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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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!

Owning the Library

When my oldest was a toddler, we never went to the library.  Frankly, I didn’t really see the point: we own tons of board books and picture books that she was very happy to read over and over.  When she turned 2, though, I started getting it.  As much as I wanted to buy every single book we wanted to read, we just couldn’t afford it.  So we started exploring the library’s offerings and reading through all sorts of booklists that I’ve stumbled upon over the years.

Now that she is nearly 5, the tide has definitively turned and now we read more books from the library than ones we own.  Even though I love (LOVE!) owning books and will always be an advocate of doing so, I am oh so grateful for the library.  It expands our reading lives in such a rich way… and also provides a fun outing on ridiculously cold winter days.

However.  One of the big problems with library books is that after a few weeks, you have to take the books back.  If you’re a believer in the goodness and power of re-reading (as I am), this presents a problem because if you’re going to re-read a book you or your child has to remember to check it out again at some point in the future.  But when there are so many books yet to be discovered, sometimes it’s hard to reach for the known, beloved books instead of the shiny new one on the shelf, you know?

About a year ago I set out to at least partially solve this problem.  I wanted a way to remind us of our favorite books, a way to inspire us to check them out repeatedly, and a way to allow my kids to be part of that process.  Because my daughter wasn’t reading yet, I knew I had to do something other than simply print out a list of titles.  So instead, I spent a couple of naptimes finding book cover images to copy and paste into a word document.  Printed on cardstock at the closest copy shop and placed in plastic page protectors and voila:

Library Catalog

Our very own personalized, visual library catalog that makes us feel like library books are truly ours!  My daughter can browse through it anytime; it’s my job to place online holds on the books she requests so they’re ready for us to pick up in a few days.  (She places post-it notes on top of the ones she wants.)  We add new books to our list of favorites all the time, so every few months I create a new page to add to our binder.  This system has worked marvelously for us and now in every backpack-full of library books we nearly always have a handful of old favorites.  The more we re-read our favorites the more treasured they become and the more we want to keep checking them out, so I’m calling this project a definite success.

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The Colt and the King

Colt and KingThe Colt and the King
Marni McGee & John Winch
Holiday House, 2002

A few days ago a friend pointed out to me that the story of the triumphal procession is not included in either the Big Picture Story Bible or the Jesus Storybook Bible.  I was surprised when she told me – perhaps simply because Palm Sunday is this weekend and its proximity makes it feel particularly important – and left the conversation wondering what is out there in children’s literature that tells the story well.  Happily, I found one to share with you all just in time for the beginning of this year’s Holy Week!

Marni McGee (of The Noisy Farm fame) and illustrator John Winch have together created The Colt and the King, a creative retelling of the triumphal entry that is just right for preschoolers and early elementary kids.  It’s out of print, but my own library had it on its shelves and used copies seem affordable and easy to find.  The donkey is the narrator, and through the book’s pages he reminisces about the day he was drafted into the King’s service and carried him into Jerusalem alongside an exuberant crowd.  The text is clear yet gently poetic, the illustrations are captivating, and the author’s note that precedes the title page provides additional context and explanation.

Now, I have to admit that normally I’m not a fan of Bible retellings that focus on something other than what is the clear biblical theme.  Most frequently I see this in the form of telling the Christmas story from the perspective of the animals, though I can think of other examples as well.  It’s just not my cup of tea.  However… I really like this book.  For one thing, I love the way that McGee foreshadows both Good Friday and also the Second Coming as the story progresses.  Moreover, the colt’s encounter with Jesus is somehow entirely relatable, especially for a young child.  Jesus’ presence calms the animal as the Good Shepherd calms his sheep, and the colt is in turn pleased with the role he gets to play on that special day.  He feels anxious at what he senses is soon to come for Jesus (a feeling that I’m sure many young children share as the day we remember the crucifixion draws near).  And after the procession ends, the donkey longs for the day when he will once again see Jesus and be at home with him.  Each of these reflections strike me as particularly relevant for children and taken together they’re a wonderful way to begin Holy Week.

Sarah and I have long had trouble finding children’s books for Holy Week and Easter that we are truly excited about, so I’m particularly pleased to be able to recommend this one to you.  The Colt and the King is a lovely book that makes the Palm Sunday story come alive and I hope that you’ll consider tracking it down to share with the young ones in your life.

Ian and the Gigantic Leafy Obstacle

Ian and the Gigantic Leafy Obstacle

Ian and the Gigantic Leafy Obstacle
Sheila Miller
OMF International, 1983/2002

The most common forms of prayer that my children engage in are probably prayers of gratitude and meal blessings, and those don’t often lead to tough theological questions.  But as they grow and the more they ask God for specific requests, the more conversations we have about what that form of prayer is all about.  How we understand God’s ways when he doesn’t answer in the ways that we asked him to?  What if his timing is not our timing?  How do we continue to trust his love when we don’t see immediate evidence that he is listening to us when we talk to him?

The nuances of prayer are hard to communicate to young children, but I think that Sheila Miller has done an excellent job of doing just that in Ian and the Gigantic Leafy Obstacle.  It tells two intersecting tales: one of a missionary whose car is blocked by a huge fallen tree and one of a Thai man who loses an elephant.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a great story of how God sometimes answers a prayer immediately yet we have to wait to see the evidence of his answer.  It’s certainly not going to answer every question about intercession you child may throw at you.  But as one simple illustration of how God is at work behind the scenes and knows the best ways to answer our prayers, it’s a great success.

This short, small paperback is a true story (which makes it even better!) and published by OMF, a missionary agency.  Amazon carries used copies as well as new copies from third party vendors, but you can also find it at Sonlight or purchase it directly from OMF.  I loved sharing Ian’s story with my daughter during Lent because prayer is a traditional Lenten theme (and the one that we’re focusing on this year), but since prayer is woven into the fabric of our lives year round it’s a great choice for any season.

A Homemade Year

Homemade YearA Homemade Year
Jerusalem Jackson Greer
Paraclete Press, 2013

My spiritual life has been deeply affected by the Anglican practice of arranging church life around the various liturgical seasons of the year.  Liturgy began to feed my soul in college and has only become more important to me in the (more than) decade since graduation.  Now as a mother, I aim for my family’s home life to reflect what goes on at church.  I want my children to always sense that church feels like home and home feels like an extension of church.  It’s something that hasn’t magically come together all at once, but bit by bit and year by year I try to make steady progress toward that general goal.

You’ll understand, then, that when I caught wind of a new book on celebrating the church year with your family I was immediately interested.  A Homemade Year is a book that will appeal to both newbies and veterans to liturgical celebrations, so wherever you find yourself on that spectrum I happily commend it to you.  I loved that the book doesn’t contain long, intimidating lists of all of the ways you could be marking each special day or season.  (She says candidly in the preface, actually, that she doesn’t recommend doing every craft, recipe, and activity in the book unless you only require three hours of sleep per night.)  Unlike some of the other church year celebration guides that I own, this book is a peek into one woman’s family life and the simple, creative, personal ways that she has made the church year come alive in their home.  It’s less like Pinterest and more like a memoir of sorts, and for someone who can get intimidated by the sheer number of ideas out there, I appreciated that.  It’s a welcome reminder that celebrating the church calendar doesn’t mean we have to put every single great idea into place.  Just one or two recipes or activities is really all you need, and you alone get to choose which ones (from this book or from other sources) are going to mean the most to your family.  Hooray!

Aside from the well known staples of the church year (Christmas, Easter, etc), author Jerusalem Jackson Greer writes about a number of celebrations that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with.  Anyone out there regularly do something for St. Joseph’s Day?  Or Holy Cross Day?  Do you even know when they are?  I certainly didn’t.  But because of A Homemade Year I do have several new days that I’m adding to our family’s celebrations this coming year.  Here’s the passage that sold me on observing Candlemas, the day to remember when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple:

By the time February 2 rolls around, there is very little evidence of Christmas left at my house… Winter is still here, bleak and bare, long outlasting the holiday finery that it arrived in… Candlemas comes to me then, in those moments of wondering and cold toes.  It comes full of light and warmth, it comes with beeswax candles and cups of steaming hot cocoa, signaling like those blinking lights on the snow plows and school buses, reminding me that Christmas was not a dream.  Christ did come, and he is among us still.  

Yes, yes, and yes.  Sign me up for Candlemas!

I have long loved the church year from Advent to Christ the King.  I love the rhythm it brings to my spiritual life, I love the aesthetics it offers to my home, I love systematically reliving the life of Jesus every year.  But even if you’re not similarly devoted to keeping the liturgical calendar alive in your home, I’m going to venture a guess that you’d still appreciate A Homemade Year.  Jerusalem neither grew up in a liturgical church nor worships in one now, and her meditations about each mentioned day/season are down to earth stories from her own life experience.  To me, that’s what makes this book so perfectly unique from the other Christian year celebration books I own.  Sure, there is less talk about theological underpinnings or historic traditions.  But when I read it I’m inspired to pay attention not just to liturgy but also to the unique story being woven together in my own home.  It makes me want to think on a more personal level about the ways my family can meaningfully engage in the passing of the Christian days and seasons together – and ultimately, that’s why it’s found a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

[Paraclete was kind enough to send me a review copy of A Homemade Life at my request.  I'm sorry that, because of our long blogging break, it's taken me this long to share my thoughts with you all!]

Slugs and Bugs CDs

Slugs and Bugs - Under WhereI’ve mentioned this before, but one of the ways that Sarah and I trying to branch out here at the ol’ blog is to include non-book resources in our library of reviews.  Up today are the fantastic Slugs & Bugs CDs!

What first drew me to Slugs & Bugs was Andrew Peterson, who co-created the first S&B album with Randall Goodgame.  I’ve been an Andrew Peterson fan for years (please tell me you know and love his Christmas album!) and I’d listen to anything by him.  We all know there is plenty of children’s music out there that we’d really rather not listen to, but I was absolutely sure that if Andrew Peterson was behind a CD for kids it would be worth trying out.  And… I was right!

Since the first Slugs and Bugs album, Randall Goodgame has taken the driver’s seat (though Andrew Peterson does make appearances in each recording) and now I can say that I’d listen to anything he writes or sings as well.  Randall has an incredible knack for songwriting for children and their parents.  His funny songs are hilarious.  His serious ones are tender and moving.  His God-centered ones are just right for little ones – he deals with all sorts of meaty topics but always in ways that communicate God’s love towards children.

Thematically there is an incredible variety of songwriting going on in these CDs and I adore that about them.  Over the course of an hour you hear an ode to Mexican food, a song about confessing wrongdoing, a moving lullaby, and a song about potty training.   The silly songs and the spiritual songs and the sleepytime songs are all right there together, comfortably side by side.  In other words, it’s just like life.  We can’t artificially divide ourselves into mind and spirit and body, and the Slugs & Bugs songs really reflects that.

Our very favorite way to listen to Slugs & Bugs is a playlist with a handful of songs from each album, but I personally think that the best album as a whole is Under Where? so if you’re new to Slugs & Bugs I’d recommend starting there.  All of the current CDs are available at Rabbit Room (do yourself a favor and poke around there for a few minutes) and the most recent two are at Amazon, too.  Happily, there’s a new one coming out this fall, but this one will be slightly different:  just like the wonderful Seeds Family Worship, all of the songs will be Scripture set to music!  You can check out the details on their Kickstarter page and see lots of song previews at the Slugs & Bugs blog.  We will be the first ones in the (virtual) line ready to buy it on release day!

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He Is My Shepherd

Lord Is My Shepherd-001He Is My Shepherd
Helen & David Haidle
Multnomah, 1989

Of all the images of God in the Bible, surely the image of the Shepherd is one that resonates most deeply with children.  Last year, when my daughter and I participated in a family preschool program, we observed a Godly Play presentation each week.  All of the stories were captivating (our teacher was incredibly talented!) but the presentation of the Good Shepherd was one that stuck with us all year long.  In fact, I even purchased some felt and figurines so we could replicate the story at home.

Ever since then I’ve been on the lookout for a good children’s book that explores the imagery of God as Shepherd, and today I’m happy to add He Is My Shepherd to Aslan’s Library.  This book goes through Psalm 23 and offers insight and a short prayer for each beautiful, meaning-laden line.  Here is the portion on the valley of the shadow of death:

A dark valley is a scary place to be.  Sheep do not want to walk through shadowy pathways and deep ravines, but they learn to overcome fear when the shepherd is by their side.  They huddle close to him as he leads them through the valley.

Lord, you know everything that scares me.  You even know the things I’m afraid might happen to me.  I’m glad you’re with me no matter what happens.

The goodness and tenderness of God shines through the words and images of this book.  It’s a perfect choice for just about any scenario I can think of: a child in need of comfort, a child struggling with fear, a child who struggles with pursuing their own ways instead of Christ’s ways, a child who doesn’t want to go to sleep.  The message of this book, and of Psalm 23, reaches deep into the human heart.  Wherever we are, whatever we are facing, there is a Shepherd who is ready to give us the care and guidance that we need.

He Is My Shepherd is older than many of the books we’ve reviewed, and I’ll admit that its illustrations may not be as remarkable as those in, say, Love Is or He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.  Nonetheless, the warmth of the shepherd towards his sheep comes through quite clearly.  I found myself endeared to the sheep who are in such clear need of their master’s care.  At the end of the book we read that “they have learned that he is completely trustworthy,” and I daresay that as you turn the last page you’ll be refreshed in your own trust in our Lord, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.

Connecting

Hello, readers!  I keep meaning to mention this, but I (Haley) have been posting more regularly on our Facebook page lately and we’d love to connect with you there.  One of the things I’ve been doing there is highlighting book sales when I come across them.  Today, for instance, I just posted that the Kindle edition of the Jesus Storybook Bible is on sale for $1.99.  Yay!  We have a paper copy, of course, but I was happy to buy the Kindle edition as well because it will be so handy for when we’re away from home.  I’m not planning on amassing a huge Kindle library of children’s literature, but I am a fan of having a handful for when we’re traveling – or when we’re stuck in a waiting room.  (That’s actually the theme of an upcoming post I’ve been working on…)

Have a great weekend!  Hosanna!