Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Book List for Families

My children, even the teenagers, re-read these books every year.  We put them away at the beginning of Epiphany and only pull them out at the beginning of Advent, and the family is always overjoyed to see them again.  On St. Nicholas' Day every year, I give them a new Christmas book. For those of you in the United States, you should be able to find these at your local libraries.  For those overseas, it may be hard to access as easily.  I would be glad to give you my top recommendations based on your ages of children if you can only purchase a couple.

Click here for a printable book list. 


A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill
(a boy receives a personal miracle at Christmas; moving)

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
(beautifully written;  every Christmas Eve, we watch the movie, which dramatizes the poem in such a lovely way. My children love this.)

A Christmas Gift for Mama by Lauren Thompson

A Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco
(a Jewish couple is reunited through a Christmas miracle)

A Cobtown Christmas by Julia Van Nutt

A Cowboy Christmas by Audrey Wood
(a beautiful story about a boy's answered prayer)

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington
(an absolute favorite!)

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
(my father's favorite, and now one of our family's beloved stories; a chapter book)

An Amish Christmas by Richard Ammon

An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
(a wonderful story--gets us every time)

Back to the Manger by Margaret Philbrick
(a meaningful story by a friend of mine set in our area)

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
(a boy gives his father a gift of service--beautiful)

Father and Son: A Nativity Story by Geraldine McCaughrean
(through the eyes of Joseph)

Good King Wenceslas by Jane Seymour
(includes C.D. with the song--beautiful new book)

Grandfather's Christmas Tree by Keith Strand
(a pioneer survival story)

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge

Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade by Irene Smalls
(great window into a slave's Christmas)

Jacob's Gift by Max Lucado

Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage, and Tabitha's Travels by Arnold Ytreeide
 (Advent chapter books, can be fairly intense;  good at placing the Nativity story in an historical context)

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
(written for his children every Christmas--get an edition that has all the letters in envelopes with Tolkiens illustrations delightful)

Lighthouse Christmas by Toni Buzzeo

Listen to the Silent Night by Dandi Daley Mackall
(for very young children)

Mary's First Christmas by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
(longer story)

Papa Panov's Special Day by Ruben Saillens

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
(great for little ones)

Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey by Robert Byrd
(a fairy tale of how the donkey redeemed himself after being marginalized after Creation)

The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman
(a book of doors that open for the days of Advent)

The Carpenter's Gift by David Rubel
(the story of the Rockefeller tree in NY, about sharing what you have, even in poverty)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald by...George MacDonald
(the Scottish author that inspired C.S. Lewis)

The Christmas Treasury by Jan Brett
(lots of different winter stories with great illustrations--great for young children)

The Dolls' Christmas by Tasha Tudor
(inspired our girls to do an annual Doll Christmas Tea for years)

The First Christmas by the National Gallery, London

The First Christmas Stocking by Elizabeth Winthrop

The Legend of the Poinsettia retold by Tomie dePaola

The Lion in the Box by Marguerite de Angeli

The Man of the House at  Huffington Row by Mary Brigid Barrett
(a story of love in the midst of loss)

The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola
(about a Mexican tradition)

The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Mayer
(wonderful illustrations and stories about the real St. Nicholas)

The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman

The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
(lovely little story)

The Tale of Three Trees retold by Angela Elwell Hunt
(the trees that become the manger, the boat, and the cross)

The Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
(a favorite)

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto

Uncle Vovo's Tree by Patricia Polacco
(a great Epiphany story--beautiful)

Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate
(great board book for little ones)

Young Mary of Nazareth by Marianna Mayer
(great art work but definitely apocryphal in its information)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Preparing for Advent

1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. 
synonyms: arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise 

Advent comes upon me suddenly every year, and I feel unprepared to provide a soulful Christmas preparation that is not solely baking and hunting for the best Christmas gifts.  We end up doing some meaningful things, but I always feel a little harried.

This year I prepared in advance....maybe because it is the first year in many that I am not pregnant or caring for an infant.  I thought I would offer some Advent suggestions for all who may read so that you might be jump started to get ready for this amazing season.  Now is the time to make a plan and be ready for that first Sunday of Advent, right after Thanksgiving.

Advent is worth celebrating.  Advent is considered the start of the liturgical year, as we prepare our hearts for Christ's coming--both in the end of time and in to our hearts more fully in the same way that he broke into this sinful world.  A celebration of Advent saves the season from degenerating into a panicked commercialized circus.  It reminds us for four weeks that we are not waiting on Santa, but on Jesus.

First, I would ask the Lord, "What do you want to do in me and in our family this Advent?"  Then ask him to lead you to resources that will help make your Advent celebration intentional.

Ideas for Advent traditions:

  • The Advent wreath is a great tradition, partly because nothing quiets children and adults like darkness and a couple of burning candles.  The symbolism of Christ bringing light into the darkness is right there before us.  You do not need a specific Advent wreath to do this.  I just bought a wreath of greens, wrapped a beautiful purple and gold ribbon around it, put four candle holders in the center of it with three purple candles and one pink one. (The pink one is for Mary, but you don't have to have a pink one).  You will need a center candle of white for Christmas Day. We have a special table for the wreath, and on it we put a purple cloth we found at an ethnic resale shop.  Along with the wreath, we usually put some nativity  scene and an icon of John the Baptist, as the one who called us to prepare the way for Jesus. We let different children light candles, blow out the candles, and lead the prayers.  
  • This year I am going to use this small booklet you can find on Amazon for $1, O Radiant Dawn.  It is a FIVE minute daily guide to lighting the candle, has beautiful selections of individual verses for each day and then asks a discussion question (one for older children or adults, one for younger children).  It is good to have a short liturgy to do so that all can enter in.  This book recommends learning the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel by singing a verse everyday. You could choose any hymn. We will plan to do this everyday, and if we get in four days, that will be sixteen times around the wreath as a family.  I may choose to do this in the morning starting the day, as it is dark where we live when we get up.
  • In the evening, we will read a chapter in the storybook, Bartholomew's Passage:  A Family Story for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide.  The first one in his series is Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent, which we read for a couple of Advents.  I will offer that whoever is reading may have to edit some violent scenes of Essenes defending themselves against marauders and such.  This is a fiction series but helps place the nativity story in historical context, and we all learned through the story.  Children are usually begging for the next chapter every night.        Another chapter book that brings me to tears and my father has read to all of his grandchildren, as it is his favorite book, A Tree for Peter, by Kate Seredy.  Though it is not directly about the nativity, it is all about opening our hearts to love and transformation, and this is catalyzed in the story by a Christ figure.  You could also simply choose a different picture book every night.  I will provide a list on another post, if you need suggestions.
  • I will also be asking my children to choose one person or family who is in need for them to serve in some way over Advent.  This could be making a meal, shoveling snow, free babysitting, writing someone who is lonely.  I hope this will help pull them away from a self-focused expectation of Christmas.
  • I am still praying about my own personal devotional time during Advent, specifically about what book God would have me read for the deeper stirring in my soul as I wait on him.
  • A dear friend of ours brings Advent calendars every year for each child.  The anticipation of opening each window is an exciting moment every day.  Before we had the generosity of this friend, we all shared one calendar and took turns opening windows.  This is a great way to build anticipation.
  • Advent will also include beautiful music, and I have to admit that we are not liturgically correct and do listen to Christmas music during Advent.  But here is a beautiful Advent collection: Birth of Jesus:  A Celebration of Christmas by John Michael Talbot.
  • And Advent will include baking, making Welsh Cakes for some friends.  This happens throughout Advent with different children helping me on different days as they learn the family recipe and method.  Then we all have fun packaging and distributing them.

Other ideas we have used that you can explore:

Try Joni Eareckson Tada's book of hymns that comes with a C.D. and a story about each hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful: Hymns of Adoration and Joy to Celebrate His Birth.  This is a great book to work through over Advent, especially if your family is musical.

Many people use the Jesse Tree figures which you can google and download.  These are figures that tell the story of the Scriptures over the whole of Advent and are a great way to review God's work in history leading up to his coming.  You can find paper downloads and have children color them.  I have a dream of felting these figures someday to hang on a tree, but that would mean getting ready for Advent in January, and I haven't yet gotten that good.

I hope that as you wait on God as to how you should live into Advent you will be able to see it not as a heavy burden, but as a tool through which to open your hearts and your homes to God's light.  Remember, do not let perfection rob you of what God could bring.  It will rarely be perfect or rarely what you imagined.  But it will be full of life and laced with the presence of God himself.

Please leave comments of Advent ideas that have worked for your family so that creative sparks will fly.

Note:  All the book and music titles in red are links to Amazon in case you want to look at them more closely. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cultivating the Vision of a Saint

A Reflection on All Saints

Here we are at All Saints, a wonderful day in Church history to honor martyrs and saints who have gone before us.

Every year when I reflect on what makes a saint, I come to the conclusion that saints have perspective and vision--they see this life in the context of the whole.  This life is a small part of one's whole life that extends into eternity.  Saints have a freedom to live this life for God, expending themselves, giving up time, money, energy, kingdoms of their own making, because they see how this time here on earth fits into the whole. Hebrews 11, that Hall of Fame of biblical saints, starts with an explanation of this kind of perspective.  These people had the "conviction of things not seen...By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." Saints understand that what we see was made from what we cannot see.  So we must live our lives in the light of what is not visible on this earth.

We had the privilege of spending time with a true saint still on this earth a few weeks ago.  Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Nigeria came for my husband's bishop consecration, and how we were blessed and fed by this man of God.  Because Archbishop Ben and his wife, Gloria, have truly suffered, having their house burned down twice and having been brutalized by militant Muslims, their view of their own time on this earth is that of those whose lives are not their own.  They oversee an area that has had widespread persecution.  In one specific area, 75 out of 80 churches have been burned down and their members murdered or scattered.  I asked the archbishop how he copes with this kind of devastation and loss.  He said that when the first persecution broke out with the killing of a little girl who would just pass by a Muslim holy site and was the spark that then spread like a grass fire, he locked himself in his room unable to eat, just crying out to God for days.  He said he needed a word from God, a vision for the future.  God told him to get ready, as this was going to be a long journey.  The Lord told him to focus on pouring into the next generation and on planting as many churches as possible.

So now, full of purpose and joy, Archbishop Ben and Mama Gloria, use their time for the kingdom of God, knowing that persecution is to be expected.  They teach the next generation the Bible, which will endure any fire, and prepare them in leadership and love.  They have adopted (yes, adopted) fifty orphans and feed 400 neglected children daily.  They teach them not to react in hate and retaliation, but to love, as love always wins.

How can people like this live so expansively in a way that seems almost humanly impossible?  They know that this life is not all there is.  So they expect God to do great things as they diminish and he increases.  Of course, this perspective was cultivated in their lives by regular time with God, always realigning with what is real so that in the time of trial, they could turn it over to God to use for good.

Moses was not excited to be Moses.  He was just a normal man, battered by circumstances that God orchestrated for more than 40 years, so that he knew his life was for others.  So in the grand moment of parting the Red Sea, when he wasn't liking the pressure of his life at that point in time, God used him in an inhuman way, because Moses knew that there was so much more to his life than comfort. How did he cultivate this?  By early choices of turning to what is invisible. Hebrews says he even rejected being called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing to be mistreated with God's people because he "considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking for his reward...he endured as seeing him who is invisible." VISION.  He even saw ahead to Christ, who hadn't yet come to earth.

How can I foster this kind of view of life in myself and my children?  I think that first, we need to surround ourselves with people who have the right vision for this life and are not building kingdoms of their own.  These people make decisions with their money and their time that reflect they are of another kingdom so that when trials inevitably come, they can ride the wave with God in his purposes.  These people help us resist the encroaching voice of the day, like that of the Green Lady in Lewis' Prince Caspian, who says, "There is no sun.  There is only this lamp,"  ie., "there is no transcendent real that extends outside of my world...this is all there is." Friends like this or visiting missionaries sharing stories at the table all of a sudden help put perspective on our drive to find just the right shoes that will impress people or the devastation we feel when our team loses or the petty concerns with which we so often fill our minds.

My husband just returned from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Kenya and was in a small group in which they were to answer the question, "How have you suffered?" The first bishop had a machete scar on his head from someone who was angry with him.  He had been dragged through the streets by Muslims and left for dead.  The next bishop said his father had been killed by Muslims when he was a boy...and so on.  Somehow, our sufferings took on perspective.  This keeps us from self-pity and self-absorption.  And if these saints can move forward in love and purpose, so can I.

Besides the regular contact with real live people who are saints, reading stories of saints helps expand our vision.  All great stories, even fictional ones can do this for us, but great biographies certainly inspire a life lived beyond oneself.  Biographies also provide perspective on a life that even the one living it did not have.  That helps us realize that our story will someday be complete and make sense, but while we are in the middle of it, may simply seem like frayed plots and meaningless events.

For our evening prayer time, we usually have a biography going or short stories of saints. Here are some of our favorites:

For Family:  I cannot begin to mention all, but here are a few:

Trial and Triumph by Richard M. Hannula (short stories of saints throughout history)
Early Lives of the Saints by Bob Hartland
Missionary Stories with the Millers by Mildred A. Martin
I Dared to Call Him Father: the Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman's Encounter with 
                           God by Bilquis Sheikh (older kids can read it alone)
any of the Heroes Then and Now series published by YWAM

For adults:  I would love to hear comments from readers of their favorite Christian biographies.  These are only a beginning.

Boenhoffer by Eric Metaxas (highly recommended, especially as we are eerily facing
                                              similar conflicts in our day)
Abandoned to God by David McCasland (about Oswald Chambers)
Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, translated by Vera Bouteneff (about an
                                             orthodox priest in the labor camps of Russia--what a saint!)

Another way to foster an eternal vision is to be open to interruptions in our perfectly laid plans.  One Christmas Eve when I was on a race against time preparing food, gifts, shaping all of those family traditions, a father,--single parent of three children-- called to say he needed clothes for three other children he was looking after.  In a moment of panic, I thought, "I won't be ready for Christmas!" But then what is Christmas if not welcoming Christ in our homes?" So I called around and ended up with bags of clothes on my porch.  Our friend, his kids, and the other kids came over for dinner, and we had managed to find Christmas gifts for all of them.  My husband shared the Christmas story with them. That was so much more important to our children's understanding of their purpose here than any tradition would be.

The Benedictines were taught to say, "Praise the Lord!" every time someone came knocking at their door.  This openness to interruptions helps us keep our vision that our life is not our own. Of course, sometimes we fail to invest where God would have us stay focussed because it is easier to follow interruptions than stay the course on something less than urgent.  There are certainly times to say "no" to an interruption, but our reason should still be the greater vision we are following. But that is another discussion.

Becoming a saint is what we are all called to.  Oswald Chambers says, "Why aren’t you a saint? It is either that you do not want to be a saint, or that you do not believe that God can make you into one." The first step toward sainthood is gaining a saint's vision and perspective, and the more we put this life into perspective and understand that we are not our own, but God's, and that our story is written by him, we can enter in to this life with the kind of abandon that a saint does.

This All Saints Week tell stories of saints that have inspired you around a table with friends or family, and plan to read a saint's biography perhaps for Advent.  Consider the admonition of Hebrews 12, that since we are surrounded by all these saints, past and present, let us lay aside every weight so that we too can run the race with vision, "looking to Jesus" who also endured the cross because he was looking at the joy set before him.  May we have such vision of what is REAL, that this life lines up where it belongs.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dreaming the Right Dreams

for ourselves and our children

Years ago when I was teaching at an international school in Brazil I heard yelling in the apartment on the first floor.  I ran down to find one of the other teachers standing in the hallway wrapped in a towel yelling that her shower-head was on fire.  I ran in to turn off the water (or electricity)--I was use to this sort of occurrence having been raised in this world where water and electricity seemed to be combined in useful ways. (Other more developed countries have not yet advanced to such discoveries).

When I returned to comfort this shaking woman who had only just arrived from the United States, I was surprised to find her laughing.  "Who thought of heating water with electricity in a shower-head?" she laughed.  I told her to be careful, as it is easy to get shocked while taking a shower,  but she was among the few who have had the unfortunate experience of the water turning to fire, and for that I could only apologize on behalf of Brazil.  Her response has stayed with me.  She said, "I came here expecting to live in a hut.  I'm so excited we have hot water and showers, that this is nothing!"

Our responses are shaped by our expectations.  I have reflected often on what I expect of this life, as those expectations will shape my responses to difficulties and trials.

I was teaching Death of a Salesman to some highschoolers recently and was once again struck by Biff's comment about his father, "He had all the wrong dreams." His dreams for his children had been for worldly success and recognition.

What are the right dreams?

I realize that much of my expectation and dream for this life is shaped by the American drive for comfort, self sufficiency, and stardom.  Therefore, when I am in discomfort or feeling great pressure or limited resources, I am disappointed with life.  I have an impression that I am being cheated by a nebulous force that keeps me from all I could be if only I had the resources I need to live with a sense of control and what would command attention from others.

That is because we were made to live our lives for and with others, not creating an image of our own aggrandisement and self reliance.  We came into this world infants and are meant to grow into maturity.  Is maturity self-sufficiency and stardom?

When we had our first child, my husband and I prayed for a guide by which to shape our nurturing and discipling of our children.  What was our goal?  Was it for them to be intelligent and get into good schools so that they could use their gifts and have many opportunities?  Was it to teach them to be independent?  Was it for them to be popular Christian kids who would attract others to the Lord through their charisma and charm?  Was it to raise them to be confident and believe they could do anything they wanted to do?

As we prayed, we were led to the two greatest commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength," and "Love your neighbor as yourself."  We were to raise children that could love...God and others.  And that unfolded for us a journey of which I will say more in another post.

To have the expectation of life that I will learn to love God and others, means that circumstances are always an opportunity to grow in love.  Nothing can sabotage my life goal.  In fact, God is glad to teach me to love.  He sent his Son to show me how.  It is a battle of submission in the garden.

It is the cross in which my arms are held open in vulnerability sometimes against my will. 

This means I should not shun trials for myself or my children.  My dream must be that everything be used for shaping a person that can live for God and others.

Is it possible that I could dream of loving like Jesus?  And if that is my dream, cannot I not expect my love to be perfected in pressure and adversity as his was (after all, it says, "he learned obedience through what he suffered" Heb. 5:8--Jesus, of all people)?  So if I expect a hut, the shower of fire in an enclosed space is just part of the journey to which I committed. 

Throughout my day, when I again encounter discomforts and pressures, I can turn to the Lord and submit,  "Oh, Lord, just make me more open, more loving, more surrendered.  May all these trials take me somewhere I could never go if I had not submitted to them.  Make me a person who loves you more.  Make me a person who loves those around me with a perfected love--a love that is not self-seeking."  I have had to lead my children in these very prayers when they are grieved or profoundly disappointed.

When my brother was dying an early death with so much ministry and academic opportunity spread before him, as well as a lovely wife with which to share his life, and two young children to raise, he struggled with profound sorrow for all he was not going to be able to do.  One night Jesus ministered to him, and my brother said to me, "I realize now what this life is all about.  It is not about what I accomplish, but it is about learning to love.  And if I have done that, I have lived a full and successful life."

How often I am tempted to have the goal of making my child a star.  So much is lost when that is the dream.  We give up family time, spend too much money, waste too much time chasing a goal that does not necessarily make that child a mature person, full of love and purpose.  How many parents I know would rather have their child get into an Ivy League school even if it batters their faith and makes them intellectual sophisticates than see them go to a good and challenging school where their lives are shaped with a selfless mission.  I have read shocking articles of how motivated parents have become to getting their children into the BEST university, that they will shape all of their activities and relationships with that one purpose in mind.  I would rather have an average child who knows how to love and be a good spouse, mother or father, how to work very hard, how to fill leisure time with meaningful and enriching activity, and has learned how to live fully in God and the Church.  For some, this would be accomplished by going to the best school or being the star in something, but certainly not for most.

May we resist the siren call to waste our energies dreaming of and trying to craft the perfect life.  Take time to pray and ask what your dreams for your children honestly are, and then be intentional about shaping a life as a family that follows the proper dreams.  And may our children say of us, "They had all the right dreams."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"You need privacy...with me."

One of the sanctifying aspects of a large family for me is the constant infringement on my physical space.  I should not still expect personal space after growing up as I did.  My teenage life was spent riding the public buses in Sao Paulo, Brazil (the second largest city in the world), which were filled 100 percent beyond capacity with people hanging out of the door and the bus listing to one side.  I would be at the right height to have my head thrust into an available armpit, as all the people standing in the aisles had their arms straight up, in surrender to the thieves of privacy and human decency.

Body odor mixed with cheap cologne will always throw me back decades into the undesired confinement of a lurching city bus.  Sometimes the bus would stop quickly, and my feet would lift off the floor, and I would be suspended among working bodies, my feet fluttering away in desperation for a landing place.  Groping hands often took advantage of these undesired intimate moments.

The noise pollution in a city of our size is something few can imagine.  Trucks barreling down the road;  Gas trucks playing lines from classical music over and over to identify the kind of gas for sale; political ads shouted out on megaphones attached to cars;  salespeople shouting; the knife-sharpening man clapping his clapper together; doorbells ringing incessantly;  pressure cookers hissing; cement drills and picks clanging away on sidewalks and construction.  Noise goes on all night.

At home, my mother welcomed in strays from all walks so that people slept in the laundry room, on the couch and wherever was available. We often had large groups for dinner, and every holiday was an opportunity to share our home and our family.

Why did we live in such a place?  Because that is where the people were.  If we wanted to reach the people, we had to endure what comes with people.

One would think such schooling
would make me easy with six children in a relatively small house.  But I still find my patience exhausted, and my expectation for space only expanded.  When I sit on the couch to read to my children, I imagine a cosy read with a living book, maybe everyone sipping a hot drink under hand knitted throws.  Instead I must endure ten minutes of arguing over seats--those who need to read along over my shoulder up against those who don't like feet touching them and squabbling with the ones who never get to be right next to me.  Then there is the settling in, then the heavy leaning against my side, and someone lying behind me on the top edge of the sofa.  The baby comes up and decides that nursing right now would be the cosiest conclusion to this happy scene, and once settled in, kicks the child on one side while pinching the face of the one on the other. How I am tempted to give up, though I know this is worth making happen.

Mealtime is another assault on physical and air space.  The volume at the table is deafening.  All my children are storytellers and expand on one another's stories, with hilarious theatrical imitations; children call for food; someone spills a glass of water;  younger ones need to be coaxed to eat vegetables.  Recently, my two year old kept calling, "please pass the butter...please pass the butter..."over and over.  Finally, unattended, he stood up on his seat, took his glass of water and held it over his brother's head, saying, "Ellison, look in my eyes.  If you don't pass the butter, I pour this on your head." So much for a civil and polite meal.

How many meals have I had a baby nursing while I try to lean over an extended body to get some meager bites in my mouth, in between serving up more food and trying to follow one line of conversation to its conclusion.  At least the boys are not playing soccer or football in the hall.  We have them "contained" at the table. The baby may get up and begin playing loudly by the table, though, and I am dreaming of bed time and quiet.

But my bedtime once again makes me available to waking children, and my bed can be filled with wanderers at any point during the night.  I won't even mention the child that always wanted his hand in my armpit, or the child that cuddled with her hand down my shirt.

The car is another chance for sanctification.  The arguing over seats, the screaming infant, the discussion over music or audio books, the distribution of snacks, the child asking a question over and

over, the rowdy game between two
children that involves hilarious laughter and poking and tickling--all contribute to a cacophony of insanity.  I'll never forget one of my most amiable children, fairly tolerant of noise and confusion, bursting out in the middle of a 4,500 mile road trip, "Get me out of this stinking wreck!"  All grew quiet in shock that one of our most stable would come so near the edge.  The situation must be quite dire in the back seat.

How many times I want to yell, "Get me out of this stinking wreck!" I do not know what I expected of life with people, especially children, but I now know that people and relationships are messy.  I can choose to engage, or I can become a control fanatic.  True, children must be taught to sit still, be quiet, and we do need times away from the fray, but if we want to engage life, we must engage noise, smells, and disruptions.

I have found the best anecdote for me is humor.  How many times my husband and I look at each other from opposite ends of the table and stifle laughter.  Two times I have found hidden toys in my blouse that I, so completely compromised in my sense of personal space, was completely unaware of.  One time a child I was holding at church must have inserted a toy in a "safe place."  When I patted my chest in a gesture of compassion for someone, I felt a sharp presence--only a matchbox car. Another time I participated in an evening of pre-marital counseling for a couple and while saying goodbye made a similar discovery of a Playmobil character tucked asleep in my bra.  I was humorously horrified.

How am I sanctified through this infringement on my space?  I am reminded daily that my life is not my own.  My issues with control are constantly challenged and brought into submission to the greater virtue of flexibility and presence in the moment.  Jesus made it clear that children are good for us.  We have much to learn from them, and when we let them into our lives, we find that people are more important than our things, and our time, and our plans, and even our sense of individuality.

My oldest daughter at age three, followed me into the bathroom one day and as she closed the door behind her said, "You need privacy...with me."  Such is the privacy I have had for years...with someone who feels my privacy is actually to be shared.  And because of this, I have learned to give up what I hold tightly and open the door and let in someone who might even take too much.  In return, my life is rich in textures, voices, confidences, the touch of little hands, and story.  I hold onto life a little more loosely and let it unfold as it will.  This is the cost of relationship, of family.

Sometimes I feel I am on that bus groping for a sure footing, trying to stake out my piece of ground.  But now I at least know that I am going somewhere and that the destination of a life rich in people and a heart that has room for people is worth the crowded bus ride.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Choosing Not to Escape

I have recently been challenged and blessed by the book, Seeking God, by Esther de Waal.  The Benedictine rule of life has much to teach those of us who live in the "turning world."  Esther de Waal was herself the mother of four, wife to a pastor, and wrote this book at her kitchen table.

To live a holy life in the middle of a culture that constantly distracts and pulls us in multiple directions, requires intentionality and a "rule of life" that encourages disciplines that brings us present to Christ and his Church throughout the rhythms of our day.

Esther de Waal explores the three Benedictine vows of obedience, stability, and conversatio morum (conversion of life). I was especially blessed by the call to "stability." This commitment not to run away actually makes the counterpoint to stability possible: change.

"Instead of this bewildering and exhausting rushing from one thing to another monastic stability means accepting this particular community, this place and these people, this and no other, as the way to God...
Instead of trying to find different circumstances within which to meet God, we find that the place he has put us is exactly the best place within which to encounter him.  Enclosure keeps us from escaping ourselves.
'Enclosure is something I cannot cast off, it's the anchor that holds me in a restless sea'  for he knows that when he is thinking of escape he is tired of facing himself."

Tired of facing myself...how true it is that I often want to escape who I am in certain circumstances--anxious, angry, discouraged.  I would like me better on a beach in Brazil.  But when I see what comes out in pressure, I see what must be changed.  I used to think I was such a good Christian before I had children.  Then I began to realize that I just hadn't been squeezed hard enough for the deep uglies to come up.  By being where I am placed and not escaping, I can face my need for God's transformation and find that it is indeed possible, even promised.

The author goes on to describe the desire to escape the monotonous nature of our lives instead of seeing the monotony itself as a pattern to be filled by God's presence.

"Our difficulty lies in the way in which we fail to meet those demands with anything more than the mere grudging minimum which will never allow them to become creative.  That limitation can lead to creativity is something which any good artist knows...Clearly this means accepting the monotonous and making it work for us, not against us."

I learned in poetry writing that a form which I must follow often forces me into the greatest creativity.  So it is with life.  Limitations can be the form that produces the most beauty in our lives.

Being committed to the community in which we have been placed, either family or church or both, is that place of limitation. The place we are squeezed, known, challenged to change, will offer us greater opportunity for transformation than if we keep seeking a "better place."  Too often I have seen people come close to the chance for transformation but because of fear or shame or hurt, leave the very community where love would help them achieve the change they so desire.  Someone may be called to leave one church community for another, but this should be discerned with other mature believers and done in a way that encourages growth rather than arresting it.

Accepting where we are as the very place to meet God is the prerequisite for actually meeting Him. God is waiting to fill our moments with his Spirit that our common lives might be transformed into something uncommon.

Esther de Waal gave me a greater vision for what my way of life could be to make space for the transforming presence of Christ.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Monastic Cell

Welcome to my monastic cell…don’t mind the boys playing soccer in the hall, I mean basketball with the hoop on the front door, the noises of violin, piano, and arguing,  the persistence of the phone ringing and another child asking me a question over and over. I also have a din of dialogue in my head composed of resurfacing anxieties.  Oh, the baby is on the table drinking out of leftover cups getting wet and fingerpainting with breakfast leftovers, and is that my dear husband standing at the door asking if he can process with me a difficult work situation for a minute?  Come on in, for any time is as bad as another.

My life may not seem to have anything in common with that of a monk’s, but over the years, I have realized that the monks and I actually have much in common.  A contemplative monk removes himself from the noise and demands of life so that in silence and the absence of what obscures God, he may be freed to find God.  I, on the other hand, cannot escape the needs and noise of other people and am forced to be freed from myself, which enables me to find God.  My monastic cell is crowded and how I sometimes dream of a private hermitage, but God has promised that he can meet me here just as easily.  It is where I am that I encounter God and he shapes and transforms me.  

All that obscures God is me.

It has taken me years to accept this cell and not think that I could be a much better Christian under different conditions.  I now accept it, but everyday I have to live it…and that is a different matter.  T.S. Eliot, in his poem, The Four Quartets, goes to four locations where suffering has occurred and his faith in a good God is tested.   Eliot concludes that in spite of the turning world, God is constant. He is the still point.

This blog is an extended reflection of finding our center in Jesus while all else scrambles and swirls.  Jesus promised to be with us where we are…not where we wish we were. 

It is the daily challenge to find him where I am and welcome his companionship, his light, his truth.  This does not mean I do not seek silence or stillness—these are so necessary for the shaping of a Christian.  But as mother of six children and wife of the pastor of a large church, with parents and relatives too far away to help, I cannot control what is asked of me and what I am called to do when I feel I have nothing left.  That is when I find that God has engineered this gap between what I am capable of and what he asks of me simply because he wants me to discover him.  All that comes forward when I am out of control—impatience, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety—is exchanged for his presence which can meet any situation with wisdom, peace, expectation, and the long view.  

God is glad to be right here, can I choose to be here with him?

A Christian friend of mine was invited to speak at a Buddhist monastery.  While there walking the gardens, one of the monks said, “Don’t you feel the peace?  How can you say that one cannot find peace here?”  My friend replied, "You are confusing peace with tranquility. Here in these mountains, surrounding by these idyllic settings, you have tranquility. When we are stuck in traffic, the daily trials of life, the unpaid bills, and do not lose our center, then we have peace. This is the Christian aim."

I hope in some way this blog will encourage you to find Christ with you in the circumstances of your own life so that you can experience his transformational presence just where you are. 

Got to go get the baby off the table…

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book List


Compiled by Katherine Ruch (and her children)
not exhaustive, growing longer as you read

(B): Primarily of interest to boys
(G):  Primarily of interest to girls
Otherwise, most likely of interest to both

Levels of enjoyment (not necessarily reading levels)
L1:  Level 1: Approximately ages 2-5
L2:  Level 2: Approximately ages 4-7
L3:  Level 3: Approximately ages 7-10
L4:  Level 4: Approximately ages 10 and up



Alsburg, Chris Van                       
            The Wretched Stone (L2 and up)
Anno, Mitsumasa
            Anno’s Journey (There are several Anno books.  Most are wordless and the reader
has to find Anno in various landscapes—very fun even for young  children) (L1 & L2)
Ardizonne, Edward
            The Tim series  (mostly B) (L2)
                        Tim and Ginger
                        Ship Cook’s Ginger
                        Tim and Charlotte
                        Tim to the Rescue
                                                …and more
Armstrong, Jennifer
            Pockets  (L2)


Barker, Cicely Mary
            The Lord of the Rushie River (L2 & L3)
Barklem, Jill
            The Brambly Hedge series (the illustrations are exquisite)  (mostly G) (L2 & L3)
                        Poppy’s Babies
                        Summer Story
                        Sea Story
                        Autumn Story
                        The Secret Staircase
            Children of the Forest
                        Winter Story
                        The High Hills
                        Spring Story
            Varenka (a Russian story of a delayed answer to prayer and the miracle that results)(L2 and up)
Beskow, Elsa (all I’ve read of hers are great) (L1 & L2)
            Pelle’s New Suit
            Peter’s Old House
Bishop, Jennie  (These books are about preserving purity) (L2)
            The Princess and the Kiss
            The Squire and the Scroll
Bolton, Michael
            The Secret of the Lost Kingdom (L2)
Brett, Jan
            A Christmas Treasury (this includes most of her great stories with their gorgeous,
            lush illustrations;  you can easily find many of her individual books.) (L1 & L2)
Brisley, Joyce Lankester (L2)
            Milly-Molly-Mandy and sequels (G)
Brown, Margaret Wise (L1)
            The Little Fur Family (a house favorite)
Brumbeau, Jeff
            The Quiltmaker’s Gift            (phenomenal illustrations) (L1 & L2)
Bunting, Eve
            One Candle (a Hanukkah story—very moving) (L2 & L3)


Cannon, Janell (L1 & L2)
Caudill, Rebecca
            A Certain Small Shepherd (Christmas) (L2 & L3)
Caseley, Judith
            Mama Coming and Going (L1)
Celenza, Anna Harwell
            Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (C.D. incl.) (L3 & L4)
Collington, Peter
            A Small Miracle (wordless Christmas story—a family favorite) (ALL)
Cooney, Barbara
            Miss Rumphius (L 2 & L3)
            Eleanor (about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life) (L2 & L3)
            Basket Moon (L1)
Craft, Charlotte
            King Midas and the Golden Touch (L2)
Cullen, Lynn
            The Mightiest Heart (L2 & L3)


Deedy, Carmen Agra
            The Yellow Star (L2 & L3)

DePaola, Tomie  (many Christian themes and saints’stories;  great illustrator;  a few
 suggestions:) (L1 & L2)
            The Clown of God
            Pascual and the Kitchen Angels
            The Holy Twins
            Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland
            The Night of Las Posadas   (Christmas)
DeRico, Ul
            The Rainbow Goblins (L1 & L2)


Early, Margaret
            Robin Hood (medieval looking illustrations—one plate per story) (L2 & L3)
Everett, Gwen
            John Brown:  One Man Against Slavery (L2)


Fair, Sylvia
            The Bedspread (G) (L2)
Field, Rachel
            Hitty (I like the one rewritten by Rosemary Wells and illus. by Susan Jeffers—a
            cross betw. a picture book and a chapter book—lovely, full page illustrations)  (G) (L2 & L3)


Gilman, Phoebe
            Something From Nothing (L1)
Gruelle, Johnny
            Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy series (L2)
            Wooden Willie (a little known one, but a family favorite) (L2 & L3)
            The Paper Dragon (L2 & L3)
Guarnieri, Paolo
            A Boy Named Giotto (L2 & L3)


Haas, Irene
            The Maggie B (L1 & L2)
Hall, Donald
            The Ox-Cart Man (L1)
Herriot, James
            A Treasury for Children  (great retellings from his veterinarian books) (L2-L4)
Hest, Amy
            When Jessie Came Across the Sea (L2 & L3)
Hissey, Jane
            Little Bear’s Trousers (L1)
Hoban, Russell
            The Frances books (mostly L1)
Hobbie, Holly (The Toot and Puddle series is good, but these are our favorites)(L1 & L2)
            Toot and Puddle
            Wish You Were Here
Hodges, Margaret (great retellings of many stories) (L2 & L3)
            Merlin and the Making of the King
            The Kitchen Knight
            Saint George and the Dragon
Houselander, Caryll
            Petook, an Easter Story (illus. by Tomie dePaola) (L2)
Hyman, Trina Schart (mostly an amazing illustrator) (L2)
            Retellings of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood
Hughes, Shirley (a house favorite—author and illustrator) (L1 & L2)
            All About Alfie (This is a compilation of Alfie stories.  They also are published
            individually as Alfie Gets in First, Alfie’s Feet, Alfie Gives a Hand, and
            An Evening With Alfie or individual stories)
            Dogger (had to read this one every night for weeks)
            Alfie Wins a Prize
            The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook
            The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook
            Tales of Trotter Street
            Alfie and the Birthday Surprise


Iwamura, Kazuo  (for young children—cozy family stories and illustrations) (L1)
            The 14 Forest Mice and the Summer Laundry Day
            The 14 Forest Mice and the Spring Meadow Picnic           
            The 14 Forest Mice and the Winter Sledding Day


Johnson, Crockett
            Harold and the Purple Crayon (L1)
Johnston, Tony
            Yonder (L1)


Kellogg, Steven
            Paul Bunyan (B)(L1 & L2)
            Mike Fink (B) (L1 & L2)
Kinsey-Warnock and Helen Kinsey
            The Bear That Heard Crying (based on a true story about Sarah Witcher) (L2)
Krauss, Ruth
            A Hole is to Dig (L1)


Lasker, Joe
            A Tournament of Knights (L1 & L2)
Lindman, Maj (L2)
            Flicka, Ricka, Dicka (and all the different stories)
            Snip, Snap, Snurr (and all the different stories)
Lunge-Larsen, Lise
            The Race of the Birkebeiners (L2 & L3)


Mayer, Marianna
            Beauty and the Beast (beautiful illustrations) (L2)
MacLachlan, Patricia (I find her books painfully beautiful)
            All the Places to Love (L2)
            Through Grandpa’s Eyes (L2)
Mazer, Anne
            Salamander Room (B)(L1)
McClintock, Barbara
            Dahlia (L2)
McCloskey, Robert (L1 & L2)
            Make Way for Ducklings
            One Morning in Maine
            Blueberries for Sal
McLerran, Alice
            Roxaboxen (L2)
Meisel, Paul
            Zara’s Hats (L2)
Mills, Lauren
            The Rag Coat (L2)


Nesbit, E.
            The Book of Beasts (B) (L2)
Northcote, Nancy
            Pottle Pig  (hilarious stories with great illus. about a very mischievous pig) (L2)


O’Connor, Sandra Day
            Finding Susie (L2)
Oram, Hiawyn
            Badger’s Bring Something Party (L1 &L2)


Paterson, Katherine
            The Angel and the Donkey  ( a wonderful, beautifully illustrated retelling of the
            story of Balaam and his donkey) (L2)
Peet, Bill
            Capyboppy (L2)
            Chester, the Worldly Pig (L1)
Philbrick, Margaret  (All)
            Back to the Manger (lovely Christmas story with great local references & illus.)
Phillips, Mildred
            The Sign in Mendel’s Window (L2)
Potter, Beatrix (try getting the very small books as she published them) (L2)
            Peter Rabbit
            all her other books

Polacco, Patricia  (great current children’s author who illustrates her own books; appeals
to a broad range of children; celebrates family, miracle, and heritage.  I do not like all of her books because they express attitudes or moral choices with which I disagree, but the ones listed below are excellent.) (L2, unless otherwise noted;  enjoyed by all)
            Uncle Vova’s Tree            (an Epiphany story)
            The Trees of the Dancing Goats
            Betty Doll   (G)
            The Keeping Quilt
            Thunder Cake
            Rechenka’s Eggs
            Just Plain and Fancy
            Chicken Sunday
            Thank you, Mr. Falker
            The Christmas Tapestry (an amazing Christmas story)
            An Orange for Frankie  (a touching Christmas story)
            Tikvah Means Hope
            The Butterfly (heavy subject matter—Jews plight during the Holocaust) (L3)
            Pink and Say (for older children—a Civil War story) (L2 & L3)
            The Bee Tree
            January’s Sparrow
Poole, Josephine
            Joan of Arc (illus. by Angela Barrett) (L2)

            The Master Swordsman and The Magic Doorway   (B) (L2)


Rand, Gloria
            Sailing Home (L2)
Riordan, James
            Jason and the Golden Fleece (a beautifully illustrated retelling) (L2)
Robertson, Bruce
            Marguerite Makes a Book (beautiful in showing how illumination was done) (L2)
Robinson, Joan
            Teddy Robinson (an easy chapter book—a house favorite) (L1 & L2)
Rogasky, Barbara (L2)
            Sleeping Beauty (illus. by Trina Schart Hyman)
            Rapunzel (illus. by Trina Schart Hyman)
            The Water of Life:  A Tale of the Brother’s Grimm
Rylant, Cynthia
            Let's Go Home (L1 & L2)
            Cobblestreet Cousins series (L2 & L3)
            The Relatives Came (L2 and up)


Sanderson, Ruth  (L2)
            The Crystal Mountain
            The Twelve Dancing Princesses
            Rose Red and Snow White
San Souci, Robert D.
            A Weave of Words (L2)
Sherman, Josepha
            Vassilisa The Wise (L2)
Steig, William (L1 & L2)
            Brave Irene
            Dr. DeSoto
            The Library
Stewart, Sarah (L2)
            The Money Tree
            The Gardener
            The Journey


Thayer, Jane
            The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy (precious story) (L1)
Tudor, Tasha (mostly known for her lovely illustrations) (All)
            Pumpkin Moonshine
            A Time to Keep
            A Doll’s Christmas
            Wings from the Wind (an anthology of poems)


von Stockhum, Hilda
            A Day on Skates (L2 and L3)


Waddell, Martin
            The Hidden House (G) (L2)
Wangerin, Walter, Jr. (L2--L4)
            Peter’s First Easter
            Mary’s First Christmas
Wells, Rosemary
            My Very First Mother Goose (L1)
            Lassie Come Home (a retelling—beautifully illustrated) (L2 & L3)
Wilde, Oscar
            The Selfish Giant (retold by many different authors;  I like the one by Fiona
            Waters, illus by Fabian Negrin, but I have seen others I love). (L2)
Wildsmith, Brian
            Joseph (a beautifully illus. retelling of the story of Joseph and his brothers)(L1)
Williams, Margery
            A Velveteen Rabbit (this is a lovely story; just make sure you find one with
            equally beautiful illustrations, as the options are plentiful.)(L2)
Wheeler, Lisa
            Sailor Moo: Cow at Sea (L1)
Wise, William
            The Black Falcon (from the Decameron, retold by Wise) (L2 & L3)
Wood, Audrey and Don
            Elbert’s Bad Word (great story, and they never tell you the bad word—yea!)(L1)
            King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub (L1)
           A Cowboy Christmas: The Miracle at Lone Pine Ridge (Christmas)(L2 & L3)
Wynne-Jones, Tim
            The Zoom Trilogy  (B) (L1 & L2)



Alcott, Louisa May (G) (L3 & L4)
            Little Women
            Little Men
            Jo’s Boys
            Eight Cousins
            Rose in Bloom
            Jack and Jill
Alexander, Lloyd
            The Pyrdain Chronicles (several books) (B) (L3 & L4)
Atwater, Richard
            Mr. Popper’s Penguins (L2)
Banks, Lynne Reid
            The Indian in the Cupboard (and sequels;  one of them has some weird spiritual
            aspects—may want to skip that one) (B) (L2 & L3)
Beatty, Patricia
            Turn Homeward, Hannalee (L3)
Blyton, Enid (a British author born at the turn of the century who wrote around 800
             books.  She has a cult following; worth exploring.)(L2 & L3)
            The Famous Five series
            The Children of Cherry Tree Farm
            Tales of Betsy Mae
Birdsall, Jeanne
            The Penderwicks (and sequels) (L3 and up)
Bond, Michael
            A Bear Called Paddington stories (L2)
Brink, Carol Ryrie (L3)
            Caddie Woodlawn
            Magical Melons
Brooks, Walter (L2—L4)
             Freddy series (aprox. 20 in the series;  written in the 1920’s—about a poet
             detective pig--humurous and clever) some of our favorites:
            Freddy goes to Florida
            The Clockwork Twin
            Freddy Goes to the North Pole
            Freddy, the Detective
            Freddy and Mr. Camphor
Browne, Frances
            Granny’s Wonderful Chair (fanciful stories) (L2 & L3)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson
            The Little Princess (L3)
            The Secret Garden (L3)
            The Racketty-Packetty House (L2)
Cassanova, Maria
            Moose Tracks (and sequel) (L3)
Caudill, Rebecca
            Happy Little Family (L2)
           Up and Down the River (others in this series, as well) (L2)
Cleary, Beverly (L2 & L3)
            Henry Huggins
            Henry and Ribsy
Dalgliesh, Alice
            The Silver Pencil (L3—L4)
            Bears on Hemlock Mountain (great boy story) (L1 & L2)
            The Courage of Sarah Noble (L2)
deAngeli, Marguerite
            Door in the Wall ( L3)
            Thee, Hannah (L3)
            (others, as well)
Dicamillo, Kate
            The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (L3 & L4)
            Mercy Watson series (L2)
Dillon, Eilis
            A Family of Foxes
            The Lost Island
Eager, Edward
            Knight’s Castle (L3)
            The Well-Wishers (L3)
            Half-Magic (L3)
Eckert, Allan W.
            Incident at Hawk’s Hill
Enright, Elizabeth (L3 & L4))
            Gone Away Lake
            Return to Gone Away Lake
            The Melendy Quartet (The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were
            Five, Spider Web for Two)
Estes, Eleanor (L2 & L3)
            The Hundred Dresses
            The Moffats and all the sequels
Fisher, Dorothy Canfield
            Understood Betsy (L2)
French, Allen (L3 & L4) (excellent boy stories!)
            The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow
            The Red Keep
Goudge, Elizabeth
             Linnets and Valerians
            The White Horse
Gallico, Paul
            The Man Who Was Magic
            The Snow Goose (L3--L4)
George, Jean Craighead
            My Side of the Mountain (and sequels) (L3 & L4)
            Julie of the Wolves (and sequels) (L3)
Gipson, Fred
            Old Yeller (L3 & L4)
Godden, Rumer
            The Doll’s House (G) (L3)
Goudge, Elizabeth
            The Little White Horse (L3 & L4)
            Linnets and Valerians (L3 & L4)
            Gentian Hill (G) (12 and up)
Graham, Kenneth
            The Wind in the Willows (I do like the one abridged and illustrated by Inga
Moore.  She doesn’t change the language, but does edit out lengthy description that for some children is cumbersome—including mine.) (L2 & L3)
Green, Roger Lancelyn  (one of the Inklings; wrote great versions of these and many
            other classics) (L3 & L4)
            The Adventures of Robin Hood
Grover, Wayne
            Dolphin Adventure (great short books;  true stories) (L2)
            Dolphin Treasure (L2)
Haywood, Carolyn
            “B” is for Betsy (and all the sequels) (G) (L2)
Harrison, Michael
            Don Quixote (a retelling of the Miguel de Cervantes tale) (B) (L3)
Henry, Marguerite
            Misty of Chincoteague (and sequels) (L3)
            King of the Wind (L3)
Henty, G.A. (the books are dense;  we prefer Jim Weiss’ edited & audio versions)(B)(L4)
            The Lion of the North
            The Reign of Terror
            The Young Carthaginian
            many more
Jacques, Brian
            Redwall (and all in the series) (great boy books!) (L3 & L4)
Jefferies, Richard
            Bevis, the Story of a Boy (written in 1906) (B)(L3)
Jewett, Eleanore M.
            The Hidden Treasure of Glaston (L3 & L4)
Jones, Elizabeth Orton
            Big Susan (G) (L2)
            Twig (G) (L2)
Konigsberg, E.L.
            The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (L3)
Larson, Kirby
            Hattie Big Sky (L3 & L4)
Lawhead, Stephen (though the writing is not completely even, these are solid page-
              turners) (L4)
            The Pendragon series (Taliesen, Merlin, King Arthur, etc.—Christian worldview,
             portrays the Druids as early Christian mystics)
            The Robin Hood series (Hood, Scarlet, Tuck)
LeFeuvre, Amy
            Teddy’s Button (great boy story) (written in 17th century? republished by
            Lamplighter Publishing) (L2 & L3)
Lewis, C.S.           
            The Narnia Chronicles (All)
            All of his books as soon as children can read them, esp. The Screwtape Letters and The Great 
            Divorce (L4)
Lovelace, Maud Hart
            Betsy-Tacy (and all the sequels) (G)(L2 & L3)
MacDonald, Betty
            Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (and sequels)(L2)
MacDonald, George 
            The Princess and the Goblin (L2 and up)
            The Princess and Curdie (L2 and up)
            The Light Princess (L2 and up)
            Wise Woman (L4)
            all the books edited by Michael E. Phillips (ie. The Fisherman’s Lady, The
            Marquis’ Secret, etc.) (L4)
MacLachlan, Patricia (L3 & L4)
            Sarah, Plain and Tall (and all the sequels—painfully beautifully)
            Edward’s Eyes (beautiful, but very heavy subject matter—a child dies)
Mains, David and Karen (Christian fantasy for older children)(L3 & L4)
            Tales of the Kingdom
            Tales of the Resistance
            Tales of Restoration
Martin, Ann M. and Laura Godwin
            The Doll People (L3)
McCloskey, Robert
            Homer Price (L3)
McGraw, Eloise Jarvis (books have an Egyptian belief system—easy to discuss with
             older children) (L4)
            The Golden Goblet
           Mara, Daughter of the Nile
McSwigan, Marie
            Snow Treasure (WWII) (L3 & L4)
Milne, A.A.
            Winnie-the-Pooh (Certainly this is one of the best children’s books of all time.
Make sure to read the real version, not just all the picture book selections.  The whole family can enjoy the different levels of humor.)(All)
Montgomery, Lucy M.
            Anne of Green Gables series (L3 & L4)
            Emily of New Moon (and all the sequels) (L3 & L4)
Moody, Ralph (L3--L4)
            Little Britches (and all the sequels) (great boy books, though not exclusively so)
            Shiloh trilogy
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds (L3 & L4)
Nesbit, E. (L3 & L4)
            The Enchanted Castle
            The Railway Children
            Five Children and It
            The Phoenix and the Carpet
Norton, Mary
            The Borrowers (and all in the series) (L2 & L3)
O’Brien, Robert C.
            Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (L3)
Park, Linda Sue (L3 & L4)
            A Single Shard
            The Kite Fighters
Pearce, Phillipa (L3)
            Tom’s Midnight Garden
            Minnow on the Say
Peck, Richard (L3 & L4)
            Way Down Yonder
            A Long Way From Chicago
Perkins, Janet and John
            Haffertee Hampster Diamond (and sequels) (L2)
Peterson, John
            The Littles (and the sequels) (L2)
Pyle, Howard
            Men of Iron (L4)
            The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (L3--L4)
            King Arthur (L3--L4)
Ransome, Arthur
            Swallow and Amazons (and all in the series) (L3 & L4)
Rawling, Wilson
            Where the Red Fern Grows (L4)
Ray, Mary (historical fiction) (L4)
            The Ides of April
            Beyond the Desert Gate
Reilly-Giff, Patricia (L3 and up)
            Nory Ryan's Song
            Maggie's Door
            "R" My Name is Rachel
St. John, Patricia (L3 & L4)
            Treasures of the Snow
            Star of Light
            several others
Seldon, George
            A Cricket in Times Square (L3)
Shemin, Margaretha
            The Little Riders (a WWII story about a girl who is very courageous)(L3)
Seredy, Kate
            A Tree for Peter (an amazing redemptive story; a generational favorite in our
            family) (L2 & L3)
Sidney, Margaret
            The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (and sequels) (L3)
Speare, Elizabeth George (L4)
            Calico Captive (a story of a woman captured by American Indians)
            The Bronze Bow (set in Jesus’ time; excellent story)
            The Witch of Blackbird Pond (set in medieval times in which people assumed
                     anyone strange was a witch;  this woman was a Quaker.)
            The Sign of the Beaver
Spyri, Johanna
            Heidi (not all sequels are written by Spyri, but are good) (L4)
Steig, William
            Abel’s Island
Stratton-Porter, Gene (L4)
            Laddie (one of my all time favorites)
            Keeper of the Bees
            Girl of the Limberlost
            The Magic Garden (G)
Sutcliff, Rosemary (wrote more than 60 children's books;  the ones we have read are amazing.  Here
             is a sampling):
            Black Ships Before Troy (retells The Illiad;  not for the faint of heart) (L2—L4)
            The Wanderings of Odysseus (retells The Odyssey) (L2--L4)
       these books are excellent historical fiction:  (L3--mostly L4)   
           The Eagle of the Ninth
           The Lantern Bearers
           The Shield Ring
Taylor, Sidney
            All of a Kind Family (and sequels) (L3)
Tolkien, J.R.R. (PLEASE do not let your children watch these movies until they have read the books!)
            The Hobbit (L3 & L4)
            The Lord of the Rings (L4 and up) (try the audio version read by Rob Inglis!!)
Von Trapp, Maria
            The Story of the Trapp Family Singers           
Von Stockum, Hilda
            The Winged Watchmen (WWII) (L4)
            The Mitchells series
White, E.B. (L2—L4)
            Charlotte’s Web
            The Trumpet of the Swan
White, John
            Archives of Anthropos
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
            The Little House books (all of them)(L2 & L3)
Wiggin, Kate Douglas, ed.
            The Arabian Nights (L4)
Williamson, Joanne (writes amazing historical fiction;  slowly being republished by
            Bethlehem Books—check their website)(L4)
            Hittite Warrior
            God King
Winthrop, Elizabeth
            The Castle in the Attic (L3)
Wright, Harold Bell
            Shepherd of the Hills (a generational family favorite) (L4)



Goscinny, R. and Uderzo, A.  (These comic books are translated from the French and are
                                                 clever stories set in the ancient world.)  (B)
            Asterix and Obelix and all the sequels (L4)

Herge  (These comic books, first written in 1929, are translated from the French.)
            The Adventures of Tin Tin  and all the sequels (L4)


D’Aulaire, Ingre and Edgar
            Book of Greek Myths
Ferris, Helen
            Favorite Poems Old and New
Kennedy, Caroline, ed.
            A Family of Poems
Kennedy, X.J. and Dorothy
            Talking Like the Rain:  A Read-to-me Book of Poems
Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales
            Find a well illustrated anthology
Perrault, Charles
            The Complete Fairy Tales
Rosen, Michael
            Classic Poetry:  An Illustrated Collection
Stevenson, Robert Louis
            A Child’s Garden of Verses
Tudor, Tasha
            Wings from the Wind:  An Anthology of Poems


There are many great Bible story books.  Here are some that might be less familiar.

Bible Experience (an audio reading of the Bible by African American actors—annointed,
                             phenomenal;  my children love it)
Lindvall, Ella K.
            Read-Aloud Bible Stories (several volumes) (These are great for young children,
            ages 2-5)
The Picture Bible (yes, a comic strip Bible.  Surprisingly, this is an excellent source for
                              children to learn the Bible stories, and they love it.)
Hartman, Bob
            Early Saints of God (excellent stories of different saints with reflective questions
                                                and prayers) 
Jackson, Dave and Neta
            Hero Tales (a whole series of great biographies)
Lloyd Jones, Sally
            The Jesus Storybook Bible (fantastic storytelling, shows the unfolding story of Jesus even
            throughout the Old Testament;  the audio is exceptional)
Martin, Mildred A.
            Missionary Stories with the Millers (Excellent.  Avoid chapter 17, “Martyred at
                                  Midnight,” in which children watch the murder of their father.)
Tada, Joni Eareckson and Bobbie Wolgemuth
            Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart (several hymn volumes w/ accom. C.D.)
Vos, Catherine
            The Child’s Story Bible
YWAM publishers have amazing biographies of missionaries and heroes of faith

A Visit With Mrs. G (some of the best audio Bible story telling I’ve ever heard)



Focus on the Family Radio Dramas (very well done, but abridged;  I much prefer having children listen    to these read first) Narnia series, Secret Garden, Little Women, Les Miserable, The Hiding Place, Ben Hur, Anne of Green Gables
Look for all of the chapter books above in audio version;  many are available.



Wilson, Elizabeth

Books Children Love

Kilpatrick, William

Books That Build Character

Michael O’Brien
            Landscape With Dragons (book list in the back)
Sonlight curriculum catalog (this is a homeschooling curriculum, but the booklists in
 their catalog are phenomenal)
            consult website:  www.sonlight.com
Chinaberry catalog (great suggestions for early books;  some great suggestions for older
 children, but use caution.)
            consult website:  www.chinaberry.com