All About Jesus

51L7T7Kr6LLAll About Jesus
Martine Blanc-Rerat
Loyola, 2000

Do you remember that book sale I went to a few weeks ago?  One of the happy surprises I found there that day was All About Jesus, a children’s Bible that’s in some ways quite similar to the ESV Illustrated Family Bible.  Given how much I like it, I’m surprised that I’d never heard of it before!

The text of All About Jesus comes directly from the New Living Translation of the Bible.  I love that even though the selections are quite short and the NLT isn’t my translation of choice for myself, when I read this book my kids are hearing the actual language of the Bible instead of that of an author.  (Not that storybook Bibles are at all bad; I’m just grateful to have both.)  That makes this book a natural half-step to reading from a storybook Bible to a copy of the complete Scriptures.

The first nine stories are from the Old Testament while the remaining 200 pages focus in on Jesus: who he is, what he did, what he teaches, and how he remains with us.  I like the selections that were chosen, but I especially appreciate that most of the stories that fall during Holy Week are included (because I find most children’s Bibles to leave out at least some of them).  Come spring, I’ll definitely be pulling out this book as we’re nearing the end of Lent and walking through the week before celebrating the Resurrection.

As far as the illustrations go, they remind me a bit of a slightly more grown-up version of Mick Inkpen’s drawings in Stories Jesus Told, even though Blanc-Rerat’s style is less cartoony.  They’re inviting to gaze at and I appreciate how they artfully help us to focus on the Scripture itself.  All things considered, I’d say that this book is perfect for ages 2-7 (those at the older end of that age spectrum could read it themselves, as the passages are short and the translation is pretty kid friendly).

At the very end of the book there are a dozen pages that aren’t simply passages of Scripture, and a couple of those mention topics like Mary, saints, priests, and the Eucharist in distinctly Catholic ways.  Personally, I’m comfortable with most of them, and find it easy to switch a word or two where my Anglican theology differs.

Kindergarten at Home

DSC_0005-002We’re a few months into my daughter’s kindergarten-at-home experience and I’m happy to report that thus far we are all still alive and well.  :)  I like to say that our version of kindergarten is low key and high joy, and most days that’s an apt description of what’s going on at our house.

Our lessons in math, spelling/phonics, and handwriting are all going well, but what we’re most excited about is getting to spend lots and lots of time reading aloud together.  We’re doing poetry teatimes, savoring some fantastic chapter books, learning about famous scientists, and exploring six countries (one at a time) via picture books.

The first country on our list was China (because my kids’ aunt and uncle live there) and wow, it’s amazing how many children’s books there are about China!  I culled through some big stacks of books before narrowing it down to about fifteen that we used to explore the Chinese language, culture, and stories.  For about seven weeks we read to our hearts content – we also learned a few words in Mandarin thanks to youtube and made a Chinese feast for dinner one night.  Now we’re on to Brazil, and later on we’ll dive into England, Israel, Indonesia, and Kenya.  Such fun!  If anyone is interested in seeing the booklists I’m creating for any of those places let me know.  I’d be happy to do a series on them as long as you don’t mind me veering that far off the path of theological kidlit.

I’d love to hear what those of you with school aged children are reading with them these days!  Do you have any great literary discoveries to share with the rest of us?  My daughter and I just started Betsy-Tacy and… swoon.

Homeschool

I Heard Good News Today

I Heard Good NewsI Heard Good News Today
Cornelia Lehn
Faith and Life Press, 1983

We’ve reviewed a number of biographies here in the past; it seems as though it’s one sub-genre that we Christians do well.  My daughter and I are reading I Heard Good News Today as part of our homeschooling this year, and even though we’ve not yet finished the book I feel very confident in recommending it.  If you have children ages 5-10 I think your family would be very glad to own a copy!

Through 93 short stories, Cornelia Lehn introduces us to missionaries and Christian workers from all over the globe and throughout history.  The theme of the book is the spreading of the good news of Jesus, so it aptly begins with a few Bible stories of the first men and women to share the news of the resurrection: Mary Magdalene, Philip and the Ethiopian, Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Lydia.  The stories continue with early missionaries (from the first few centuries AD) and then modern missionaries are presented in groupings according to their country or continent.  I’ve found there to be a great mix of people I already knew and those who are new to me, and each one’s life is a compelling reminder that we, too, long to be part of bringing the gospel to those who have not yet heard it.

The length of the stories lend themselves well to daily devotional material.  My daughter and I share one chapter together most days after reading a Bible story, and I can also envision them being read aloud at dinnertime as a family (by those who don’t have squirmy babies and toddlers at your table…) or read alone by an upper-elementary aged child.  I love that the stories are grouped according to geographic region because it connects the individuals together into a larger story about the people living in a specific place.

Lehn’s writing is clear and straightforward, neither overly embellished nor sparse, and I really appreciate the lack of comprehension questions tacked onto the end of each chapter.  Being a fan of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy I would rather let the child’s own mind interact and wrestle with the characters and storyline.  We tend to do our own re-telling and then talk about what stood out to us – and there is always plenty to ponder and discuss!

[If you're interested in tracking down this book one good source is Sonlight, a homeschool curriculum that includes it in its kindergarten program.]

Me, in Books (the Haley version)

I’ve been poking around the blog a bit lately, tweaking and updating things here and there.  We’d love to do more of an overhaul but, well, neither one of us is particularly tech savvy so this format is probably here to stay for the time being.

One of the things I tinkered with the past few days is my About page.  In the past I’ve had thumbnails of book covers posted there, but I thought it would be fun to line up a bunch of favorite books and include that instead.  I’m no photographer (I leave that to both of my very talented sisters), but here you have it: Me in books.

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(You can click to enlarge the image and read the titles.)

I didn’t overthink my selections for this picture, which means that I’ve left out a great many important and beloved books.  As I was reshelving them after the photo shoot I smacked my forehead a few times as I saw some that I’d inadvertently passed over.  For instance: there’s not a single Chaim Potok title in my photo!  A travesty!

That’s okay, though, because as I was lining up my books I quickly realized that I’d never be able to take a completely inclusive photo of all of the books that I hold most dear.  For one, there are too many.  And moreover, I don’t own all of them.  Some I’ve borrowed from the library or friends and others are on my Kindle instead of my bookshelf.  I still like the idea of this picture, though.  Me on a shelf.  A heap of books that have become a part of me in one way or another.  Authors and characters and ideas that have formed me over the years, sitting together like friends.  Makes me happy just to look at it.

(Sarah, you’re up next!  Can’t wait to see what your choices would be…)

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More book sale loot, from the other end of the continent

This must be the season for used-book sales, because last week I spent the better part of a day at the Friends of the SF Public Library Big Book Sale, out at Fort Mason. Picking through thousands of books with coffee in hand and the bay splashing against the pier? Yes, please! Oh, and nothing priced over $3? I’m there.

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My favorite part of sales like this is happening across the books that you’re never going to see in a bricks-and-mortar store. I love Rumer Godden’s children’s books (especially The Story of Holly & Ivy, which we read every year at Christmas), so how could I pass up this handsome edition of In This House of BredeThe Icon and the Axe is a history of Russia that was recommended to me by a professor of Russian history at a Wheaton theology conference a few years back – I find Russia utterly fascinating – and I’ve had my eye half open for it every time I walk into Books Inc. A copy for $1? Beautiful.  And ever since Alan Jacobs assigned Black Lamb and Grey Falcon in my modern English-lit course, I have admired Rebecca West immensely. So of course I was delighted to find an anthology that includes her biography of Augustine; and the history/political philosophy geek in me may have squealed a little upon grabbing a handsome copy of The New Meaning of Treason.

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And of course there are loads of books that I mark as “want-to-read” when they come out, or I read a review, but gradually slip out of my awareness until I see them for $3 on a used book table. What are used book sales for if not restoring some of my forgotten good intentions?

We’re awash in picture books lately, and the selection wasn’t great at this sale, so I spent most of my kidlit time over at the chapter book tables. Remember the old Apple classics? And those Dell paperbacks with the slightly pulpy illustrations on the covers? Welcome to my childhood, people. It felt very necessary to give my daughter the same edition of Little Women, sappy cover and all, that I read to bits. And my favorite find? A collection of Norse tales compiled by Sigrid Undset. My daughter might not be ready for Kristin Lavransdatter for awhile yet, but we can have fun now immersing ourselves in the imaginative universe that shaped Norse culture (and my own child’s Viking forbears).

Do you have a favorite used book sale? Mention it in the comments, and maybe we can link up to different annual sales across the country for everyone to find! And what’s your strategy? Do you go with a list of titles to seek out, or show up hoping for a dose of serendipity? I’d love to hear about your favorite finds!

Book Sale Loot

Once a year there’s a huge used book sale at the Minnesota state fairgrounds, which is conveniently located 5 minutes from my house.  It’s something I look forward to every year, but at the same time I have to admit that sifting through thousands of books like that is quite the experience.  The children’s books are spread out on tabletops and in boxes and are only organized into two large sections: picture books and chapter books.  By the end of my shopping time I can barely see straight as a result of squinting at book spines for hours on end.  In other words, it’s a little nutty.  But so very worth it!

Here’s a shot of my favorite chapter books I brought home this weekend:

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Not bad for a few bucks!  One of the benefits of familiarizing yourself with great booklists is that when you find yourself searching through fifty tables of children’s books you know what titles and authors to scoop up without a second thought.  Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge?  Why yes, thank you very much.  The Shoes series by Noel Streatfeild?  Definitely.  It also comes in handy when appointing oneself as personal assistant to the shoppers next to you.  I especially think it’s fun to suggest books to kids who have a stack of not-so-great ones in their arms.  Perhaps that’s a bit nosy on my part, but it’s awfully hard to let a 9-year-old pass by From the Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler having no idea what a treasure it is.

I also scored a bunch of picture books, more so than other years actually, but most of them have already been scattered around the house so I don’t have a picture of those for you.  There were quite a few promising theological kidlit books this year, so those may appear here in future posts.  (My one regret from the sale this year was not buying the picture book on creation that told of Adam naming all of the animals God had created… including unicorns.  Seriously.)

One of the picture books I snatched up right away at the sale was Miss Suzy’s Easter Surprise.  I was especially delighted with that one because just a couple of weeks ago we spotted the first Miss Suzy book at one of our neighborhood’s Little Free Libraries.  Joy!

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Buying new books is incredibly important because it supports authors and sends a message to publishers about the kinds of books consumers value.  But buying used books allows us to buy so many more books than we could otherwise afford, so we do both.  How about you?  If you have any great tips on where to consistently find amazing used books I’d love to hear them!

31 Days (or at least more than one)

If you’re a blogger or an avoid blog reader you probably know that every year in October, many bloggers try to write a post every single day. Many even choose a theme to guide their writing. Lest you get too excited, let me quickly say: Sarah and I will not be blogging daily this month. Sorry! But (given our recent habit of posting nothing at all for long stretches of time) wouldn’t it be fun if you heard from us a little more often this month?  I think so. There’s been so many bookish things going on in both of our lives that are just begging to be shared! Here’s a sneak peak of what’s to come:

Report from the homeschooling front
Daily doses of storytelling in one of our homes
Reading more slowly with book club
Podcasts for kids… and grown-ups
Memorizing theology as poetry
Musings from Charlotte Mason
Photos of my haul from a huge used book sale (yay!)

And, of course, Sarah and I will also be talking about children’s theological literature from a variety of angles and recommending some new books. We’re looking forward to re-connecting with you all in this place, so please stop by again soon!

Fiction as a Means of Grace

For the last six months or so, I’ve been in a dry spell with novels. I can’t tell you why, but I’ve had trouble picking up and sustaining a good novel. (The exception has been the John Russell series by David Downing: even when I can’t read fiction, I’m always up for a good spy story.) Recently it’s been a season of history and physics, the New Yorker and Food & Wine and the Slurve. We all have seasons in our reading lives, and sometimes the spiritual attention that a good novel requires just isn’t available; at others, we just have more pressing interests and concerns. So I haven’t been terribly alarmed. But yesterday I came across something I wrote several years ago for a class on faith and fiction at Luther Seminary, and had the funny experience of being instructed by my past self:

“There is a discipleship component to [reading fiction] as well. Like the Truth by whom we were all created and in whom the universe lives and moves and has its being, its [fiction’s] means of communication is bodily human life. Watching Ivan Karamazov crouch on his father’s stairs as he listens to him breathing down below , knowing that he is abandoning his father to death the next day, is a treatise itself on original sin; moreover, it is a treatise that involves us, makes us complicit, and sends us away grappling with the dark desires in our own hearts. This is reason enough that the discipline of reading fiction seriously and openheartedly is a practice that ought to be encouraged in church alongside other means of discipleship.”

It was just the encouragement I needed to return to the fiction shelves, not as escape but with serious spiritual intent. Fiction has (if this isn’t too bold a claim) been a means of grace to me, and has required the same sort of engagement on my part as other more traditional means — prayer, fasting, fellowship. I feel more relaxed about taking a break from fiction than I do from the other biblically mandated avenues, but was thankful nonetheless to receive my own encouragement on this one.

Since it’s that delicious season where we find ourselves still in the midst of summer reading as well as planning the upcoming fall, here’s what’s at the top of my fiction list right now. Once I’ve finished Stones from the River and am home for the fall, these will be the books I’m hunting down at Books Inc or ordering from Hearts and Minds:

(Amazon links are so you can preview — yes, I do my fair share of business with them and I’m not going to hate on the place that delivers my laundry soap and streaming episodes of P but for books please do consider your local seller or the wonderful Byron and Beth at H&M)

What Happened to Sophie Wilder, Christopher Beha
Things Invisible to See, Nancy Willard
Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
The Bird in the Tree, Elizabeth Goudge
Souls Raised from the Dead, Doris Betts

How about you? Has fiction been a means of grace for you? How so? I’d love to know which books, and what you’re planning on reading in the upcoming months!

On the Road Again…

I grew up listening to Willie Nelson: in my dad’s truck, on family road trips, in the background because my parents dug 70s and 80s country music. When I heard him on an old Prairie Home Companion rerun yesterday, it was with a heavy hit of nostalgia. For some people my age, it’s Family Ties (oh, Alex P. Keaton) or Full House (oh, Uncle Jesse)  that takes them straight back to childhood. For me, it’s The Highwaymen. Thanks, Mom & Dad.

So it’s fitting, of course, that every summer I spend a lot of my time humming “On the Road Again” under my breath as I pack, unpack, do laundry, fold, pack, unpack, do more laundry, repack again, and so on until mid-August. We have the extraordinary blessing of parents who are young and energetic enough to want lots of time with us and our kids (mostly our kids, really) AND who live in perfect places for the fogged-in San Francisco family to seasonally relocate. So far we’ve been in St Louis (family reunion), Florida (my parents), Dallas (a wedding), with our next stop at the lake in Western Minnesota —  with sun, food, and grandparents all the way through.

I hope you can understand, then, why reviews might be few and far between this summer. I have several chapter books I’m working through with the seven year old, but this takes time. In the meantime, may I share some of what we’re reading and eating? Just for fun, of course? Because I hope that many of you are on vacation, or heading that way, as well!

Reading Aloud with the 7-year-old

The Story of the World; the Middle Ages, Susan Wise Bauer
Favorite Medieval Tales, Mary Pope Osborne
Monks and Mystics: Chronicles of the Medieval Church, Mindy & Brandon Withnow
Famous Men of the Middle Ages, Rob Shearer

We just finished Voyage of the Dawn Treader and are planning to start Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone this weekend. One of those parenting moments I’ve been looking forward to for seven years: hooray!

Reading Aloud with the 4-year-old

The Jamie and Angus Stories, Anne Fine & Penny Dale (thank you, Haley!)
We Are Best Friends, Aliki
Why: The Best Ever Question and Answer Book about Nature, Science, and the World Around You, Catherine Ripley
Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever! Richard Scarry
The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook, Shirley Hughes

His best friend moved away at the beginning of the summer, hence the Aliki pick. We’ve also been doing lots of Jamie & Angus, and one Alfie story in particular (“Bonting”) because he too has a beloved stuffed friend: Saggy Baggy, the elephant who accompanies us everywhere. If we lose Saggy Baggy, please pray for us!

With his best friend and the one and only Saggy Baggy

With his best friend and the one and only Saggy Baggy

My Sumer Reading

Potsdam Station, David Downing
(plus the whole series of John Russell thrillers. A British-American journalist with a German girlfriend and German son trying to navigate the various intelligence services at work during the Second World War? Yes, please!)

Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Non-Scientists, Fred A. Wolf
Because daily reality is much more complicated than I ever imagined, and I want to (at least slightly) grasp why.

Stones from the River, Ursula Helgi
My mother-in-law gave me this book, and I’ve been waiting to start it until I could give it proper, sustained attention. And that attention has been repaid. I haven’t finished yet, but so far it’s a fascinating story about an outsider (a young woman marked by dwarfism) inhabiting a very specific space in time and seeing how history makes everyone an outsider in one way or another — to our families, our countries, our belief systems, or basic civility itself. It’s the sort of book I wish I were reading with a larger book group, because there is so much conversation to be had!

Books and Culture, because I am always behind on issues and always hungry to catch up. The best of their content is reserved for subscribers (and may I encourage you, vigorously, to subscribe?), but two essays I’ve particularly enjoyed are available on their site. Let’s just say my ever-burgeoning “to-read” list keeps growing:

Redefining Religious Fiction, D.G. Myers
The Rood and the Torc,  John Wilson

And the Food:

Between family reunions, time at my parents’ house, and a weekend in Napa with friends, we have eaten well this summer. A few of the best things so far:

Grilled Herb Shrimp
Red Curry Chicken Kebabs with Yogurt Sauce
Pie. All kinds of pie.
Especially this pie:
BBQ Pork Steaks (with LOTS of information for those who aren’t from St Louis)
Israeli Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

I hope your summer is full of delicious food and wonderful books, whether you’re traveling or happily ensconced in your own backyard. What are you eating and reading during these long and wonderful days?

St George and the Dragon

St George and the DragonSt George and the Dragon
Michael Lotti & Jennifer Soriano
CreateSpace, 2014

Recently another parent at our church asked me if I knew of any really good middle-grade Christian novels. I gave my standard answer: well, The Bronze Bow is wonderful, if not explicitly “Christian,” and, well…I was on the lookout for more.

St George and the Dragon isn’t precisely a middle-grade novel, or even precisely a novel for that matter: it’s one possible telling of a saint’s life, and has more theological and historical heft than much middle-grade fare. What it is, precisely, is an absolutely lovely book that I can’t wait to read aloud to my daughter and that I’m so pleased to share with you, our readers.**

By way of introduction, Michael Lotti writes, “This is a story of St. George. I say a story and not the story, for no one knows much about St George…I have taken what is guessed at and added many of my own guesses to create a story about a great Christian man.” We’re not wholly in the realm of Christian history, not really in a novel — rather, it’s that delightful space that has existed for centuries in the church: holy legend.  It’s a form that has flourished in some corners of the church more than others, and one rich in its power to enlarge our theological imaginations.

And what a legend it is. In this telling, George is born Marcellus, a Roman tribune who hails from a noble estate in modern-day Turkey. He is rapidly advancing through the Roman army, engaged to be married to a beautiful and wealthy girl, and proud of his empire and the virtues it embodies. That is, until he discovers that a dragon has taken up residence in the region of his father’s estate, and he must choose between sacrificing to it and a different, more difficult refusal.

I had always half-imagined St George as the Christian knight, prancing in on his white horse to kill an evil dragon and probably leaving some swooning ladies in his wake. Not the most terribly interesting story. But this telling includes high drama, Roman history, a conversion, friendship and grief, told compellingly and with theological sophistication. In the dragon, Marcellus (who takes George as his baptismal name) encounters the true face of what he has worshiped and served — the Empire — and finds himself alternately seduced and repelled. Unable to make sense of or resist the dragon’s pull on his old loyalties, he stumbles across a group of Christians worshipping on his father’s estate. Although initially shocked by their alien ways (men and women worshiping together! Slaves and freedmen embracing as brothers! Worship at a funeral and hope in death!) Marcellus finds them, and the hope they promise, strangely compelling. St George and the Dragon is nothing less than the story of a soul’s death to life in Christ, the putting off the old man in a violently liberating way.

The experience of the early Christians, and the radical upending of human empires and institutions (slavery, ancestor-worship, even marriage and friendship) that the gospel entails: it’s all here, in a story that will capture children’s imaginations as well as their parents’. This book would make a lovely family read-aloud, and offer excellent fodder for longer conversations with older children and teens. I heartily commend St George and the Dragon to you and hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

**Full disclosure: Michael Lotti is a former teaching colleague of mine, but that only adds to my pleasure. What’s better than passing along a superb book? Why, when said book is written by someone you like and respect!