Books We Read: Martin Luther, Menno Simons, and the Northern Renaissance

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Last week, we continued our study of the Renaissance and its beautiful art, and the Reformation. Oh, what joy for an artist who loves Church history! Our reading was fascinating, and it gave us all the opportunity to delve into a truly tumultuous period of time. (Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list of our resources… just some of the extra reading we enjoyed.)

This week, we’re studying more of the Reformation, focusing on the Northern states and including Martin Luther and the Covenanters – with some Shakespeare thrown in. Look for that post next week!

Night Preacher, Louise A Vernon (Historical Fiction, Grades 4-6)

Ms. Vernon paints an exciting picture of the life of Menno Simons, told from the viewpoint of his daughter Bettje.  As a leader of the Anabaptists, Simons preached at night, fleeing the persecution of both the Catholics and the Protestants.  Bettje and her family spend their lives on the run, while those who follow Simons are often martyred.  Characteristic of Ms. Vernon’s approach, she asks many more questions than she answers. 

Thunderstorm in Church, Louise A Vernon (Historical Fiction, Grades 4-6)

This was our last Vernon book for the year.  We read:  The Beggar’s Bible (John Wycliffe), The Bible Smuggler (William Tyndale), Ink on His Fingers (Johann Gutenberg), The Man Who Laid the Egg (Erasmus), The King’s Book (The King James Bible), Secret Church (the Anabaptists), Night Preacher (Menno Simons) and Thunderstorm in the Church (Martin Luther).  All in all, I was pleased with her portrayal of some of the key figures of the Reformation.  Coupled with our other readings, the boys have a decent understanding of some of the issues and divisions during that period of time in Church history.
 Thunderstorm in the Church introducers readers to Martin Luther through the eyes of his son.  These are the years after Luther’s reform of the Church, and all events pertaining to that are told in hindsight.  Hans (Luther’s son) has many questions (typical of Vernon) and spends time contemplating his father’s faults (like his temper) and virtues (like his generosity).  Vernon does a fair job of portraying Luther, with his outbursts and his ongoing fight with the devil, as well as summing up a good deal of his views in an understandable, engaging manner.

Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare Retold), Martin Waddell and Alan Marks (Annotated Literature, Grades 1-3)

This is an attractive easy reader with glossy pages and engaging watercolors.  Waddell and Marks told the story well, without avoiding some of Romeo and Juliet’s unwise decisions.  Honestly, my favorite part of the book was an epilogue written by Dr. Catherine Alexander.  She spends several pages pointing out the poor decisions made by many of the characters.  There is much to discuss in Romeo and Juliet with children.  I think it is wise to be aware of the storyline in any Shakespeare play before reading it (or handing it) to your child, even an abbridged version.

Courage and Conviction; Volume 3: Chronicles of the Reformation Church, Mindy and Brandon Withrow (Church History, Grades 4-6)

Oh, how I love this series.  I paid homage to the History Lives series in Church History Worth Selling Your Silverware For.  I couldn’t imagine not including this book in our studies of the Reformation, so I am reading it aloud as we go.  This week, we read “What Was the Reformation Church?”, an article which explains the chaos and differing views of the time without taking sides.  We also read “Desiderius Erasmus:  The Hen that Laid the Egg of Luther” which told (in the form of fictionalized biography) the story of Erasmus, his desire to translate the Bible, and his dismay over Luther’s hard-line tactics and character-defaming writing. 

Acts (The Bible!)

I said I wasn’t going to include the Bible reading we do, but I decided I just couldn’t leave it out.  How exciting Acts was for the boys!  Trials, martyrdom, arrests, supernatural events, shipwrecks and a snake bite!  Oh, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  What’s not to love in the tale of a man spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the lands we’ve spent the last year and a half learning about?

Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists (DVDs), Mike Venezia

We read some great books about Renaissance artists this month.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want to expose our terrific curriculum (Tapestry of Grace), so I won’t share the titles of the books.  However, we did find this fun DVD series at the library, and we had fun watching the DVDs over Christmas break.   We started with Renaissance artists and expanded to other eras, discussing the impact of the Renaissance on each artist.  Each series had a cartoon artist sharing his or her biography, opinions and work, while the actual works of art were shown.  I was happy to see that some works were censored, such as Michelangelo’s David, which was shown above the waist or below the thighs.  My children (2nd and 3rd grade) laughed through much of each cartoon, yet came away with a greater understanding of each artist, and art history in general.  We watched DVDs on:  Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Monet, Cassatt, Rembrandt and Warhol (his lifestyle may be distasteful to you – we discussed some of the things the cartoon Warhol had to say).

What did your family read last week?

~Danika Cooley


  1. says

    Sounds like we’re in exactly the same place in history! My kids loved the Rembrandt DVD–they thought it was hilarious:). Instead of Romeo and Juliet we did a Midsummer Night’s Dream and read Bruce Colville’s beuatifully illustrated version first. Then watched a children’t version on DVD and finished up with a BBC version with Helen Mirren. I was surprised that even my second grader watched all of the BBC version and seemed to enjoy it. We love the History Lives series as well. I enjoyed picking up on some things I somehow missed growing up. Thanks for the post!

    • says

      I didn’t realize there was a children’s version of Midsummer Night’s Dream on DVD! I love that story. We’ll be reading it in a couple of weeks. We’re using Tales of Shakespeare by E. Nesbit as our main source. I really like her versions so far.

      History Lives is just wonderful. My boys really enjoy it, and I look forward to reading it each week!

      Thank you so much for sharing. It’s great to hear how someone else is tackling the same period of history!

      ~ Danika

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