I recently realized that geography is a subject that has been quite lacking in our homeschool, so I was excited for the chance to review the Ireland title from By the Way. Ireland is steeped in religious history and knowing that the By the Way Book Series is written from a Christian viewpoint, I was looking forward to seeing how it incorporated faith into the book. There are many other titles; these are mostly US-based (e.g., Smoky Mountains and New York City) so Ireland is their first international title, from what I can tell.
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I really never loved geography or social studies in general. Or history. 😖 Now as a homeschool mom, I’m so blessed to be able to go back and learn more about the things I used to just tune out on. . We received this book a couple of days ago from By the Way and it combines faith, history, and geography. They have a whole series and we chose to review Ireland due to its rich (even if tumultuous) Christian history. It’s beautiful inside and we can’t wait to dive in!
The first thing I noticed about the book was that it’s filled with gorgeous pictures of real landscapes, animals, and places around Ireland. The book is a hardback and in full color from cover to cover. My children were very drawn to the pictures and loved piecing through the book in their own time.
The book is written based on American characters, Alex and Lexi, who travel to Ireland with their mother to meet long-lost Irish relatives. The characters are cartoons pictured throughout the pages as well. I thought the graphics were all very nicely done, although some seemed like generic stock photos that could have been taken anywhere (still beautiful!).
To accompany the storyline and images, there were boxes every page or two with facts about a certain related topic. These were interesting but seemed unnecessary since they didn’t really relate to history or geography so much but were mostly about animals, many of which can be found right here in the US.
Incorporating Bible Verses
As I mentioned, the By the Way Series is written by Christians and serves to teach kids about the Bible while relating the history of a given geographical area. While real historical events (faith-based and non) were mostly relayed seemlessly, a lot of the Bible verses seemed forced and unnatural. Some of them seemed to be a stretch to relate to the content, and others were not worked in in a way that the characters would truly have been discussing such things.
Thoughts on Plot
Essentially, the main characters’ family receives a letter from relatives they didn’t know they had and an invitation to visit them in Ireland. The family sets off to see this Irish family and it’s like they have known each other forever.
They spend several days in the country, learning about history and seeing major landmarks. I used the maps app on my phone to help us get a feel for where these places are. They are actually all around the entire country (plus Northern Ireland as well – which I didn’t realize was a separate country till I read this book!) and there is no feasible way to visit all these places over the five days or so that they were on this trip.
Now, call me boring but I really dislike books that are meant to be non-fiction (albeit overlayed with a fictional element) that are completely impractical. It makes it difficult to get a real feel for living in or visiting that area when the timeline is so off. I realize that might just be a personal pet peeve that wouldn’t bother anyone else.
Here are the places they visited:
Day 1: Wicklow Mountains, “grandaddy of lighthouses” (Hook Lighthouse?), Wexford famine ship tour, Titanic memorial in Cobh
Day 2: Blarney Castle, Fairy Glade, B&B (bed and breakfast I assume) in Tralee
Day 3: start in Tralee, use a ferry to cross to Cliffs of Moher
Day 4: back in Tralee, go to Kylemore castle and gardens, Croaghpatrick, stop somewhere to eat fish and chips
Day 5: scenic drive from Tralee to Belleek, tour of a random castle in a cart pulled by a pony, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, town of Armagh to hike to a Catholic church and then a Protestant church, a tour of a round house, Malahide castle in Dublin, straight to the airport after that?
I’m tired just after reading this list! It made it hard to keep track of the time and when a new day was starting. A real vacation to the area would never include that much over that time span. Again, I know this is fictionalized but it makes it difficult to really get involved with the characters when the timeline doesn’t make sense.
Another thing that I wish was done differently is that the images do not have captions on them so you have to judge what they are showing you based on the context of the passages. It was hard to keep things straight at times and not all their travels were named specifically; for example the lighthouse they visited was described only as the “granddaddy of lighthouses” so I had to Google that to figure out where it is located. While the images are gorgeous, being unlabeled adds another layer of confusion when you’re trying to explain what’s what to your children.
My last criticism is that some of their activities didn’t really have a good explanation as to what was going on till later. Kissing the Blarney Stone was a confusing part, for instance – the characters all kissed the stone and then later asked why they did it. This doesn’t teach critical thinking skills, which is important to us as homeschoolers. My children would have asked what the deal was with kissing a rock before going ahead and doing it!
To add a different type of element to the book, there are images the kids can look for throughout the book. I actually missed this at first but at the beginning of the book, there are small images of wildlife, flowers, transportation, etc. for kids to find as they go through the book. My kids love this type of activity so they had fun looking for the images, but I have the same concern as before – they don’t have any description about what we are looking at and don’t always relate directly to what is being discussed in the book.
Overall, I like the idea of this book, connecting faith with history and geography. The pictures are gorgeous. There are tons of facts in the book. But the storyline and biblical teachings just didn’t do it for us in the end. I hope you’ll check out what the other Crew members thought of the By the Way book series!