Category Archives for Books

6 Atlases Worth Drooling Over

Books with maps in them are the best kind of books. I still recall the maps from My Father’s Dragon, Moominland, Redwall, and (of course) anything by Tolkien. Some of them are hanging on my wall at home, directly opposite a large map of the (real) world. But a step better than books with maps are books of maps.

When I was six years old I made my first atlas. It was a small collection of maps I had traced from our world atlas consisting only of coastlines, country boarders, and country names. If I remember rightly, it was a grand total of seven pages long — just enough space for each continent to make an appearance. At the time, I could barely read most of the words I was tracing. After tracing for several days (or maybe an hour, time’s tricky when you’re six) I took my pages, stapled them together with all the care an elementary school child can muster, and presented it, beaming, to my dad for father’s day. Thus began my life-long love affair with Atlases.

Growing up, I spent hours making maps of places both real and imagined. I would never have guessed that this pastime would culminate in a project like WonderMaps, although I think my parents suspected as much. They were always happy to provide atlases and maps for me to peruse. We had some wonderful reference atlases and a few good historical atlases on hand. However, it wasn’t until I was writing North Star Geography that I discovered how many different kinds of atlases there are. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite kinds of atlases in hopes that you, like my parents, can use them to foster your child’s love of geography, and really their whole love of learning. Continue reading

Choosing the Right Atlas

There are so many types of atlases that it can be hard knowing what it the right choice for your homeschool library. Here are things to consider plus some of my top picks.


1. The Age of the Atlas

Please don’t use a grossly out-of-date atlas for your studies. If you bought one at a yard sale for 50 cents, but it was printed in 1985, well, you got what you paid for. Country names and borders change frequently. Digital atlases usually update frequently enough that this isn’t a problem, but paper atlases either need to be replaced, or you can draw in new borders or write in changed names yourself.

2. Atlases and Age of Student

It is important to match, as best as possible, the right atlas for the student’s age. The level of detail in an atlas is usually a good indicator of its usability. The older the student, the more information can be put on a map and still be useable. The younger the student, the more important it is to keep the maps clean and simple for easy readability. Too many place names will be unreadable for younger kids, while insufficient detail will frustrate older students who can’t find what they need.

Also consider the use of color, if it includes any almanac-esque information, if it includes topography or just political information, and if it’s visually appealing for your student.

3. Atlases: Modern Versus Historical and/or Biblical

I believe a good home library will have all three! Why? Current or modern atlases show you the world today. Historical and Biblical atlases show you the world yesterday. Need to find Thebes, the extent of the Holy Roman Empire, or where Paul’s Missionary Journeys took place? Then you would look in a historical or Biblical atlases.

Most mainstream historical atlases will have few, if any, maps showing biblical history. That’s why we also recommend having a good Bible Atlas on hand as well—especially when studying ancient civilizations. Bible Atlases are great for both history class and Bible study, although they’re a bit too specialized to be your only historical atlas. You won’t find the Inca Empire or the Han Dynasty in a Bible atlas. So the reality is that all types of atlases are important when studying history.


Top Picks:


[Shameless Plug:] I designed WonderMaps with all three of these considerations in mind.

  1. I do my best to stay on top of changes to political geography and periodically updates the WonderMaps software. Free updates are included in your purchase so that you always have up-to-date maps.
  2. WonderMaps allows you to select what features to show on your printable maps, whether you want bare outlines or the whole kitchen sink.
  3. With WonderMaps, you get modern, historical, and Biblical maps in a single product. You can easily search for what you want and print out the maps you need.
[/Shameless Plug]

Besides WonderMaps, I suggest these excellent print resources. Links will take you to the Bright Ideas Press store:

The Student Bible Atlas

This book is our favorite, inexpensive Bible atlas. We find it easy for younger students to use while being compelling enough for adults.

Then and Now Bible Atlas

This atlas adds a wow! factor with cool overlays showing modern borders over ancient sites.

Rand McNally Atlas of World Geography

This modern atlas is for secondary students from grades 6-12.

Rand McNally Historical Atlas of the World

This historical atlas is for secondary students from grades 6-12.

Schoolhouse Illustrated U.S.A Atlas

This modern USA atlas is for grades K-6.

Schoolhouse Illustrated World Atlas

This modern world atlas is for grades K-6.

5 Ways To Read To Your Kids (So They’ll Actually Listen)

Bedtime stories at my house are a zoo. The pre-schooler tries to delay bedtime by asking a bazillion repetitive questions. The toddler does not want to sit still and read. The baby is ready to nurse. My wife has a bad case of end-of-the-day frazzles. Inwardly, I’m bemoaning the fact that our kids have yet to fall in love with books (because, they’re supposed to be reading before age 2, right?). We’re all a bit cranky.

So you know what we’re doing?

We’re giving up.

That’s right. Bedtime stories, that beloved childhood staple, are going to disappear from our home.

Instead, we’re replacing them with the following story-times that totally work for us:

1) Breakfast Stories. The kids are captive and are too busy eating to interrupt unnecessarily.

2) Bath-Time Stories. The older two love playing in the tub, will listen quietly so as to prolong the fun.

3) Wake-Up Stories. It takes the kids a while for their hyperness to kick in, so we can squeeze in a story while they’re still rubbing the sleeps out of their eyes. Plus, they’re extra snuggly when they wake up 🙂

4) Grandparents’ House Stories. Me-Ma and Grandad could sort socks with the them and the kids would be thrilled. No chance they’ll turn down a chance to read a book with them.

5) In-The-Car Stories. While we don’t spend a lot of time in the car, the kids love to listen to audiobooks anyway, so this is a no-brainer.

We probably won’t get rid of bedtime stories altogether. Some nights it works out really well. But at the least we’ll stop making it the most important reading time of the day, knowing that there’s plenty of other times and ways to read to the kiddos.

How about you: when do you find reading to your kids works best?

5 tips for better book browsing

Being at conventions and watching thousands of people flip through books trying to determine if they need them or not has its ups and downs. Sometimes people just look at the title and *know* they need that book. They’re often right and are shortly proud owners of useful and enjoyable reads. On the other hand, I’ve seen people spend five seconds glancing at something that they *should* buy and put it back on the shelf without a second thought. Sometimes their friends will talk them out of a good purchase and into a mistake. It’s hard for us vendors, knowing what is in our books and having heard about your life and homeschool — we don’t want to be pushy, but we also don’t want you to miss out on something wonderful.

I have come to the conclusion that the single least effective way to determine if you should buy a book is also the most common. Please, please, please do not do this simple thing – it does not help you. I have caught myself doing it lately and was ashamed.

PLEASE DO NOT hold the book in your dominant hand THUMBING BACKWARDS through the book in hope that something will FLY OFF THE PAGES screaming “YES! I’M THE BOOK YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” You inevitably miss the most important features of the book and wind up judging it based on the amount of white space and the quality of the illustrations.

Instead, I’d like to share with you 5 tips for better book browsing.

1) What’s on the front and back cover?

        Does it sound like it addresses your question or meets your need? The back cover description may be more helpful then the title. Blue Like Jazz is not about color theory or music, but you wouldn’t know that without reading the back, or at least the subtitle. Try not to be put off by bad cover art – sometimes the best books just aren’t pretty.

2) What’s in the Table of Contents (TOC)?

        The TOC should tell you exactly what topics are addressed, as well as which ones are given priority and which ones are glossed over. If the book is on a topic that interests you, or one that you’ve read much about elsewhere, the TOC will tell you if what you’re holding is new material or old hat. Obviously, a work of fiction’s TOC will be less telling then non-fiction, but otherwise you should be able to get a good outline of the material in a few pages.

3) Who wrote it?

        Check the author’s credentials. Lots of letters after a name is good, but look for practical experience and wisdom in their subject area. I tend not to trust parenting books by people who’s eldest is not yet 12. (Come back and write to me when you have several well-adjusted grown-ups under your belt.) However “twenty-five years on the missions field,” “professor of (subject) at (respectable institution),” “mother of 7,” etc. mean a lot.

4) Who recommends it?

        Check to see if there are reviews, praise, or a forward from anyone you know. Sometimes, just knowing that someone you trust likes the book is enough. Sometimes, knowing that someone I mistrust likes the book tells me everything I need to know.

5) What does chapter 3 look like?

        Often I like to pick a single chapter and quickly scan it to see if the writing style, lesson set-up, or even (and I know this is silly) the font is appealing. If there’s a “Letter to the teacher,” “Introduction,” or “How to use this book” always read that first, then pick a random chapter to peruse. The “flavor” of the book makes a big difference.

We all judge books by their covers, but we’ll make better judgement if we ask better questions while we browse.

Have you ever *almost* missed out on a great book because of its cover?