Friday, April 05, 2013

Salem Ridge Press: Leofwine the Monk {Schoolhouse Review}

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Salem Ridge Press offered 12 different books for Schoolhouse Review Crew members to review. We were sent Leofwine the Monk.
Before I jump right into reviewing Leofwine the Monk, I'd like to share a little about the publishing company, Salem Ridge Press, which was established just a few years ago in 2005. Salem Ridge Press is dedicated to republishing quality, wholesome children's books from the 1800's and early 1900's.  In order for all of their republished books to meet their high standard of moral content according to Philippians 4:8, a few passages and illustrations required some minor editing. Their desire is to truly provide God-honoring historical fiction so that parents can feel comfortable giving these books to their children.
Currently, there are thirty titles from which to choose, most being available as hardcover or softcover. You can view sample chapters of each book on the website.
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Leofwine the Monk, written by Emma Leslie and first published in 1875, is just one of 24 titles included in the Emma Leslie Church History Series. At present, the first 13 titles are available for purchase on the website.

Set during the 11th century at a time when Britain was divided into many different kingdoms (Wales, Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, East Anglia), Emma Leslie weaves the tale of Leofwine, a proud Saxon, and the son of the highest thane in the service of Earl Leofric of Mercia. Leofwine, much to his father's dismay, prefers reading, writing, and spending time in nature rather than measuring up to his Viking heritage. After quite an unfortunate circumstance, Leofwine receives permission to enter a monastery where he thinks he will find peace and be able to devote the rest of his life to learning.

It doesn't take long for living the life of a monk to lose its charm, though. "What a heartless, wearisome life it all seemed here in the monastery--not life at all, for life is progress, and here there seemed only the deathlike uniformity of stagnation." Through the rest of the story, Loefwine struggles with inner peace and how to attain it -- is it through devotion to the Church or through a living, relationship with Christ? The reader is really able to see how on one side the church provided much good, but on the other side how power, greed, and ignorance played a part in the corruption of the early church.

After serving a certain amount of time at the monastery, Leofwine the Monk embarks on a pilgrimage in the hope of finding his outlaw older brother, Alric. During his quest he also visits Rome and travels all the way to Jerusalem, the holiest of cities, in which he hopes to find ultimate peace for his weary soul. Instead he ponders, "Can it be that these pilgrimages I have made -- the fastings and penances I have endured -- are all in vain, and that pardon for sins is freely given to all who believe in the Lord Christ?"

I really love that in the end Leofwine does in fact find true peace and realizes " . . . for I am no saint, only a poor sinner, whom the Lord Christ hath redeemed with His blood . . ." He is truly set free from the bondage of religious duty, devotion to the Church, praying to saints, superstitious charms, and the like.

During Leofwine's entire journey, the reader also gains quite an understanding of what was going on politically at this time in history (1052-1066). There are many historical figures to keep track of, but basically it takes place during the Norman Conquest of England. The reader will encounter historical figures such as Sweyn Forkbead, Canute the Great, Edmund Ironside, King Edward, Godwin, Harold Godwinsom, King Gryffyth, Leofric, Alfgar, Hereward the Outlaw, William the Conqueror, Lanfranc, and Hildebrand. Historical notes on all of these figures are provided at the beginning of the book, which was really helpful. I had to refer to these notes several times as I was reading.

The book also contains a few other important features. Historical notes on some of the terms used in the early church are discussed, a map of the cities and kingdoms of Britain around 1066 A.D. is included, and there's a timeline of important dates. Also, at the bottoms of the pages are vocabulary words from the time period and their meanings. This proved very helpful for words I didn't know like thane, cads, Witenagemote, fain, Saracens, witan, tonsured, and many more. In the back of the book, there are over 20 other titles, each with a brief synopsis, available from Salem Ridge Press. The reader can also read the first chapter to Leofwine the Monk's sequel, Elfreda the Saxon.

Though this particular book is recommended for ages 12 and up, I decided to read it aloud to all of my children who are 7, 11, and 13. This endeavor failed, however, as the language of the 1800's made it difficult to read out loud. By the time we reached chapter 9, I decided to call it quits and finish the rest of the book by myself. I would definitely recommend this book for children who are at least a mature 12. I know my 11-year-old son wouldn't do well reading this book on his own yet, but my 13-year-old son will be fine. Now that I am finished with the book, I am going to pass it on to him so he can finish reading it, too.

I think boys as well as girls might enjoy this book. There are a few female characters, especially Leofwine's sisters that are followed throughout the book. Even though keeping up with all the historical characters can be draining at times, there's enough adventure concerning witches, kings, queens, and secret plots to retain interest. It's a quality story in which children can learn about history and at the same time enjoy a good, faith-filled story.

Leofwine the Monk (264 pages) can be purchased as a softcover for $14.95 or as a hardcover for $24.95. You can read the first chapter here.
Click to read more Salem Ridge Press reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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