All summer long I’ve been collecting titles to share with you. Books for you. Books for them. Books you can read together.
But before I launch into my list of suggestions, I have to give you a glimpse of the turning mountains to our east. Leaves are barely beginning to shift here on the benches, but up the canyon road… delicate shapes are flaming; flickering wild against today’s stormy sky.
I took our Joy School group up the canyon for a nature hike yesterday morning.
Are you seeing double double? Yup, we have two sets of twins in our group. My friend Emily’s boys, Bud and Ike, my boys, and their buddy Jake.
It’s a dynamite posse. And, to my surprise, I’m having a ball this time around. Teaching it for the third time now is helping me be more organic. We simply move on when something isn’t working. We don’t try to squeeze everything in. We try to live the mantra. JOY school.
Look at the beautiful gifts Mother Nature left us.
Even these boys sprinting up the trail were a gift. Their small bodies bursting with light. I could barely keep up.
October is my favorite month of the year; it has been since I was a little girl. I was born in October, but it’s more than candles and cake. October is so plentiful and abundant! Everywhere you look the earth is giving back – offering up all we put into her, and then some.
I love snuggling onto the couch with a blanket and book. I love pulling out my red, leather boots. I love all the bright spots of orange pumpkin on doorsteps. I love the sound of leaves skittering across asphalt. I love that my children want to stay outside all day long. I love stepping out of doors to find gray clouds creeping along the mountainside, low and heavy.
This time of year is beyond beautiful. It is glorious.
I haven’t posted a book list in a long while. Reason? Books and I are getting a trifling amount of time together. I fall asleep every night having read a few paragraphs, maybe a few pages if I’m lucky, then jolt awake to realize my lamp is still on. I place the book on the nightstand and crash.
So… for you.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. My latest favorite about the art of writing. It was a gift from my good friend, Brodi, whose second book in the Everneath Trilogy came out January 2013. Goldberg is insightful, humorous, and practical. Each chapter provides an excellent writing tip, and helps writers (or those who long to write) see the value of their lives.
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard. I always like to have my fingers in something by Miss Dillard. She is the ultimate muse for me. So I returned to a book of hers I began years ago, but never finished, in which she attempts to answer the big questions. Like why we exist. Where we came from. And how one person can matter. Dillard takes us to some of the most remote corners of the globe, to discuss, with paradox, her yearning for truth. Her words are wondrous, troubling, mysterious, and profound. She is deep, I tell you.
Global Mom by Melissa-Dalton Bradford. Oh… I’ll have lots to say about this book soon! I’m working on a review for Meridian Magazine that will run next month. But for now, let me just say… buy it! It is written by my dear friend, Melissa, who is one of the most gifted writers I have ever met. She is a truth seeker, a poet, and a cognoscente of world culture. Melissa has lived all over the globe, and everywhere she’s been, she has unpacked and made it home. She has gathered her children close, learned from the people around her. The subtitle to her book is Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, and One Family. You will love what she has to say about family – her real treasure, and loss. Melissa reminds us there is so much to glean from the context of our lives – no matter where we live, and what we experience. Her book is a must-read.
What the Scriptures Teach Us about Raising a Child by Michael Wilcox. My Mother gave me this book and I read it in preparation for my talk at Women’s Conference. I didn’t use any of Wilcox’ thoughts, but his ideas helped me look at and interact with my children differently. It is true, I believe, that the scriptures give us patterns for everything in our lives – they hold the answers to all questions. And we ought to search them when it comes to parenting and teaching our children.
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas. Confession: I’m only a few pages into this one, but it came highly recommended by a woman I love. And was read yearly by her father, who married us (me and Doug). My goal is to finish it by Christmas. It was published in 1942 and is the story of the Roman soldier who gambled for Christ’s robe and won. Marcellus then sets forth on a quest to find the truth about the Nazarene’s robe. It is a story of adventure, faith, romance, and redemption.
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. I may have mentioned this one in a previous book post, but that’s okay because Mogel is spot-on with her philosophies. She is a clinical psychologist with a religious bent (she is Jewish), who preaches principles that will help parents raise self-reliant, compassionate, and ethical children. She writes about teaching respect for adults, keeping expectations in line with your child’s temperament, coping with frustration, avoiding overscheduling, overindulgence, and overprotection. I need to re-read this one again. She is wise and practical, and I loved learning about her Jewish faith.
How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. The first book I read by these two ladies was Siblings Without Rivalry. It had great talking tips for diffusing contention and competition between siblings. I still refer to it. And while I’m not finished with this one yet, I’m finding it extremely helpful – maybe more so – since my children are getting older and communication is becoming a bigger deal. Faber and Mazlish offer lots of different ideas for positive communication and listening skills. Every chapter has cartoon situations that help you visualize how you might react in a similar setting. Faber and Mazlish are SO down to earth. Reading it, you realize, you’re not the only parent who says as she rolls out of bed, “Today is going to be different. Today I’m going to get it right.” My favorite line so far is the very first in the book. “I was a wonderful parent before I had children.” Ha! So true!
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I’m typically slow on the fiction uptake. Most of you have probably read this one; it was a NY Times Bestseller. But if not, pick it up. Diffenbaugh writes well and her story is wonderfully compelling. While her heroine, Victoria Jones, frustrates you, she also wins you over with her tragic foster-care upbringing, her struggle to accept love, and the way she uses flowers to communicate her feelings. You will never look at flowers the same. Unlike too much of modern fiction, this one has an exceptionally happy ending. (I like happy endings.)
Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle. If you want a light-hearted, humorous memoir about motherhood, this is your book. I read it so I could laugh. Sometimes you just need to laugh. Especially if you’re known for being too serious. Like me. Shankle has only one daughter but she gets motherhood. Her colloquial style of writing is so darn funny, you will crack up again and again. Here’s a taste of her witty, relatability. “If you’re looking for an expert on the subject of motherhood, then I suggest you put this book down immediately. But if you just need to know you’re not the only person who has debated running away to a five star hotel after spending hours “helping” your child with a school project, this is for you. (You are my people.) This book is my story about those fleeting moments that get swallowed up in the daily routine of car pools and soccer practice but come together in an indescribable way to make you a mama.” Her subtitle? Catching the light at every turn.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. Lastly, if you’re feeling ambitious, and looking for something scientific, this one’s for you. It’s a history of the world. 13,000 years of living that discusses everything and everybody on every continent. It dives into the presumed fates of human societies. Why some developed more quickly than others, why some still exist in poverty, and it actually demolishes the grounds for racisit historical theories. Diamond writes about empires, religion, language, crops, and yes, guns. It’s all there. Including the lessons we, as a modern world, can learn from the past.
Now… for them.
Eliza is reading all of the E.B. White books with her third grade class this year. They are excellent. Every one.
Her favorite read this summer was Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley. I found her walking home from school last spring, nose still in her book. First published in 1928, this book is a timeless gem. Our sweet Michelle gave Eliza a copy. Millicent-Margaret-Amanda lives in a tiny country village, and is always busy doing things. Like saving money to throw a party, minding the village shop, delivering messages, having a picnic, or taking care of a hedgehog. Brisley captures the real-life dillemmas and challenges of a child’s world. This book is simply delightful. An excellent read-aloud.
The girls and I are still loving the American Girl books. We finished the Kit series and are currently working through Caroline and Rebecca.
My two favorite read-alouds this summer? The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson and The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. The Family under the Bridge is absolutely charming. Armand, a Parisian hobo, suddenly finds his solitary life flipped upside down by a family with four children (starlings he calls them) who have usurped his spot under the bridge. As they find their way into his heart, he realizes he must find a better home for them than under the bridge. Carlson’s dialogue and writing are absolutely delightful, and you will fall in love with old Armand.
The Hundred Dresses nearly broke my heart. It is all about friendship, withholding judgement, and forgiveness. It had a huge impact on me. And Eliza. It is the story of a girl named Wanda, who wears the same faded blue dress to school every day. Yet she tells the other girls she has hundreds of beautiful dresses at home. “All lined up.” The girls don’t believe her. Peggy and Maddie go along with the teasing game, but Maddie silently struggles for the courage to speak up in Wanda’s defense. It’s not until Wanda fails to come to school one day that her classmates learn the truth about the hundred dresses.
A couple days after Eliza and I finished reading this book, I went downstairs to find Eliza’s room completely covered in drawings of dresses. She confessed to me, that sometimes she felt like Wanda, like she didn’t always belong. I suspect, we all feel this way at some time or another. The book obviously impressed her. And the sight of all her dresses nearly took my breath away. This one’s a must read-aloud. You don’t want to miss experiencing it with your children.
The reason I love these two books so much, is because they shuttle my children into worlds I hope they don’t have to experience first-hand, but are important to know about. Worlds where children don’t have homes, or food to eat. Places where families live in such poverty they only have one dress to wear. Books like these help them develop compassion and understanding.
Eliza has enjoyed the Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker. Clementine is a quirky girl whose life and language will leave you laughing, maybe even rolling. As she describes it, “Spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.” She seems to know the principal’s office as well as she does the art closet, and is all about paying attention, which to her means making astute observations like what the janitor is doing outside. She comes up with some rather disastrous schemes. Reminiscent of Ramona, I found Clementine far more clever and entertaining. Even Ali and Sami have started dabbling in Clementine, who affectionately nicknamed her brother Spinach, because hey! He ought to have a produce name too!
Ali and Sami (1st grade) have also been enjoying the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne.
We are almost finished reading the entire Peter Rabbit collection by Beatrix Potter. Found them at Costco one day. Have loved every one.
A couple other books I read aloud to the kids this summer were Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. I cried at the end. As we were driving into St. George. All the kids looked at me confusedly while I wept. Someday maybe they’ll cry too!
We also read The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and we’re still plowing through the Little House on the Prairie books. Just about to start The Long Winter.
Since there never seems to be enough reading time at home, this summer we started listening to books on CD. In the car. We listened to them everywhere we went. Swimming lessons, day trips, errands. And now we’re listening to them on the way to dance, or school.
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman was a fun adventure. The story of a spoiled prince and his whipping boy, who end up switching places after running away from the castle.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Ah, this series was incredibly charming and real. MacLachlan is an exceptional writer. Her stories are prosaic, full of metaphors, and delicious to listen to. The first is the story of a family who loses their mother, and the father puts an ad in the paper for a wife and mother. Sarah, from Maine, answers the ad, and leaves her ocean home to come live with them on the plains of the frontier. Life is hard, dusty, and a drought nearly does her in, but not quite. She’s a tough lady. You will also love MacLachlan’s follow-up novels, Skylark and Caleb’s Story.
Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Always enjoyable.
Ida B by Katherine Hannigan. Excellent. (Thank you Saydi and Hazel.)
And The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall is currently in the CD player. We are mesmerized. Each of the four Penderwick girls is different, but linked by a special bond. When the girls and their professor father head off for a summer holiday, they are expecting a cozy, tumbledown cottage. Instead, they find themselves on a beautiful estate called Arundel. It’s sprawling gardens, and treasure-filled attics make the summer magical. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for all their adventures. This one has my girls giggling often. It is lovely in every way.
(For many of these books, I have my friend Martha to thank.)
Lastly, I wanted to introduce you to these fabulous supplements. Eliza was accepted to a great charter school that teaches the common core, like public schools do, but has freedom to include more liberal arts and additional knowledge to their curriculum. They recommended these books by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and I am finding them totally fascinating. It contains much of the information Eliza will be getting this year. Exposure I wish I’d had at her age to language, arts, history, and science. As well as Math. I bought one for Ali and Sami’s grade so we could discuss a certain topic or person of interest around the dinner table.
And there you have it, a bunch of books I’ve been wanting to share with you for months. I hope the list is helpful.
“We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also: condition the child’s bran to associate reading with pleasure; create background knowledge; build vocabulary; and provide a reading role model. Children who learn to appreciate books at an early age become lifelong readers and better learners.” – Jim Trelease
I believe there are books. And then there are the best books.
Care to share a favorite or two? Happy reading.