The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews

With so many products available we often need a little help in making our curriculum choices. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine family understands because we are in the same boat! Do you need more information on a product before you buy? With over 5,500 products listed in 52 easy-to-use categories, much of the information you need to know is only a click away! Let our reviewer-families help yours.
Do you want to get the word out about your product or service to the homeschool community? Email Jenny Higgins and share a little about what you´d like showcased, and we can help with that!

Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers Review by Donna Campos

Susan K. Marlow
Kregel Publications
P.O. Box 2607
Grand Rapids, MI 49501

The fourth book in the Circle C Adventures series, Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers, continues the story of a young girl, Andi, growing up in the San Joaquin Valley of California. We last left Andi in the fall of 1880. This story picks up in the winter of 1881 as the excitement of a flood in her community quickly draws you into the story within the first three pages. This book continues in similar size and style as the others in the series: a 5 " x 8 " inch glossy soft cover book of 138 pages and 18 chapters, plus a Historical Note. References to Andi's previous experiences will likely lead a first-time Circle C Adventures reader to her other books and will refresh the memory of seasoned fans. The storyline stands alone and is not dependent on the other books in the series. Although the series is enjoyable reading designed for students in the "tween" years, those in upper-elementary grades and lower teenage years will also find them enjoyable. Susan K. Marlow continues her trend in quality reading as she upholds family values, references the Bible, and offers a wonderful glimpse into the life of a Christian girl during the 1880s. Although the series is not written exclusively for home schools, it is written by a home-schooling mother who provides clean, quality reading materials for children. There are no additional materials required to enjoy this book, but readers should not miss the opportunity to download and print the free PDF Enrichment Guide available from her website, unit study of 38 pages is freely available and expands the educational value of the book considerably.

The author presents a hard-working community in the midst of a catastrophe, working together and supporting neighbors. It is a fast moving storyline as flood waters quickly change the town's streets. Andi's life changes just as quickly as the flood finds her moved to the big city to attend Miss Whitaker's Academy, a school for girls of finer upbringing. She finds new friends as she struggles through the many changes brought about during her adjustment from ranch life to proper city girl. Andrea Carter fans will not be surprised when her curious nature and independent spirit catapult her into awkward, and eventually dangerous, situations with the staff at her new school. She learns that adult advice is meant to keep her safe, that people are not always treated equally or how they ought to be treated, that her family loves her very much, and that God still answers prayer. The inclusion of some words in both Spanish and Chinese adds incredible value to the Circle C series. We have appreciated in previous books the inclusion of Spanish as Andi conversed with her Spanish-speaking friends and ranch hands. The addition of some Chinese words in this book--using the same conversational style--is excellent. Playful chapter titles encourage continued reading, while honest-but-human characters take readers back to the 1880s. More difficult vocabulary is occasionally included, increasing the overall vocabulary of the reader and providing opportunity for dictionary use and language arts activities. The very serious subject matter of slavery is skillfully written, presenting with intensity the severity of the subject, while not necessarily frightening readers. Previous Circle C Adventures have certainly kept our attention, but this one kept us reading for chapters at a time. It was difficult to put Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers down, as it is filled with suspense. The closure of the book leaves you longing for more of Andi's story in future installments.

We have become accustomed to excellent reading from Susan K. Marlow, and Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers has upheld the high standards the author has set for herself with previous books. The chapters are manageable and include break points marked by the Circle C Brand, allowing readers to digest in smaller portions, if necessary. The book continues with God-honoring comments like: "God can look after the little girl much better than you can." Homeschoolers will love the initiative taken when Andi gets out a map to find her new roommate's hometown. Great historical comments about,"Washington territory" and "the War Between the States" helps keep the reading true to the time frame.

As always, we found excellent opportunities,for discussion. We particularly enjoyed reading about Andi being knocked off her "high horse" at the park. This was an excellent,example of a humbling experience, as well as a great idiom. Our family also enjoyed discussions about the prim and proper girls of Miss Whitaker's Academy learning to speak French rather than Spanish or Chinese, as high-society travel to Europe was more valued than conversing with slaves or hired help. Readers will also discover that the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was written during this time period. Andi sings this song after sharing the story of Paul and Silas spending time in prayer and praise when they were imprisoned. And yes, we find Andi imprisoned in this story.Although a happy ending does eventually arrive, it does not come easily. Andi's latest story includes frightening situations and a harrowing ordeal before reaching safety. We believe it is the most nail-biting story thus far. The Historical Note at the end of the book includes the true story of Margaret Culbertson and Donaldina Cameron and their opening of,a Mission Home for Girls in 1874, the inspiration for the mission home in San Francisco Smugglers.

Use of the Enrichment Guide will greatly enhance your reader's intellectual education as well as their spiritual and social aptitude. Do not miss a single discussion opportunity brought on by the Circle C Adventure series. Our only complaint would be that the subject matter may be too intense for some readers, or beyond their ability to fully understand. There are instances where a young girl is hit by her elder who, we learn in the story, is not a relative as he claims, but her slave owner. As with any book for children, I encourage parents to pre-read this book before handing it to younger children, so that adequate explanation may be offered, or read aloud together and allow for discussion.

The Enrichment Guide will spur many Parent/Teachers to similar study of everything their children read, as expansion of the knowledge is well worth it. A "Before You Begin" section provides instruction for the overall use of the Guide, along with excellent observational activities that can be adjusted for the start of any book. Designed to be completed as the chapters are read, the guide offers a break from reading for real digestion of the story, particularly as the story keeps your interest to continue headlong into the next chapter. Much will be gained by completing the activities in the guide. The 38-page-e-book includes color maps that may also be printed in grayscale. Each section includes Vocabulary, Character, Geography, Discussion Questions, and A Closer Look/Just for Fun activities, except for Section Five, which includes extra writing activities and web links to historical photos. The instructions include notes that activities vary greatly and include more than time will generally allow. Users may make selections according to individual interest. Older students may work independently and complete many activities in writing or by oral discussion with parent-teachers. Younger students will likely need parent involvement when using the Enrichment Guide. The five sections are divided by chapters and include study areas specific to the timeframe of Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers, like Old West figures of speech, character discernment, and the geography of California, China, and the Pacific Coast states. God is prominent throughout the activities. The author chose to use the King James Version of the Bible,as it was the translation of that time period. Fantastic map activities include math and measurement details, while the language activities include 13 matching Spanish problems and three Chinese word definitions. Additional Spanish and Chinese activities are scattered throughout the guide, offering a glimpse of these languages for students deciding a later language choice of study for middle school and high school years. Answers are included in the final pages of the Enrichment Guide. The flood study questions reference Noah's flood. Deep political questions are raised for older students when studying government assistance for flood victims compared to the community/neighborly assistance of the 1880s. Some difficult topics are addressed, including the definition of a lie and deception for a greater cause, as in the holocaust. As the Enrichment Guide is a downloadable document in PDF, parents are free to utilize all or a portion of the activities, however they believe they are suited to their students. Printable permission is included for home and classroom use, making this ideal for families to print particular pages for specific students.

We have stressed this before--and believe it is worth repeating--that our family is thrilled to see an author hold to purity while writing for children! The Circle C Adventures have an honored place on our library shelves. They include biblical truths, heart-felt prayers, quality writing, and an honest representation of the human heart of a young person growing up. In Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers, Susan K. Marlow continues to provide excellent reading for any age from older elementary age to adult. Our family enjoyed it equally, regardless of age. This particular book may require more discussion than previous books in the series, as it deals with an expanded social issue beyond the usual family character-trait issues included in other Circle C Adventures, but it is time, as Andi is growing up. We are thrilled to have a series that is growing up with our children. Families will enjoy watching Andi make similar mistakes as today's children, while learning from a few, without needing to make them personally. The addition of an extensive Enrichment Guide provides so much wonderful value to Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers, families will benefit from this book.

Susan K. Marlow is a fantastic author and offers additional materials on her website to help teach children to write more effectively. Enjoy this book as a quality story with positive character lessons, biblical guidance, and respect for God, or delve more deeply by using the Enrichment Guide and learning more about the 1880s. Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers is yet another fantastic book in the Circle C Adventure series. If the book is simply not enough, the free unit study completes it as a most excellent addition to every home-school library.

Product Review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January, 2009