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.


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.


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!

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?

Theology for Three Year Olds and Second Children


Those of you who have more than two kids are probably going to start laughing in just a few sentences. Those of you who have just one may swear you’ll do a better job with your second child. And if any of you happen to have two kids, one of each gender, say three-and-a-half years apart: well, maybe you’ll nod Amen.

See, I was running for Super Amazing Literary Mom during my daughter’s first four years. (See last week’s post for evidence that I have resigned this title, along with any aspirations in that direction.) I had our reading lists curated; we enjoyed an intentional mix of new books and well-loved titles; I kept seasonal books at the bedside. It turns out that she is a remarkably easygoing child who is happy to let us choose books to share with her. I learned this, you see, as soon as her little brother became old enough to express an opinion.

Oh, and express them he does. He is reading the books he chooses at bedtime, or none at all. He is singing the same three songs before bed every night. He never takes the Johnny Cash out of the CD player. Once he has chosen a book, Lord help the poor parent who attempts to substitute something else and any neighbors with their windows open.

Combine his energy of will with my divided attention. Add in the sad fact that my second child is largely getting the replay of my moves with the first, and, well: let’s just say Super Literary Mom of the Year is going to someone else this year. The poor kid hasn’t read nearly the variety that his sister had at this age. So I’ve decided to do something about it.

This probably continues in the vein of posts I’m writing mostly for myself, but I sat down the other day, pulled up our (extensive! and growing! hooray!) book list, and compiled a list of some of my favorite theological books for three year olds. Some we own and I need to pull out; others are going on the request list at the library. I’m going to have to stack them in front of the Richard Scarry books in the bedside basket, or they’ll never have a chance.

I share it with you (linked to reviews), should you have one of those magical, mercurial people somewhere in your life. It’s such a sweet age for reading together, and I want to get on top of it before it passes. Because it will. Too fast.

Favorite Theological Books for Threes

The Big Picture Story Bible, David Helm
Stories Jesus Told, Nick Butterworth
Read Aloud Bible Stories, vol. 1, Ella Lindvall
Animals of the Bible, Marie-Helene Delval
Bible ABC, Eric Metaxas
At Your Baptism, Carrie Steenwyk
What is the Church? Mandy Groce and Bill Bell
All Things Bright and Beautiful, Ashley Bryan
Glory, Nancy White Carlstrom
I Will Rejoice, Karma Wilson
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Kadir Nelson
Bedtime Rhyme, Walter Wangerin
When Daddy Prays, Nikki Grimes
Why Do You Love Me? Martin Baynton
You Are Special, Max Lucado

Other favorites that I’m forgetting?

Keeping it Real with Disney Fairies

(Hi, dear readers. Thanks for stopping by, although we’ve been spotty of late. Summer has just gotten started around here, and the lure of the outdoors – and children home from school! – has stood between me and my keyboard. I got my first sunburn this week, though, so the sun and I are on the outs, which bodes well for the blog. And now on the subject at hand…)

Maybe none of you have this problem, but I occasionally have to just stop with The Internet. Every few months, I need to shut down my blog reader, Twitter feed, Pinterest, Instagram, and all the rest. (I’ve already fled Facebook, which is another post.) Most of the time I love being able to wade through the ideas, inspiration, images, and other cool stuff people I admire are posting. But every now and then, it all starts to add up into this amorphous Mass of Awesomeness to which my life doesn’t measure up.

Everyone is doing these amazing seasonal projects with their children, while feeding them delicious, healthy, gluten-and-refined-sugar free snacks! Their homes are wonderfully organized! They have photos of all the way they’re implementing Simplicity Parenting! Books are organized, accessible, and attractively displayed! Sigh.

So I turn it off.

I do get it: we pin things that look interesting or that we want to try or dream about. No one’s Pinterest feed reflects their actual life. I’m not going to fuss with Instagram’s filters on an uninteresting photo. And as a blogger, I have to edit: I write about theological kidlit, but really, that’s just a sliver of our family’s reading life. I write about reading with children, hoping to give encouragement to myself and others, not because we do it perfectly at my house. My failures generally aren’t that interesting; hence, not post-worthy.

However. In the interest of keeping it real:

Disney Blog

Yes. That is a Disney Fairies book. (You probably can’t read the text on the back, so I’ll help you out. The heroine’s dilemma is that she loses her fashion sense and wears a lampshade on her head. Really.) Yes, there are about 20 more of them on the same shelf at our local library branch. And yes, my six-year-old loves them. She has just entered that voracious-chapter-reading book stage, and while I’ve been doing my best to hand her the Great Books, she searches out the (Disney!) fairy books at the library. I do not prevent her, and I’ve given up on trying to redirect.

And honestly: I’m totally okay with it. She’s six. Not every book she reads will be fantastic. Some will be twaddle. This is real life, at our house: lots of great books, some pretty terrible ones, and me learning to bite my tongue and relax. Practicing “read at whim!” as a mantra.  (And thanking God that at least it’s not Sweet Valley Twins which – oh shame of shames – I devoured. Thought that day, too, may come.)

Just thought I’d tell you all the truth.

A Starter Sunday School Library


I suggested last week that every Sunday School classroom ought to have a well-stocked shelf of quality theological kidlit. Here are my suggestions for a “starter library” in preschool and elementary age classrooms! I haven’t included specific seasonal titles – that’s a later post, once the starter library is up and running! – and if you’re looking for books to add to the church nursery, check out Haley’s post on books for a new baby. Otherwise: any titles I’ve missed? Any that have worked well in your own churches?

For those of you with older children: since my kids are still young, so is our theological reading. I would love to get some suggestions for middle-grade and young adult classrooms. Please chime in, or direct me to your brilliant youth pastor or family ministry coordinator!

And lastly: if having a Sunday School library is far from a reality in your church, do think about raising the idea. If the funds aren’t there, would you or a few other parents be willing to give books (or funds towards books) as a part of your tithe? You may have a well-stocked library at home, or a long reserve list at your local public library — but other kids in in your congregation may not. Can we make a commitment to beautiful, true, compelling literature for the youngest worshipers in the church? I love to imagine what the fruits of that investment might be.

And without further ado: the list!

Books for a Preschool Sunday School Library (ages 2 – 5)
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Stories Jesus Told
He is My Shepherd
Psalms for Young Children
Read Aloud Bible Stories, vol. 1
What is the Church?
Noah’s Ark

Books for an Elementary Sunday School Library (ages 5 – 9)
Come Worship With Me
The Miracles of Jesus
Morning Has Broken
What is the Church?
Jesus Storybook Bible
The Genesis of it All

Books for the Sunday School Shelf

Is there a bookshelf in your child’s Sunday School classroom? If not, maybe there should be. And it matters what’s on it.

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

In many churches, the Sunday School classroom is the primary worship space for children. It’s where those heroic teachers (who are never recognized enough! Go thank your child’s Sunday School teacher ASAP, please!) introduce our children to Jesus, his stories, and his Way. In many churches, the Sunday School classroom is where our children first experience the delight, growth, challenge, and occasional tedium that comes with worshipping as the body of Christ. So just as we pay careful attention to the elements of the grown-up worship space, so ought we attend to the space where our little ones learn to worship.

And one element of that space ought to be a small, well-edited library. Why? This isn’t exactly school, is it? Well, yes, it is. For some children, this is the only space where they will experience the language, motions, and sounds of worship. For others, it is the space where they learn how to be the church; a beginning tutorial in a lifelong call. And while there are lots of pieces to this — the curriculum, the setup of the space, the sounds and rhythms of the time spent together — having a good selection of quality theological books can enrich children’s worship space.

How so? What are some criteria for ministry leaders and parents who want to select the books that will inhabit a worship space? Since space and resources are always limited this side of the Kingdom, here are some ideas to keep in mind when stocking a Sunday School library:

  • In general, books that tell Bible stories well can be a good complement to a Sunday School curriculum. Picture books, especially give children another entrance into the story, another imaginative encounter with something they’ve recently heard. (This is especially important because children vary so widely in learning styles!)
  • Books about the church and its worship are also welcome additions to a Sunday School class. They can remind us all (teachers, children, parent aides) what it is we’re doing here week after week. Books like What is the Church or Come Worship With Me help place children’s worship in the big picture of the congregation and the church universal.
  • A good story Bible or age-appropriate collection of Bible stories is a must – especially in the younger classrooms. While there’s no substitute for reading Scripture itself with children, no 4-year-old is going to page through a copy of the NRSV. When I’ve been in a Sunday School classroom, I’ve been so thankful for Ella Lindvall’s Read Aloud Bible Stories during those chaotic transition times, or for quiet moments between activities. The children love hearing (and helping re-tell) simple versions of the stories they already know.
  • Lastly, what about books that afford moments of real praise together? Books of the psalms, illustrated hymn lyrics, or expostulations of praise invite children and adults to worship together in their very reading. Which is what we’re all there to do in the first place, after all.

Next week, I’ll post a list of suggested titles by classroom age. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if and how your church uses books in its children’s programs. What works? What doesn’t? Any titles you’d like to recommend?

Reading as Discipleship

This fall, I have gotten to start a new adventure: I’m participating in the Newbigin Fellowship through our church in San Francisco. I’ll spare you all the details (and the exciting reading list!), although you can follow the links and poke around to find out more. But as I’ve been reading, I’ve been frantically scribbling notes to myself to share with you on the blog. This will be probably be one of many Newbigin-fueled posts!

Two weeks ago, I had the fantastic privilege of going on retreat with the other Newbigin Fellows up to Lake Tahoe. (Totally unrelated: I always imagine Tahoe and the surrounding mountains when I read The Great Divorce, or the “Further Up and Further In” chapter in The Last Battle.) Our retreat was led by James KA Smith, whose writing I’ve reflected on a little here. I happily regressed into full-nerdy-student mode, sitting in the front row and feverishly taking notes.

On Sunday morning, our Scripture was Colossians 3:12-17. Dr Smith spoke about the metaphor of “putting on” Christ, noting that (no surprise to anyone with kids!) getting dressed is an acquired skill. It takes lots of practice. The virtues that Paul lists in this passage don’t come to us naturally. Just like the “habit” of getting dressed, the “habits” of Christlikeness can only the be result of a “second” nature, acquired, through grace, by practice and imitation.

We imitate Christ first of all, but elsewhere Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Most of us learn how to live the Christian life – to “put on Christ” – by watching those more mature in the faith. We see others who are patient, or loving, or humble, and we try to practice what they do. We keep trying, and pray to God’s Spirit to help those habits become ours as well.

Well, no surprise here: this got me thinking about reading with my kids. Specifically, I started thinking about missionary biographies and stories about saints past. I love these kinds of books. And Dr Smith’s Sunday sermon helped me name why. It’s not just because they’re sort of vaguely inspiring. It’s because they offer concrete examples (for my kids and for me!) to imitate. They capture my imagination and make me excited about the possibilities of the Christian life. They often make me feel, keenly, how half-hearted and perfunctory my own discipleship is. As a result, these books are terribly compelling.

So, since that weekend, I’ve been dragging out some of our saints books and biographies that have been buried lately. I’m ready to get busy with my kids, reading to practice discipleship!

If you’re looking for some books to start with, check out some of our reviews here. Or offer your own suggestions: who do you find worthy of imitation? What books have been little schools in virtue for you?

Reading through Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

Last night, we read Mark 14:1-52. I had planned to stop at verse 31, but we were both so into the story that I just kept going. Two things (apart from the young man fleeing naked at the very end – unwise choice on my part to stop there!) really caught my daughter’s attention: Judas’ decision to betray Jesus, and Jesus’ prediction that all of the disciples would desert him. All of her “why” questions fell during those parts of the story.

She didn’t know what the word “betray” meant, and it’s actually kind of hard to define for a five-year-old. We wound up with something like “pretending that you love someone, while all the time you’re planning on hurting them.” Not precisely right, I suppose, but it captures what Judas is up to. Anyway, she was perplexed and a little dismayed, I think, by the role Jesus’ friends play on the night he is arrested.

Her perplexity helped me see afresh the poignancy of Jesus’ plea in the garden: “Abba Father, all things are possible with you. Remove this cup from me.” It wasn’t just some formal request he had to lodge so we’d all get that he’s human. Everything around him is coming undone. Nothing about this is going to be okay. It’s easy to forget the deep pain and fear that must have clouded that night, living as we do on this side of the Resurrection.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me that my daughter was so intrigued by the disciples’ failures. Tonight we’re going to go to our church’s Maundy Thursday service, and later read the account of the Last Supper in the Jesus Storybook Bible**. After we read about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, I plan on talking about what Maundy Thursday means: maundatum, or commandment, is where the day gets its name. And the commandment is that we love one another as Christ has loved us (John 15:12). Hearing his commandment to love as he loves us – given as he served them, given even as he knew how deeply their love would fail him, and how he would continue to feed them and empower them to love nevertheless with his very body and blood – is one of the rich blessings of this day.

(**my only real dissatisfaction with the Big Picture Story Bible is that it doesn’t tell the story of the Lord’s Supper, which is a major theological oversight in my book. Happily, the JSB tells it in the context of the foot-washing — a great case for owning both!)

Reading through Holy Week: Wednesday

Today’s reading: Mark 14:1-31

In Mark’s gospel, this is the part where the story really picks up and gets moving. (Well, the whole book is kind of fast-paced, but this is where everything starts to accelerate towards the climax!) So I think we’re just going to read big chunks and let the story wash over us. Maybe tomorrow, on Maundy Thursday, we’ll read the account of the Last Supper in The Jesus Storybook Bible, so we don’t just zoom over it — but for now, I just want to steep us in the story.

Reading through Holy Week: Tuesday

Our walk through Holy Week continues!

My five-year-old daughter and I read Mark 11:12-33 tonight. She was distracted and I was tired, so I was afraid it was a wash — until, while we were looking at my study Bible picture of the Temple, she commented, “I have a picture of this story in my Bible!” She hopped up and grabbed The Big Picture Story Bible and flipped to the account of Jesus cleansing the temple. We read it together, and between the simple text and eloquent pictures (a sacrificial lamb lying behind Jesus, blood smudged on the corners of the altar), it did a much better job of getting to the heart of the story than I was.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Big Picture Story Bible?

Here’s our reading for Tuesday: Mark 12:1-12

There’s so much to talk about in Mark 12, but the parable of the wicked tenants is so incisive and shocking. Especially when I remember Jesus is telling it while looking at some of the very people who will kill him. Earlier in the day, I’m going to try to read her the “Many Silent Years” chapter from the Big Picture Story Bible, since it anticipates this passage so well. Then we’ll read the parable before bed.

Instead of asking specific questions, I want to ask her to narrate it back to me – and then see where her focus lands. We’ll try to imagine how each of the characters felt and draw some connections to the story of Jesus we’re inhabiting this week.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with more!