternoon class each day. My class, "Literature & Larder," offered a chance for students to immerse themselves in the lives, natural surroundings, literary works of, and period tea-times of ten different authors or artists roughly in the Victorian Era.


Tea-time in class

During our three hours together we spent approximately 35-40 minutes talking about the life history of the day's author and the natural surroundings that impacted them. After that we pulled out our paints to record in our sketchbooks those natural elements talked about. To keep everyone focused on painting, we popped in a movie based on one of the author of the day's works. For instance, the day we studied Queen Victoria we talked about her love of Scotland, looked at some of her own artwork from her travels there, and then watched an episode of the recent "Victoria" series which was set at Blair Castle in Scotland.


Tea with Jane Austen and Emma Woodhouse

The last hour of our class we partake in a period tea-time, complete with real china, real candles, real tea, and real food: all designed around the time period and even foods mentioned by the author in journals or in their literary works. This is also my way of promoting the taking of afternoon tea, showing the current generation how truly cool this can be.


Tea with the Bronte Sisters

I love the discussions that take place, the discoveries, the connections that students make in their minds as we talk. I want the students to see how the real life events that took place in the life of the author ended up in their books of fiction or artwork.


A Dickens' Christmas Tea

This year I added Charles Dickens to the author round-up. Oh what fun! I introduced the students to Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, mince pies, and corny cracker jokes. We discussed what a Victorian Christmas looked like and watched "The Man Who Invented Christmas." Everyday I think "today is my favorite day."


Drawings by Student

Most of the students who opt to take my class are serious art students who already enjoy spending hours a day drawing or painting. But there are usually a few students who are new to art and it is a challenge for them to pick up a paintbrush and attempt to capture something on paper. I am always especially pleased to see these students take the challenge and surprise us with their hidden abilities.


Tea sent by Mr. Lawrence to the March Sisters

I love researching historic recipes and trying new things. This year I discovered a chocolate cake from the 19th century -- quite different from the chocolate cake we are used to. It seemed the perfect thing to make for Louisa May Alcott's tea. The taste reminded me of the spiced hot chocolate served at Williamsburg.


Lillias Trotter Tea

Lillias Trotter was also a new addition this year. It was so special to introduce the class to this talented artist, mentored by the famous Victorian art critic, John Ruskin. Lillias decided to move to Algiers to be a missionary rather than become "England's greatest living painter." She took her art with her and used it to bring joy and beauty to thousands as well as to privately celebrate her daily life through her journals. The students truly loved experimenting with gouache and learning about this inspiring woman.


Beatrix Potter Tea

What is not to love about Beatrix Potter! Surely this is the best day? I love passing out the little story books so each student can have one to draw from. I love watching "Miss Potter" with the class. I love introducing students to Beatrix' life! This year we invited 14 teachers to join us for tea and a sketchbook viewing on Beatrix Potter day. The students were so excited to have "their" teacher come and see the beautiful artwork they had been creating.


Tea with L. M. Montgomery

Then there was L. M. Montgomery and "Anne of Green Gables." Another favorite day, complete with home-made raspberry cordial. Many students have never seen the movie, or read any of the "Anne" books. I particularly enjoyed studying the British literary influences on Montgomery and the fact that she spent her honeymoon traveling in Great Britain to visit the homes of her literary heroes!


C. S. Lewis Connections

Each day we spend time talking about the literary connections each author has. Who were they influenced by? Who did they influence? There is quite a bit of overlap and I wish there was a way to create a huge chart with everyone's information crowded together. For many of these authors I have found quotes telling us directly what their thoughts were about the various literary influences on them. It's so fascinating!


Hobbit Feast

Of course we had to end with a Feast! That's why I save Tolkien for last. And I conned my boys into finding and moving chairs for me so we could all sit around the table. There is so much symbolism in sitting together around a table and it brings me so much joy. Each student had to answer a question such as, "Which author would you like to be?", "Which author had the hardest childhood?", or "Which food did you least like?".


Remnants of the Hobbit Feast

And now the class is over and most of the china is packed away. I thought the cooking and baking were over for awhile too, but then I opened my to-do list for this week and realized my next project involves a lot of cooking and baking. Of course it does! Groceries have been obtained and the baking will commence, maybe tomorrow.


I'm eager to share a few of the books I've read in recent months in preparation for this class. I'll be back shortly to do so!


September in the Woods

September in the woods ushered in hints of fall with the first fallen leaves and the subtle yellowing of the green trees. Yellow and purple dominated on my woods walk with Golden Rod in bloom and Great Lobelia. We used to have the most beautiful Purple Asters blooming next to the Golden Rod but each year there are fewer asters.


The amount and variety of berries surprised and delighted me. I saw at least three varieties of Honeysuckle berries on my neighborhood trail: a bright, light red, deep red, and a deep purple red. The white Dogwood berries are so beautiful with dark green leaves behind them. I've never noticed the Greenbrier berries before but owing to the quantity of them they have been in my woods for a long time.



Giant Puffball Mushrooms

It was such a fun surprise to run into these Giant Puffball mushrooms at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. the largest I saw was about the size of a soccer ball. One of these years I need to cook them as they are edible when fresh (before they turn yellow). Of course I couldn't take the mushrooms at the Art Museum so I'll need to find another source.



Rose Hips at Eagle Creek

I also noticed the ripening of the Rose Hips along the edges of Eagle Creek. I love their bright red color against the deep blue of the water.


And now we head into October where the changes will be so great and so expansive it will be hard to keep track of them all! Beauty will be everywhere! Have a wonderful month exploring your nearby nature!



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