Friday, April 20, 2012

Remembering My Friend

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a woman who mentored me for 3 years, until she was diagnosed with alzheimer's.  At that point, she was told that she had 3 more years before it would get bad.  That didn't turn out to be the case.  Within 2 months she was living in a nursing home in an alzheimer's unit.

I remember something she said to me shortly after she was there.  She looked at me tearfully and expressed that she was concerned about what she would say to people when she got to the point where she didn't know what she was saying.  She loved people deeply with the love of Christ.  I reassured her that God knew her fear and that what was in her heart--love--would come out.

As I listened to the pastor speak at her funeral, I pondered the song on my heart.

What Wondrous Love Is This
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

I only remembered the first two lines and felt I needed to take the music with me to the funeral.  There was an opportunity to speak and so I did.  I am glad I did.  I sang the first two lines and the last verse.  I realized as he spoke that this verse said what my friend wished for.

She was a lovely, dear woman who filled a hole in my heart.

There's another story I want to share.  A friend of mine once told me a story that has stayed with me every since.  A relative of hers who was bitter in life was bitter in her last months of life as she wasted away from sickness.  My friend grieved for the pain and for the bitter words that were spewing out of the mouth of the person who was sick.  She asked the hospice nurse if everyone is like this when they die.  The nurse said no.    She said that what is in the heart comes out at the end.

My dear, lovely friend...  I spoke with a woman at the funeral who had been to see her just a few weeks ago. She said she was in such horrible pain and yet she didn't cry out or act in anger.  Instead, she was still concerned about those helping her.  She still loved people with all that she was able to.  She loved them with the strength of Christ's love.  The Lord knew her heart's desire.

When faced with a wrong done to us, we have two choices.  To forgive and love, or to exact a price from another and from ourselves in the form of bitterness.  My friend's life reminds me to choose God's ways and not my own.

I am blessed to have had this woman in my life.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rambling Babbling Brook

I am
A rambling,
Babbling brook

Bubbling over bumps
Jumping into the air
And coming back down
Seemingly disconnected
Yet always connected
By a thin stream
Of water

Settling into small pools
For a moment

If too                L  o  n  g
Stagnancy comes.
Looking for a way out
Finding one--

Moving again.

Off and Rambling again.

Does it Matter Who the Publisher is?

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me a question at church.  She had been given a pamphlet published by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America denomination.  She asked me if I knew anything about the church. She and I both had assumed it was just one church.  It's actually not, it's a denomination.  A century ago it was larger than the PC(USA) denomination actually.  So, I started to try and figure out what they believed.

It might seem strange that I would do this, but I've discovered over the past few years that it matters who publishes a book--especially it is the publisher from a denomination.  What the denomination believes shapes what they will publish.  Many denominations take a very liberal view of scripture and that's going to be reflected in how the authors they publish interpret scripture--whether they take the whole Word to be the inerrant Word of God, whether they believe that the Truth can be found solely in God's Word or also in historical and current experience of life, who's words they believe are on par with the books of the Bible, what they believe is required for salvation...  

What I'm realizing more and more is that the nuances of how an author interprets scripture can twist how It is interpreted.  I think we have to be really careful about what we read and chew on.  

I've also been facing this in a secular book I have to read.  I've been having a hard time with the poetry book I have to read for my college class.  The book is all about how to teach poetry to children.  Over and over, the book refers to how children can find "the truth" inside themselves through poetry.  Honestly, it all sounds very nice and even okay.  I'm sure many people would say I'm being picky.  The problem I'm having is that I'm starting to see this all the time in books that I read for children--the authors are communicating the message to children that the truth and meaning of life can be found in their own hearts--without God being a part of the picture.  

I feel that way about how some books talk about God.  The focus is on what people want to hear, not on what they don't.  I had a disconcerting conversation on Friday about submission with a gal who is a pastor of a church with her husband.  As I mentioned submission, she kept coming back to how we need to submit to God first and if the husband is loving his wife as Christ loves his church, then there's nothing to worry about when it comes to submission.  I tried to come back and point out that the other verses don't negate the importance of a wife submitting to her husband.  But, she kept adamantly going back to the other.  I let it go.  I realized that she and I saw scripture differently.  Her view is a prevalent one that I hear from the Christian media a lot and in churches we've attended over the years.    Submission is either avoided or it's addressed in the context of "mutual submission".  Over the past 10 years, I've become very convicted that it is is in the Word and that it is my rebellious heart that makes me want to avoid it.  Cindy Easley has a great chapter on why submission is so hard at the beginning of her book Dancing With the One You Love: Submission in the Real World.  It is the first book on this issue that I feel comfortable recommending.  I also recently ordered a Bible study by Cynthia Heald that addresses submission that I'm looking forward to reading.  

Submission is one of the issues that I see differs a lot among publishers and the studies/books they publish.  Another is the role of women in the church and family.  Another is the belief of who they think should be pastors and elders in churches.  These issues are all rooted in how one interprets scripture--whether one takes the whole or parts.  I did inquire of a woman pastor once how she interpreted scripture.  She explained that she takes the parts that are encouraging to her--the culturally relevant portions--and not the parts that aren't.  Her comments to me reinforced to me why I think we have to be careful about what we read, because the reasoning is often very smooth and looks, tastes, sounds, and feels like the real thing--except it's not.  The Truth is in God's Word.  

Please forgive the jumping around of this entry.  I'm realizing that is just how I feel this morning and that I need to get going... kids to wake up, school to do, lessons to plan, ducts being cleaned this afternoon, a phone call appointment...  I better get going!

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Daughter's Writing

Last spring, I wrote about my decision to switch to a new writing program.  I am so thankful I did.  I had been using The Well Trained Mind's Writing With Ease Program with my oldest daughter for 1st and 2nd grades.  Writing wasn't fun for her then and there was no component of creative writing--which is her natural bent.  So, I decided to switch.  Originally, I had planned to use a combination of different Evan Moor books.  There are 3 basic types of writing--creative, expository, and poetry.  So, I'd picked different Evan Moor books for each one.  Then, I ran into a snag.  Several used book sellers on Amazon sent me the older versions which didn't have what I needed in them and it turned it a huge mess trying to return them.  So, it sent me questioning.  

Was this the right path for the girls and me?  I pondered for a week or two and then came back to the writing program I use with my kids for kindergarten "The Writing Spot" by Great Source.  I found the second grade program "Write Away" and located a program guide for it.  The teacher's guide for the series gives mini-lesson ideas but really doesn't help plan out a whole year's curriculum.  The program guide was different and I thought I'd take a chance and order it.  As soon as it arrived (it was a newer edition than my kindergarten one), I was so excited!  It was exactly what I was looking for.  I love seeing God work in our curriculum journey.  

The newer edition had day by day plans (not unit by unit) plans so I would be able to just pick it up and use it.  I went back to the older first grade program guide (which I also had) and began to write the day by day plans out myself so that I could use it with my younger daughter this year.  I just hadn't had a vision before of how to do it before I'd seen the second grade program guide as an example.  

So, this week my daughter wrote a fable.  She's in 3rd grade, but because the other program didn't teach her how to write, I backed up a year and have been doing the 2nd grade writing program with her.  She wrote the rough draft on Wednesday and we sat down to revise it today.  Up until now, I've edited her writing with only minor corrections.  I have just wanted to get her writing.  Today I focused on the editing marks and marking all of the places where a new paragraph needs to start.  I didn't try to get her to add more descriptive words or adjectives.  I knew I was asking a lot of her anyways with the editing marks and paragraph breaks.
(Which as a side note, I do very little editing in kindergarten and first grade--I emphasize starting with a capital and ending with a punctuation mark.  I wait until my child can read better towards the end of first grade and spelling starts clicking.)

I wanted to share her story because it just makes me smile.  This is one of those moments when I realize that though my daughter couldn't do the math steps we'd gone over 10 times, she wrote a really fun story.  The praise and good feelings from this story helped erase the frustration we'd both had earlier over one of her math lessons.

Title:  The Wolf Who Didn't Believe (or The Girl Who Believed.)

     Once upon a time, in a cottage, a girl was listening to her grandmother.  Her name was Romia.
     Her grandmother was saying, "My dear, wolves are tricky.  Do not believe they are friendly or such."
     A wolf was overhearing the conversation.  He thought silently, "Oh my, oh my!  What shall I plan?  Of course!  I will trick her and eat up Romia!"
     But later the Lion said, "I, the Wisest Lion command you, do not do such a crime as eat any young, little lady."
     The Badger said, "If you do, I will weep day and night, and refuse to see or forgive you."
     "But, I must eat," said Wolf.  "Or I will starve."
     Lion said, "Very well, we will plot to stop you.  You are the enemy now.  No more will you have my counsel."  (she really wanted to put council in there)
     One day Lion came upon Romia and he said, "Romia."  It startled her and she started to run, but something inside her told her to wait.
     "How do I know you're a friend, really a friend?"  said Romia.  
     "I've a token," he said.
     "My penny!"  said she.  
     "A wolf will come to eat you, said he, and quickly left.
     Just then Wolf popped out.  "Come have some berries." he said.   He led her to a berry patch.  "Taste one," he tempted.  "Taste one."
     She reached, but then she remembered the words of her grandmother.  Wolves are tricky.  So, she ran for home so the wolf couldn't eat her, and the badger would not cry.  Wolf would have the Lion's counsel back.

Moral:  Don't deceive or you will face the consequence.  (Her original moral was "Don't do what you don't mean, or you may not get a chance to do what you need or want.)

The End

So, it's been interesting using this writing program this year.  It has opened up Autumn's eyes to what she can write and all the different types of things she can write.  It's been the right one, but I also know what I need to add to it next year.  

I ordered 5 books this week to use along with the series.  They are called Daily Language Workouts.  There's one for each year.  In each reproducible book, there's a sentence to be edited for each day, a paragraph for each week, writing prompts, and reproducible writing pages.  There's also a section starting in 2nd grade for Show-Me writing--sentences for practicing "show-me" writing.  The teacher and student take the sentence and talk about how they could really describe it so someone could see through their words.  Thankfully, I found used copies of each of them for $3-5 each.  

I need to implement journal writing next year.  I put it off and just didn't get to it.  But, next year it is going to be the first thing my girls do in the morning.  I'll have them copy in their sentence and correct it and then write on one of the writing prompt topics.  The Daily Language Workout books would work even if you're not using Great Source's writing programs.  I like that they are leveled--and right at grade level.  I don't feel like they're way above or below.  I've been using Evan Moor's Daily Language Review, which I do really like.  I know a lot of people love Editor in Chief--which also has a similar purpose.  The goal is that by editing other people's writing, students will learn how to edit their own and learn how to spot their errors and improve their writing.  It also allows them to apply the grammar lessons they're learning and apply them in context.

I don't regret doing the Writing With Ease program.  I learned a lot about learning in general and how my daughter learns.  She did take some great things from it like answering in complete sentences.  But, it wasn't the right one to continue with.  It wasn't a waste.  Sometimes I think we all fear that--that the time we spent was a waste if we have to switch.  But, I am reminded that God works in all things!

Thoughts on being a SAHM (in response to Hilary Rosen's comments)

I am a stay at home home (SAHM).  My husband is able to do the job he does and work hard at it because I hold down the home front.  That is my goal--to be the best wife and mom that I can be.  Every day I work very hard.  I may not get paid for my work monetarily, but that makes it of no less value.  

Hilary Rosen's comments about Ann Romney this week grieve me deeply.  They are just another sign that our culture does not value women who want to stay home and raise their families.  About 9 or 10 years ago, I read a book called Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy.  One of the chapters of her book addresses the costs of working.  At the time I calculated the cost for me to go back to work.  I would have to make $48,000 gross just to break even.  I calculated it again a few weeks ago and that number has risen to $56,000.  Wow!  That's really all I can say.  That is a lot of money.  Now, my husband and I have adjusted our expectations of what cars we'll own and where we'll live in order for me to stay at home.  We budget every month and do our best to stay in that budget. I am thankful every month for God's provision for my family.  There were some very lean years for us when my husband made around $30,000 and I still stayed home.  We owned a house (with a mortgage) and 2 cars and stretched what we had as far as it would go.  I watched in amazement as God provided.  

But, really, there's three hot buttons that Ms. Rosen's comments bring up to me.  

1) Do I have compassion for my friends who are moms and work, either part time or full time?
Yes!  I do.  I have a good friend who just had her first child and went back to work part time.  I've been asking her questions so I can better understand the challenges that she's facing juggling her home life and work.  One of my favorite books is Feminism: Mystique or Mistake by Diane Passno.  One of the last chapters is about the grace moms who are at home need for moms who are working and vice versa.  They both see what they long for about being in the other shoes, so we need to have grace and understanding for one another.  She does encourage moms to really consider their motives for working, though, which I think is a good thing. I have encouraged several young couples to consider basing their income on the husband's and none or only half of the wife's when considering what kind of home to purchase.  I have encouraged this so that they will have more options when they start having children.  I just lent a friend my copy of Miserly Moms the other day so that she and her husband could really consider how much her going back to work would cost them and figure out the best situation for them.  My husband and I know several couples who are balancing their home and work demands by working (or going to school) on opposite shifts.  My grandparents did this 50 years ago so that someone would always be home with their children.  

2) Is my work at home less valuable than if I worked in the workplace?
NO.  I know this deep in my heart and both my husband and I agree on it.  I homeschool my children.  We don't spend our weeks frantically running to and from school and to and from daycare.  I parent my children and it's hard work.  I can't check out.  One of my good friends runs a daycare and her observations have alerted me to a very disturbing trend among working parents.  It used to be the case that moms wanted to be teachers so they could stay home with their kids during the summers and be off when they're kids were off.  I have heard several stories (and I only live in a tiny corner of this world) about moms taking their kids to daycare all through the summer from 8-6 pm when they're off and not picking them up until late in the afternoon--long after they're done with school.  One of the parents in my friend's daycare sent her children to daycare when both she and her husband were unemployed.  Parents lament day care worker's days off because that means they have to take care of their children another day.  

What does that say about parenting?  Well, I think it admits to the fact that parenting is hard work!  Therefore, being a stay at home parent is HARD WORK!  I regularly walk through stores with my 3 kids and people make comments about being so glad summer is almost over and it's time for their kids to go back to school.  I'll comment that I always have my kids--I don't get a break.  Of course, the response is "Oh no!" and a sympathetic "Poor you!"  and I'll respond that it's just fine.  In fact, this is the way I want it!  It breaks my heart when I think of sending my kids away and missing them all day--even with all the frustration I have to deal with and how hard it often is.  

3)  Our culture's expectations of how and where we should live are often unrealistic.  Many parents do have to work.  I understand this.  But, many families choose a bigger house in a better neighborhood over having time with their families.  I was talking with a friend recently and we were discussing the challenges of working and the financial costs.  One friend had 3 children at the private school she taught at.  I observed that basically she was working to pay for their schooling.  I said this matter of factly--I wasn't being unkind.  It was just something I realized because I had considered it at one point for our own family.  We just moved to another city recently and I have gotten a lot of comments like "I'm so glad you got out of there."  I constantly fight in myself these grandiose expectations that I am shocked creep into my mind at moments.  So, I am not criticizing others but saying that I think we all struggle with this and our culture encourages these expectations of what we "deserve" through all the propaganda and marketing we are inundated by every day.

I went to an article or two about Hilary Rosen's comments to understand what it is that she actually said.  On one of the articles I scrolled down to the comments.  I realized after only a moment that I shouldn't have done this.  For all of the cries, that "she doesn't understand what it means to work hard", I realized that the people making those cries also weren't acknowledging how hard it must have been for her to raise 5 kids.  So, I looked Ann Romney up on Wikipedia.  She had 5 kids in 11 years.  She put off finishing her BA because she had two children right after she married--while she and Mitt Romney were still undergraduates.  She finished it  3 years later while having 2 children and another one on the way.  Personally, I think that's a lot to juggle at one time.  

So, those are my thoughts at the moment.  I know I can't change the world's minds.  But, I wish that "tolerance" went both ways.  I find that it's often a one way street.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Grace Card Movie

If you haven't seen it, there are 2 movies that I think are definitely worth watching.  To Save a Life and The Grace Card are two recent Christian films now on DVD.  Of course, they're a bit cheesy at times, but both are good, I think.  

To Save a Life hits home for me because there's a scene in which a pastor considers expelling a student from the group because of something that happens.  The pastors of a Christian School I know of did make the decision that the pastor in the story considers.  My friend who was a part of this church had great concern about this as she watched it happen.  So, it was interesting to see this same issue come up in the movie.  I'm sorry I can't say more, but I don't want to give away any of the plot.  

The Grace Card is a good discussion of racism and stereotypes.  I would take the ideas from this movie, though, and say that they apply to all races.  Again I think this movie is a good watch for adults.  

The message on the grace card is this:  “I promise to pray for you every day, ask for forgiveness, grant you the same and be your friend always.” 

I think they are good words to remember.

Both of these movies are for adults, but if you watch them you may feel that they are also appropriate for any teenage children you have.

A letter to a friend

I wrote this letter last night to a friend and though I know this may seem odd, I want to post it here (edited a little)

Hello there,

I have been meaning to write you this letter for several weeks now.   I think it was about a month and a half ago when you visited our home for small group.  Just before you left, I blurted out several thoughts to you about my experience as an urban teacher—the things and hurts that I’ve been struggling with since I quit teaching in public schools several years ago.  It came up again a few weeks later amidst a conversation with a friend.  I realized that there were a lot of issues in my heart that needed to get sorted out between me and the Lord.  I was very hurt by several of my students while I taught middle school.

And then of course God stepped in—mercifully.  That is why I’ve wanted to write to you.  When we moved to our new home, God blessed me with new neighbors to get to know.  One of them across the street is an African American couple who are the pastors of a church in the town we moved to.  I met the husband just after we moved here back in December, but I didn’t meet his wife until about 2 weeks ago.  I saw her across the street and briefly went over to meet her before I ran off to art co-op class with the kids.  When we came back from class, she also returned to her home just as we did.  She is a busy woman who is constantly on the go—and this was definitely one of those God moments that he plans out—seemingly unexpected.
Within a few minutes we ended up talking about racism, Caucasian and African American cultural norms, and many other things.  My mom often shakes her head at me—at the depth of conversations I jump into quickly with people.  I know it may seem unusual to many people, but I’ve realized over the years that it is part of how God made me.   So, it didn’t catch me by surprise to have this conversation with my neighbor on the first day I’d met her.  Instead, I felt such peace—knowing this was a conversation I’d needed to have for a while. 
After talking with my neighbor, I came to several conclusions.  I want to share them with you and apologize if my comments at our home had any negative impact on you.

First, my neighbor told me a story of when she was out with a friend and how a Caucasian woman just cut her off.  Her friend pointed it out to her, but she explained that it happened often.  Her point to me was that just as often as I’ve had African American people cut in front of me, the same in reverse has happened to her—I just wouldn’t be aware of it.  She didn’t say this, but I also realized that it may also be the case of selective memory for me in regard to many aspects of how people look.  Do I remember (unintentionally) all of the times that people cut me off?  How do I react when I see people?  What quick judgements do I make?  Today I went to the library and consciously made the effort to let everyone who was going through a door at the same time as me go before me—I consciously wanted to be considerate to everyone.  It was surprising to me how often it was my instinct to go first.  The “me first” desire dies hard, doesn’t it!

Second, I came to the conclusion that I need to set aside what I read in a book so long ago.  The book was a well intentioned (on the part of my professors) part of my education training, but it set some stereotypes and ideas firmly into my head that caused me to attribute to behaviors to a characteristic of my students rather than  to them as individuals.  I need to fight any stereotypes that creep into my head and instead simply show people grace every step of the way.  I am susceptible to stereotypes and prejudging people by my past experiences just as everyone is—and I need to fight that inclination to prejudge people.  

I am so thankful that God has been working to heal my heart from the damage the stereotypes I’d formed had done to my head and heart.  What a blessing it is that God never abandons us amidst our hurts and weaknesses, but instead walks with us through it all and helps us to grow!

I hope and pray that your school year is going well!  I will be praying for you to have wisdom and strength as you teach—and that your students would desire to learn.

We haven’t seen you since that Sunday and I do hope that y’all have found a church you feel at home in.  That is my deep hope.  I hope you had a wonderful Easter celebration!

In Christ,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Honest, True to Life Take...

There are a lot of books that I review only on Amazon.  Sometimes if I love the book, I'll post the review here too.  And sometimes if I read a book that particularly concerns me, then I post it here too.  Recently, I read a book, The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng, that falls in that latter category.

I've been pondering what to write about this book since I read it a week and a half ago. It is  definitely "realistic" fiction. I suspect many girls will like this book, but I haven't been able to get my daughter to pick it up and read it. There are some books that I require her to read since we homeschool, but this isn't going to be one of those books.

When we read books, we read them for a lot of reasons. Gladys Hunt says that reading books helps children learn to savor life. It helps them notice what is "seen, heard, and experienced" (Honey for a Child's Heart p. 21) Books help give children a sense of security (p.22 from the same book) that they are not alone and helps them by encouraging that they can whether storms and failures.
So, I'm left with the question--how does this book impart these things?

For children who are in public or private school, it would definitely give 3rd-5th grade girls the sense that they are not alone in the angst of friendship among girls that age. Or in their struggles of being embarrassed of their parents and families. This book is the story of Anna Wang and her journey through her 4th grade year basically without friends and her struggles with her family. I do think that books like this can plant that idea in kids' heads who don't already feel that way and that isn't a good thing--the idea that they should be embarrassed of their parents or siblings. I am aware that the expression of this embarrassment in this book is mild compared to a lot of contemporary books written for this age group. But, then I look for resolution. What are the lessons learned by the reader by the end of the story? There are implied potential topics of conversation like the friend who's parents separate. The separation and its impacts are alluded to but not explained. How does the main character's attitude toward her family change? Does it? A little, I suppose, but not a lot. She seems to come to a neutral place of feeling towards her family--but not a place of appreciation. As for how she feels about friends... well, that's complicated. I still didn't like the main character at the end of the story. She bugged me. Her attitudes made me sad. I watch my daughter (who is this age) and listen as she tells me that I'm the best mom ever (I'm not, by the way--I'm a very imperfect mom, but I try to love my kids well). I watch as she learns to accept when someone does or doesn't want to play with her. She is learning to play with the kids that do want to play with her rather than the ones that don't. We talk about it. But, I don't see it spreading to the rest of our family life the way it does in this story. We have a rule in our house with my 3 kids that no one can say "you can't play" (the idea came from a wonderful book by Vivian Paley that I read when I was getting my teaching degree).

I know our culture considers many facets of childhood to be unavoidable rights of passage--but I'm just not so sure that they are. Carol Gilligan wrote a book a few years ago about adolescent girls based on research that she did. From what I remember, her basic conclusion was that in middle school girls say a lot of things out loud in an attempt to figure out what is appropriate to say and what isn't--also to figure out what they can get away with and what they can't (manipulation). A decade ago, this was true of middle school girls. Today I believe this is true of elementary age girls because of the influence of television and what they see acted out before their eyes (and how tv show characters treat each other). This book reminds me of that idea.

I was just like Anna. I had all the girls turn against me when I was in elementary school and again in middle school. Perhaps that is why this book was particularly painful for me to read and I am very sensitive to the themes of this book. When I think of my daughter and what she would take from it, I am left with the realization that it would only make her sad rather than encouraged--even at the end of the book. She will often comment to me about how the kids treat each other in books. She picks up on the nuances.

This afternoon I went with my kids and my mom to our local library.  It was interesting to me to talk with the children's librarian.  I encountered the same ideas that I found when I was teaching and that I have found librarians often have.  The ideas are these:  All books are okay to read 1) if they get kids reading and 2) if you talk about them to help them understand what they don't understand.  As a teacher, I believed these ideas wholeheartedly.  And then I became a parent...  and my whole perspective changed.  I wrote recently of the "Now/Later idea" rather than the "yes/no", but both ideas are still based on the idea that not all books are appropriate for children of all ages to read.  Just as it would not have been okay for my children to hear the conversation in the adult section of the library on something that isn't even appropriate for me to write here, I don't believe that all books are appropriate or edifying for all ages.  Sometimes it isn't even that a book is necessarily "bad", but that there are better books to read--that are encouraging and uplifting and better written.  It is a always a good idea to choose the "better" books over the "just fine" books.  Why eat a candy bar when there's homemade pie in the refrigerator?

As I said earlier, I'm sure that many children will enjoy this book--it's just not the right one for my family.

And now it's time for me to go to sleep...

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Could Be Better

Sometimes I read a story and there are parts that I love and parts that I don't.  I see potential, but it's unfulfilled.  That's the case with a book I read this week.  Dan Walsh is an author who has published 4 or 5 books in the past 3 years.  I really enjoyed his first two books, but I think he might have gone a little fast in writing this last one.  

The book is The Discovery.  It has a story within a story.  The beginning of the story finds Michael and his wife Jenn going to the reading of his grandfather's will.  The story begins with the first 50 or so pages basically about Michael settling into his new house (his grandfather's old house) and buying everything he and his wife want.  Please forgive the cynical description of it, but that was what stood out to me more than anything else in the first section.  Except there is a twist.  Michael's sister wants to know who her grandfather and grandmother were.  There's no wedding pictures or information about them from earlier than a few years after they married.  And then, the story within a story begins.  His grandfather left a final novel for him.  You can guess who it's about.  It takes Michael a little while (a little longer than was believable to me).  And so the story goes...

I enjoyed the story within a story.  It was fun to read and reminded me of why I liked Walsh's first two novels.  It was the story outside of it that was difficult for me to believe.  Michael and Jenn go on and on about what they're going to purchase and their new life.  In letters, his grandfather speaks so highly of him and of him being a Christian.  But, Michael himself never mentions God.  Those characteristics aren't reflected in the first person narrative of the story outside the story.  The way his grandfather saw him and how he presented himself was very dissonant for me.  I actually started to think of this book as a secular novel until the story within a story began.  Then, it was more like a Christian fiction novel.  

Near the end, there was also one comment that particularly bothered me.  There are times when details only detract from the story rather than add to them.  Sometimes it's poor grammar or wording.  Other times it's details that just make one feel yucky about the book.  In this case, this is the passage, "The room was fabulous, the hotel fancier than where we'd spent our honeymoon.  Jenn and I got to make up for some lost time.  We had the kind of time that was... well... that was nobody else's business."  After I read this, I wondered if it was just me, so I asked a good friend who loves to read it.  Her response was far more critical than mine actually.  She set it down and simply said it was poor writing.  That comment just cemented how I perceived Michael.  

Would I recommend this book?  No.  I just wouldn't.  If you haven't read The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser, pick that one up instead.  Or, Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman.  Or Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.  Or Safely Home by Randy Alcorn...

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Publishing.
“Available April 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

Free Kindle Book for Amazon Prime Members

I don't have a kindle and I'm not planning on getting one, but lots of my friends have them, so this note is for them.  I previewed a book online that I am planning on purchasing.  I noticed that the kindle version is free for Amazon Prime members.  The books title is Uncommon Beauty: 7 Qualities of a Beautiful Woman by Cynthia Heald.  I have been deeply encouraged by Ms. Heald's Bible studies.  I haven't read this book, but I did read a portion online and enjoyed it.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Buddy Files: A Great Series, Just Skip #6

I remember when the first book of the Buddy Files series came out.  I loved it.  This series is great for kids transitioning to chapter books without pictures.  The language is easy to read and understand.  There are a few pictures, but not very many. It's a great step to help build a child's reading comprehension.  My daughter Autumn, who is now 8, has read the other books in this series and so we were excited when we found the newest one, The Case of the School Ghost at the library.  My second daughter, who is 6, started reading it aloud to me and then I noticed something that I wasn't comfortable with.  So, I went back and read through the whole book.

This morning Autumn and I discussed my concerns and and hers.  She recognized and felt it wasn't good for the children to lie to Connor's mom about where they'd been.  She also felt it was wrong for them to disobey the directions of the adults at the school when they were there for a sleepover.  Her other question was why the children would do something that was wrong just because someone told them to.  I know this happens all the time with kids, but in this book there weren't any consequences for what they did.  Yes, their actions were innocent enough and didn't harm anyone, but it's the principle of it.  

My concerns with this book hinge on two things.  1) the idea of a Ouija board are introduced as part of the story.  It is clear that it is rigged, but I'm not comfortable that things like this are presented as so innocent.  The idea's been planted and if it's reintroduced to a child when they're older, then it will likely seem benign.  Many people might disagree with me on this point, but it follows the process of how to make someone think that something that is unacceptable is actually acceptable.  It reminded me of when Saul sought out a seer against God's instructions.  Ouija boards are associated with the occult.  I wondered if I was taking this little thing a bit extreme and so I asked my husband and mother in law for their opinions.  Both agreed that they would be concerned about it's inclusion in the book.  2) At the end, Connor lies to his mom when she asks him a question.  In our family, lying (especially to parents) is a big deal.  The prime age for this book is 2nd/3rd grade (1st grade advanced readers) and children this age need to know it's not okay to lie to parents or adults.  My mother in law made an additional point to me that the children in this story are 4th and 5th graders, yet it will likely be 2nd and 3rd graders reading this story.  Younger children look up to older children and the older children in this story are setting a bad example by encouraging the younger children to keep secrets and lie.  

My daughter did enjoy the book, but she understood why I felt she should read other books instead.  I do definitely recommend the first 3 books in the series as great books for both boys and girls in 2nd/3rd grades.  They are great transitional early chapter books.  But, I haven't read the 4th or 5th books so I can't give them a clear recommendation.