Election Education: A Really Great Booklist

This is not a political post. It's a post about hope and change. And a future. It's a post about sitting with children and reading and talking and thinking. It's a post full of good books to inspire great conversations. It's a post about educating our children so that one day, they will nominate excellent candidates for president and then, they will go into voting booths and do great things for our country.

In the interest of full and honest disclosure, it's also a post with handy links to Amazon, for which I will be compensated if you purchase. And I will also be super grateful:-). 

This is a lengthy list, with something for everyone, even the grownups who are weary of the whole mess. 

 

Amelia Bedelia's First Vote

This is the Amelia Bedelia we know and love in her new picture book format, written by the original author's nephew. 

Letting an elementary school vote on school rules? It probably won’t end well, but the ever-literal Amelia Bedelia’s first foray into the democratic process is a clever way to engage kids in a discussion of the upcoming Presidential election. Kids will learn about absentee ballots, run-offs, and the power of persuasion. Some of the humor in this book will be lost on kids who are homeschooled, but I wouldn't miss the book, because...Amelia Bedelia. Who can resist Amelia Bedelia?

 

 

Vote for Me

 

I love the Amazon description of this one: Hey, you! Yes, you with the dazzling smile! The donkey wants your vote. So does the elephant. And each will do just about anything to win your support. Brag? Sure! Flatter? Absolutely! Exaggerate, name-call, make silly promises and generally act childish? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Soon, the tension mounts, and these two quarrelsome candidates resort to slinging mud (literally) and flinging insults. And what happens when the election results are in? Well, let's just say the donkey and the elephant are in for a little surprise --- and a certain bewhiskered, third-party candidate is in for a first term.

Vote for Me! is a timely satire of American politics, but it's a story readers of all nationalities and ages will recognize. Comical, retro illustrations (in shades of blue and red, of course) are completely winning, and the dueling duo's insult-laden exchanges promise to have readers laughing out loud.

Duck for President

It's far-fetched and a little more than a little ridiculous, but this one really works to entertain both the reader and the listener. The author and illustrator are an award-winning team. It's all here: baby kissing, diners, lots of coffee and lots of recounts. You can watch this one read aloud here. 

 

So You want to be President

Note: This is an updated version of the 2001 Caldecott classic, but it isn't current enough to include Barack Obama. Still, this gem is a trivia-loving kid's dream. From the Amazon review: The basic theme is that anyone can be president: a fat man (William Howard Taft) or a tiny man (James Madison), a relative youngster (Teddy Roosevelt at 42) or oldster (Ronald Reagan at 69). Presidential hobbies, sports, virtues, and vices all get a tongue-in-cheek airing, perfectly matched by Small's political-cartoon style of caricature painting. It's fun, but the underlying purpose is clearly serious: to remind kids that the American presidents have been a motley group of individuals, not a row of marble busts. Ironically, that message makes the presidency far more interesting (and appealing) than it seems in some of the more traditional books. There's a factual addendum at the back giving all the dates and names, with a one-line bio for each past-president. 

The Ballot Box Battle

This election is an historic one. A woman is at the top of a major party's ticket. No matter what you think of that woman (and really, I just don't want to know what you think), this is a good time to stop and reflect with our kids about women and voting in our country. This story is light, but makes its point. From School library Journal: History, the subtle and not-so-subtle oppression of women, and the redoubtable character of Elizabeth Cady Stanton are made real and alive in this colorfully illustrated story set in the summer of 1880. Cordelia loves to ride on Mrs. Stanton's old horse and hear the stories of her neighbor's own girlhood. Despite her efforts to ride and excel in Greek, young Elizabeth's only praise was to hear "Oh, my daughter, you should have been a boy!" Cordelia's brother puts her down in the same way when he makes fun of her desire to prove herself a courageous rider. On election day, the children accompany Mrs. Stanton on her yearly attempt to cast a vote in the local contests. Seeing her friend's courage in facing the taunts and scorn of the men gathered at the polls, and angry at the teasing of the local boys, Cordelia makes her own protest by taking the old horse over a four-foot fence in a daring and dangerous leap forward. McCully's richly hued, softly textured paintings beautifully evoke the late 19th-century era and the small-town world of Tenafly, NJ, where the widowed Stanton spent her last years. Skillfully weaving fact and story, The Ballot Box Battle offers a history lesson pleasingly framed in a story about an independent young girl. A full-page author's note gives further information on Stanton and on the creation of the book.

 



See How They Run

This book reminds me of Schoolhouse Rock. It covers a lot of academic ground, but retains its entertainment value throughout. It's one that eight-  or nine-year-olds can read on their own, but why not put it in the hands of a 13-year-old and ask him to reader it to younger siblings? He'll learn a lot in the process. The Washington Post writes: “Anyone who needs a clear explanation of how a candidate can get the most popular votes and still lose the election should read See How They Run. (Did you know that Thomas Jefferson thought that the electoral college was "the most dangerous blot on our Constitution"?) Susan Goodman examines American democracy and political campaigns from 1789 to the groundbreaking Democratic primaries between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Goodman includes the formation of political parties and contemporary voting issues, touching on difficult subjects such as election shenanigans, negative campaigning and voter fraud. The book's archival photos from the Library of Congress, humorous cartoons and informative sidebars hold the reader's attention. In one sidebar called "Getting Better All the Time," the author observes that our democracy isn't perfect, but progressive: "Good News: The United States was the first modern democracy with an elected government protecting the freedom and rights of its citizens. The Bad News: In the beginning, only white men who owned land could vote.”  As with almost every current election-themed book, there are political biases. These are talking points. Read with your kids and talk about them. It's a jungle out there, folks, and before you can blink, they'll be voting. These conversations need to happen early and often in order to educate the electorate. Because, you know, if you have an electorate that can be swayed by reality TV and internet spin, you might end up with two candidates very few people really want for President. We can do better. The future is now. Read, talk, read, and then talk some more.  

The Day Gogo Went to Vote

Sometimes, we take for granted how easy it is to go to the local elementary school and cast a ballot. Sometimes. This year, more than one person in my household who is old enough to vote is mournfully contemplating not voting for president. Much conscience wrestling is happening. This is not voter apathy; it's voter torment. Still, everyone of voting age will go vote, even if to vote down ballot. We'll walk the block to the very safe school and we'll smile at our neighbors. We'll take our young children with us. It's what we do, every year. 

This book offers our very comfortable children a look at voting somewhere else.  Historical, but still within the lifetime of our generation of children, this is the story of young Thembi, a girl who accompanies her 100-year-old great-grandmother to the polling place in the first all-race elections in South Africa. Infirm and housebound, Gogo is determined to vote and does so with a little help from her community. Truly sobering.
 

Revolution

This is a book that will forever burn into the heart of a child just how precious is the right to vote. Not set a world away like the book above, this one is set in Mississippi. Told with four voices, it's a bit of a challenging read, well worth it for middle years readers. The first voice is Sunny, a 12-year-old white girl, and the second is of Ray, a 16-year-old black boy. They live in Greenwood, Mississippi in the summer of 1964. This is a well-craftedmultidimensional picture of a deep south town during Freedom Summer.

Sunny becomes increasingly aware injustices towards African Americans in her town. She also begins to the violence on the part of the police. At the same time, Ray is learning just how unfair Jim Crow laws are and he is agitated and impatient to see if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be enforced immediately after it is signed.

In his part of the story, Ray chafes at the lack of equality in the Jim Crow South. For him, the civil rights workers are moving too slowly. He pushes to see if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be enforced in Mississippi almost as soon as it has been signed.

The last episode of the book is as predictable as it is horrifying. this is literature that will stick with the reader. 

I have two readers for whom I want this book to be the literature core for October. Both of them are reluctant/struggling readers. This book is a good one for an Audible choice. It's read in four voices and it will bear some of the reading challenge, letting this listener pay attention to plot and characters instead of struggling with form. 



Presidential Elections: And Other Cool Facts
If you're looking for one volume of lots of facts to use as a spine for teaching all about elections, this is it. Also, this one is very current. It's a fully up-to-date book full of interesting information for middle years kids. Especially noteworthy: here's an excellent explanation of the electoral college. 

First Mothers

They say that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. That is especially true in the case of the women of this book. Surely, I'm not the only one who is intrigued about the mothers who raised presidents. all of the presidents are represented here and each woman's story is told, even if only a little is known about her. Watercolor and pencil illustrations make for satisfying lingering over pictures. I really kind of love this one.

 

Election! A kid's guide to picking our president

This is another book full of facts and information. It's a practical, well researched, up-to-date guide to elections for kids (and grownups, too). Dan Gutman is a reliable resource for civics education and there are lots of discussion prompting pints here. The book is written in Q & A format and covers 120 questions kids ask about elections. It's quite thorough.

White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents' Children

 We live close enough to Washington, DC that my children walk past the White House every now and then when we visit the city. And every single time, someone says, "Can you imagine playing family soccer on the White House lawn?" Then we have a long conversation about what it would be like to live in the White House. This book "has highlighted some of the mischief, the mysteries, and the mayhem the White House kids have been a part of while living in the nation’s capitol. The book design is inviting with sidebars, fact boxes, illustrations, and photographs. Connect this book to the website First Kids which also has lesson ideas. "

Two for you: 

Mama, are you tired of this election cycle? Weary with general ugliness of it all? How about Dana Perino's And The Good News Is: Lessons from the Bright Side, just for a cheerful change of pace.

And then, there's Peggy Noonan, whom I really adore. This one is a breath of fresh air in the current climate: When Character Was King. Imagine that. Character was king.

 

There are more books, links, and ideas in this post, from 2008

These are the resources from that post that are still current, but you might also want to look at comments there.

D is for Democracy
Woodrow for President

D is for Democracy comes with an entire free unit study here.

A rockin' trip down Memory Lane for Mom and Dad and some seriously catchy jingles for a whole new generation of future voters: Schoolhouse Rock Election Edition DVD. This comes with a map and stickers for election night.

Here are plenty of sites from which to glean ideas:

• Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids
    
• Congress for Kids
    • Constitution Center
    • Kaboose
    • First Gov for Kids
    • NationalArchives
      • National Museum of American History
        • PBS for Kids

The Best Book of the Summer, By Far

Every once in a rare while, a book comes along that seeps into my soul. When it happens, it's an answer to prayer, a whisper of the Holy Spirit after i've been casting about, begging to hear Him. It is extraordinary.

A few months ago, a draft copy of my friend Colleen Mitchell's new book Who Does He Say You Are? found its way to my inbox. I read it with tears streaming down my face, her good words watering my parched spirit. I know that dear readers here will recognize that Colleen is one of my best friends and that perhaps that makes my endorsement and hearty recommendation of this book somewhat unbiased;-), but  please hear me. This is one that you will return to again and again. You will flip it open at random and trust it to speak into your dark spaces, your wounds, your loneliness. 

Still don't quite believe me? Here are just a few quotes I gathered for myself. There were so many more. I've culled this list to a fraction of what I stopped to record on my first reading.(And truthfully, I chose by eliminating the ones with which Squarespace and I fought over formatting.)

As I write this morning, as I sift through just the quotes I've chosen and pick a few for you, I find this book ministering to me anew. I got up early (actually the smoke detector awakened us at 4:30--no fire, thank God) and I took the book with me on a morning run. I carried heavy burdens into the woods with me this morning, and a restlessness that miles and miles of running can't seem to vanquish. Now, post-run, in the relative stillness of a coffee shop at rush hour, these words bring peace.

If you read one book this summer, give yourself the gift of this one.

 

Oh, how I want to be an Elizabeth to our world. I want to be a woman whose faith in God’s promises holds no matter how long there is no visible evidence of it—a woman who uses her voice to bring hope to the weary and to rejoice with those who rejoice. I want to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness steadily, with great joy, regardless of what the world around me looks like—because when it is darkest, that is when my voice is most needed.

I forget that my hope is not that things will go as I planned, but that the Lord will make himself known, in the faces of my husband and children, in the unexpected joys of family life that pop up right in the middle of our messy chaos, in the ways he provides for me and shows me his tender care in the most detailed ways.

The courage to live the call to share Jesus with others comes from a hope that gives way to the discipline of prayer. Prayer inspires a life of joyful dependence on the Lord, which allows us to see and recognize him at work in the most surprising of ways. And from a heart focused on God blossoms the thanksgiving that overflows into sharing Christ with a waiting world.

In that embrace, she takes up the same work of all the righteous women we have already seen, that of Anna and Elizabeth, and of Woman herself: Mary. This woman whose life has been lived in anything but righteousness according to Jewish Law becomes their equal, their sister. And she shares in their work of professing Jesus to all she meets, announcing the coming of a Savior. In the eyes of the Lord, nothing in her past prohibits her from taking up her place at their sides.

He doesn’t ask that we compete for holiness or that we mold ourselves into some ill-fitting definition in order to appease him. But he wants us to learn to accept the grace of being loved by him, to learn to be content in who we are in him, so that we can be confident of what he can do for us.

I bet that you, like me, have known what it is like to be the invisible one in your own community, to be so wary of the judgmental glances and the avoidance maneuvers of others that you find it easier just to steer clear altogether

No one knew why the woman in this story kept bleeding. No one knew how to help her. No one knew what to do for her. And over time, no one knew her at all. Do you find yourself in that place? Bearing a pain that no one fully understands, so that no one fully knows what to do with you? And after enough time passes, it begins to seem that no one really knows you at all. You skim the outskirts of your own community, your own family, your own life, hide from the places where people gather, and learn to accept that you will never be fully healed, fully known, or fully accepted again.

We assume that our humanity and our sin are obstacles to Jesus, when, in fact, he has come to the place where we are and waited for us just so he can blow away the lines the world has drawn in the dust, and all the lines we ourselves have drawn too, with the breath of mercy.

He wants to heal us not only from the outside shame that keeps us baking in the public glare, but from the deep, personal shame that keeps us gingerly sidestepping our real wounds while we wither within.

 

I bow low to kiss the dirt, sure that I have earned my fate, that I deserve to be right where I am, buried under my sin and bruised and broken open by the guilty verdict I cannot rebuff. And more often than not, the fists waiting to cast the stones that will do me in are a million better versions of myself that I have not been, jeering and scoffing and mocking me in my weakness. Yes, the most sanctimonious Pharisee I ever face is the perfect version of myself, who just loves to barge into the heart of the real me—weak, tempted, sinner that I am—and pronounce her judgments with surety: failure, guilty, dirty, tainted, worthless.

First, he forgives. And then, he speaks the words that save—the words we don’t deserve, the words we could never merit, the words that revoke our death sentence and proclaim in its place life, hope, and wild grace.

I think of the way the sacrament of confession works on my own soul, how often I start out afraid to confront my own sin and bring it into the light, forgetting that the goal is not for me to sit shamefaced with my sin but to draw it out so that my own healing can take place. I leave confession, not bowed lower because of facing my sin, but restored by God’s mercy and sent out to live my purpose once again, to serve him with joy and hope. Jesus does not ignore my sin. He looks at it with the tenderness of his mercy and draws me up from it so that I may rise in freedom

The better portion she chose was to set aside the worry and anxiety that comes from measuring our worth by comparing ourselves to those around us, and to instead gaze fully on the face of her Savior who was there in their midst, present to her and offering her a freely given, unearned stamp of approval out of love. Leaning in, she wasn’t worried about what she could offer him, but she focused on what she could learn from him.

We do not have to find a way to be something we are not in order to please Jesus. We do not have to work for his approval. We only have to keep our gaze on him, to lean in and listen from whatever position in which we find ourselves, and to know that he is near. This is the only necessary thing for us to do to find contentment in our lives.

 

 

 

Books to Toss in Your Kids' Beach Bags

We're headed to the beach soon. Truth be told, it's unlikely my girls will have a whole lot of time to read this go 'round, since we're going for a dance competition. But they've been summer reading right along and we have another trip to the beach in August. Here are some of our family favorites for summer reading. There is no rhyme or reason to the way they're listed here. Some are just light, happy reads. Some are much heavier, deeper. As I went through the list (during the third sitting of putting this post together, because everything takes me days to do;-), I recognized that there is a bit of a recurrent theme so appropriate right now. Several of these books emphasize seeking to understand, working to build bridges, and nurturing unlikely friendships. Kind of the ribbon running through this particular summer...

Penderwicks at Point Mouette

This isn't the first in there series and I'd always rather read them in order, but it is the first book recommended when I crowd sourced the small crowd in my family room asking, "What's a good beach book?" This is the one set at the beach if you have someone who wants to read about the beach while at the beach. 

Rosalind heads to the beach for the summer and the rest of the Penderwick sister, together with their friend Jeffrey, go to Maine. In Rosalind's absence, Skye is sister-in-charge in the charming coastal cottage. Lots of typical Penderwick scrapes and adventures in this one. If you don't know the Penderwicks yet, read The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy and Penderwicks on Gardam Street and then this one. It's only mid-July. There's plenty of summer left for it.
 

Spiderwick Chronicles

This one is included because when I was eliciting suggestions from my kids, I said "Penderwick" and Sarah immediately started lobbying for "Spiderwicks." That's one she met at the beach two years ago.

Using a handmade field guide found in the attic of an old mansion they’ve just moved into, Jared; his twin brother, Simon; and their older sister, Mallory, discover the world of faerie. This is a magical, parallel world with adventure and intrigue and the faeries are determined to keep the Grace children from telling anyone about the mysterious world.

 

Summer of the Gypsy Moths

This is a beautiful book of empathy and redemption. Stella is eleven years old, staying at her Great Aunt Louise's house on Cape Cod for the summer, in part because her mother is unreliable. Angel is a foster child Aunt Louise has taken in. When Aunt Louise suddenly dies, the girls conspire to keep it a secret so that they can stay where they are. Forced to trust one another and to depend on each other for survival, they come of age together and discover they can forge a family from an unlikely friendship.

One Crazy Summer

Karoline read this on last winter and highly recommends it. It seems particularly appropriate for this summer--a perfect conversation starter for some of the tough conversations that beg to be had in these chaotic days. "In the tumultuous summer of 1968, Delphine and her two sisters travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, Calif., to spend a month with their mother, a radical poet who sends them to the local Black Panther center for summer camp. There, they begin to learn about the fraught relationship between race and power."

Shmoop opines: Rita Williams-Garcia's 2010 novel tackles big issues like racism, government control, unfair arrests, abandonment, and responsibility. But before you bail for a lighter read, you should probably know that this book bagged a bunch of awards, including the National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, and the Newbery Medal of Honor when it came out (source). In other words, One Crazy Summer doesn't just dive headfirst into tricky territory; it navigates it with aplomb.

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The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles

I loved this book when I was about ten. It's written by Julie Andrews--yes, that beloved Mary Poppins-Maria Von Trapp Julie. Three children and an eccentric professor locate the last living Whangdoodle--a huge mooselike creature who wants nothing more in life than a lady whangdoodle to love. It's a charming story, delightfully written. I can just hear her reading it aloud, which begs the question: Why in the world is there no author-read audio version?

 

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

This one brings me back to the summer before my freshman year in high school when I read this book not once, not twice, but three times. Francie Nolan is one tough cookie who is growing up the crime-ridden squalor that is Brooklyn in the early 1900s. It's the story of determination and resilience and the burning passion that can be inspired in the heart of a (very young) writer by words that beg to be set free. (*Please see the content flag in the comments. appropriate for teens, according to your family's standards.)

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Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry

I believe this one is a classic. Truly. Every family should own it and read it together. Maybe now, more than ever before in the our lifetime and the lifetime of our children, we need to be talking about books like this. From the Amazon description:

In all Mildred D. Taylor's unforgettable novels she recounts "not only the joy of growing up in a large and supportive family, but my own feelings of being faced with segregation and bigotry." Her Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of one African American family, fighting to stay together and strong in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty, and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s. Nine-year-old Cassie Logan, growing up protected by her loving family, has never had reason to suspect that any white person could consider her inferior or wish her harm. But during the course of one devastating year when her community begins to be ripped apart by angry night riders threatening African Americans, she and her three brothers come to understand why the land they own means so much to their Papa. "Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain't never had to live on nobody's place but your own and long as I live and the family survives, you'll never have to. That's important. You may not understand that now but one day you will. Then you'll see."

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The Hundred Dresses

This one is about bullies and bystanders and learning valuable lessons, hopefully before it's too late. 

My take is that bullying and "bystandering" has become ubiquitous, though much of it--most of it--is digital now. In the last twenty years, children have become emboldened by their screens. Books like this one heighten empathy and sensitivity. If only they'd read more of the bound words and fewer of the ones through which they scroll, mindlessly while letting their hearts be seared. 

From the Amazon description:

Wanda Petronski lives way up in shabby Boggins Heights, and she doesn't have any friends. Every day she wears a faded blue dress, which wouldn't be too much of a problem if she didn't tell her schoolmates that she had a hundred dresses at home--all silk, all colors, and velvet, too. This lie--albeit understandable in light of her dress-obsessed circle--precipitates peals of laughter from her peers, and she never hears the end of it. One day, after Wanda has been absent from school for a few days, the teacher receives a note from Wanda's father, a Polish immigrant: "Dear teacher: My Wanda will not come to your school any more. Jake also. Now we move away to big city. No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in the big city. Yours truly, Jan Petronski."

Maddie, a girl who had stood by while Wanda was taunted about her dresses, feels sick inside: "True, she had not enjoyed listening to Peggy ask Wanda how many dresses she had in her closet, but she had said nothing.... She was a coward.... She had helped to make someone so unhappy that she had had to move away from town." Repentant, Maddie and her friend Peggy head up to Boggins Heights to see if the Petronskis are still there. When they discover the house is empty, Maddie despairs: "Nothing would ever seem good to her again, because just when she was about to enjoy something--like going for a hike with Peggy to look for bayberries or sliding down Barley Hill--she'd bump right smack into the thought that she had made Wanda Petronski move away." Ouch.

 

Bridge to Terabithia

So, I read this one in college. It was assigned reading for my children's literature class. And after I dried my tears, I picked up the phone and called my best friend from high school, a boy I'd not talked to in several months. A boy I swore I was "totally over." Thirty years and nine kids later, I have a super soft spot for Terabithia;-).

The book is so much better than the movie.

It's not a love story. It's a story about the power of a friendship to transform us.

I'm not one for trigger warnings, but I make an exception here. Spoiler: A child dies tragically. If you have a child (like at least one of mine), who really can't handle the intense emotion of grief in literature yet, steer clear. It's a great book, but it can wait until a little later. I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to my 13-year-old, but I'd hide it from my 7-year-old, not just because of maturity, but because of sensitivity

 

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Matilda

Because of stories read aloud at the Montessori school, my little girls have been on a Roald Dahl binge. Some of those I could easily forego (Witches is on my least favorite list), but they really loved Matilda. It's "the story of an exceptionally gifted girl who outsmarts her cruel parents and the brutish school headmistress Miss Trunchbull with the help of her magical abilities and her kind teacher Miss Honey." Roald Dahl really does nail humanity's weaknesses and failure exceptionally well, bringing them to life in a books that speak to children without being childish at all.

 

Number the Stars

I mentioned that we listened to this one a couple of weeks ago. We're still talking about it almost daily. This is a beautiful, haunting book of the friendship of two families--one Christian and one Jewish--during the days of Germany's occupation of Denmark. The strength and bravery of two little girls--and a whole country of Danes--is breathtaking. I can't say enough good things. It's $4 right now for the Amazon Audible version. That means that for $1/hour you can all listen to it for four hours in the car while you drive to whatever summer destination you have in mind. Time so well spent. You'll be so glad you shared it together.

I've got a bunch more, but summer will be over if I keep writing and don't post soon. So, let these be your end-of-July reads and maybe I can squeeze one more post into mid-August, because, really, these are good books for any time at all. The beach just makes them a little sandy and a little water-worn, and maybe a bit more memorable. 

Three books going.

I think it was Karen Andreola who first introduced me to the idea of having three books going. I know it was many years ago, when most good ideas were in books and not online. I've tried with varying degrees of success to follow that advice.

Firstly, one of the books is not the Bible. That book is going all the time and doesn't count as one of the three. Increasingly these days, my three books going are one on a Kindle, one on Audible, and one in print. I find that each of these books is more at home in a different circumstance. My Kindle lives in my purse. It's always there in the waiting rooms or when standing on line at DMV and trying to not to catch the bad attitude in the air. My in-print book is in a basket by my bed. I read it at bedtime, but I also pick it up now and then throughout the day. And my audiobook goes with me when I walk or run or just need to stay focused on extended housekeeping duties. 

Three books going. Works for me. Two of those books can be accessed on my phone. The Kindle app is there and I will occasionally use it, though I much prefer to read ebooks on my Kindle. That phone is mighty small for extended reading time by these old eyes. The audible app means that drive time and any other time I'm out and about and can put earbuds in without being rude is easily converted to reading time.  One interesting observation: when I was little, my mother was always reminding me that it was rude to "have your nose in a book" in public places. Now, everybody has their head bent to their phones.  In some situation this IS exceedingly rude. In other situations, iPhones have replaced waiting room magazines (or grocery line magazines, for that matter). I'm not checking my mail or social media in those situations though, because I have found that I am a much happier person if I read a book instead. When I'm tempted to surf, I read. I tell myself I'll read for five minutes and then if I want to surf, I'll let myself. I rarely want to close the book app.

Kristin made me this really pretty screensaver to remind me that I'd rather read. I shared it with the Restore folks last spring. Maybe you'd like it, too?

Last week, I diverged from the usual plan and I binge read three books consecutively, all of them on Kindle. I got a Kindle Paperwhite for Mother's Day --gave it to myself, yes I did---and I'm seriously loving it. I love the way the it feels in my hand; it's the perfect size. I love the Amazon Bookerly font. (But I also love that there's a dyslexia font option and I will be purchasing another Paperwhite soon to help my sweet girl along.)

In a Facebook conversation about Miss Prim last week, someone recommended The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. Turns out my neighbor had a Kindle copy and offered to loan it to me. I didn't even know you could do that! But we did. The loan allows two weeks to read the book. I don't do well with deadlines. I'm one of those people who always does things early. I read it in a day or two. I really enjoyed the book. It was sweet and light and literary and a little quirky. From Amazon: 

“Funny, tender, and moving, The Storied Life of A J Fikray reminds us all exactly why we read and why we love.”*

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over—and see everything anew.

After that one, I read The Nest, if for no other reason, to see what all the fuss is about.

Uh. I really don't see what the fuss is about. I didn't enjoy this book. Maybe it's one of those books you're not supposed to enjoy. I've seen reviews that call it "hilarious" but I didn't get the joke. I thought it was tragic. Truthfully, I tend to miss jokes, so, that's no big thing. I read, frequently, to take me places I want to go. Not necessarily exotic locales, but into other lives and situations. They don't all have to Green Gables, but I do like books that go somewhere where the story is ultimately uplifting and redemptive somehow. It doesn't have to perfect or even an always-happy-ending, but I want to want to be glad to be in the process of the story. I wanted to know how The Nest ended, to see if the author pulled it all together and tied up all the loose ends, but I wasn't really invested in the shallow characters and sometimes, I just wanted to get the heck out of there. I felt like much of the sex and the references to sexuality were at once cliche and in poor taste. The publishing and online media businesses portrayed made my skin crawl and made me think twice about my own "to-be-written" list. In the end, I just didn't enjoy it and i was sorry to have wasted time and money on it. Of course, your mileage may vary. I suspect I'm a sort of quirky reader.

Then I read Sea of Tranquility. This book took a hard look at some very tough, very sad topics, but it was ultimately replete with both love and hope. While the characters are teenagers, it's not a  Young Adult novel. It's actually very adult. A young girl is brutally attacked and briefly dies. After she recovers, in order to get away from the town where the attack was, the girl, who is selectively mute, goes to live with her aunt. In that town, she meets a boy who has suffered tremendous losses. This is their story, but it's also the story of a very strong supporting cast of characters. This one stuck with me for days and made me slow to start another book because I didn't want to let it go. I loved it that much. (Also, if you're one of us who is still in love with your first love, you might find a special place in your heart for these two kids. Love at seventeen can be a very real thing.)

Mama's Reading: The Awakening of Miss Prim

Yesterday, Anne Bogel wrote about books chosen for her by her family. In that post, she wrote, “Fiction is a great empathy builder, because the process of entering into a different—albeit imaginary—world forces the reader to see things from another point of view.

I’ve been thinking and thinking about that quote. I read fiction voraciously as a child, a teenager, and a college student. I inhaled it. It was the air I breathed, the force-- more than any other-- that formed me. I think I’m very empathetic. Actually, if one can be too empathetic, that’s me.

And then I stopped.

Just like that. In 1990, I stopped reading fiction altogether. As my children grew, I’d read kidlit to them or with them, but I never picked up adult fiction.  1990 was the year I had cancer.

Before cancer, I fully expected my life to unfold like a novel. There’d be some conflict, some struggle, and then there’d be resolution and happily ever after. Of course not every novel I read was so tidy, but most were. My childhood was a turmoil, so I figured that when I left home and married, that was my denouement. It would be smooth sailing from there.

As anyone who has every married and had children can attest, that was a ridiculous supposition. Married life is full of turmoil of its own. In my case though, cancer was an abrupt, rude wake up call in my happily-ever-after daydream. With it came more raw emotion than ever before (and believe me, the before was plenty packed with emotion). In the past, reading had been my escape—into other people’s carefully crafted worlds where I was safe from reality and able to engage without fearing. During and after cancer, I was so filled with my own emotions and those of my husband and son that I couldn’t take on anyone else’s—not even those of fictional people, especially since I have a heightened sense of empathy.

A few years ago, I started reading fiction again. I began to allow myself to get lost in the story, to feel with the characters, to be carried on emotion. I have no idea why this happened when it did. I have not had emotional margin in about five years. But happen it did and I'm very glad. The nice thing about neglecting fiction for 20 years or so? I have a backlog of great books to be read.

As I read, I have the impulse to share, to discuss. That never happened pre-cancer. Books were always my private world. Now, I’m aware that there are people, like me, who always have their noses in a book, who enter fully into fictional worlds and who see them as clearly as I do. That is a happy discovery!

So, let’s see if once a week or so I can share with you what I’ve been reading in the last couple years.

 

First up is The Awakening of Miss Prim. I adore this book! Love, love, love it.  I binge read it in an afternoon. Then, I picked it up a few months later and read it again. Now, it lives in a basket on my nightstand and I just leaf through it every now and again and read a few random pages at a time. It fills me. It's also book most likely to be Instagrammed  because, well, it's just such a pretty book;-). 

This is a beautifully written debut novel translated from Spanish. Set in the fictional town of San Ireneo de Arnois, it’s the story of Prudencia Prim, who answers an ad to care for the library of an eccentric, well educated, and (I think) utterly charming gentleman. He's a faith -filled man who lives according to principle and he's able to talk intelligently about almost every book imaginable, save Little Women (what?).

It’s a story of pride and prejudice with Austen-like characters. It’s the story of conversion with some C. S. Lewis-like dialogue. It’s the story of an idyllic town where people live their convictions that, for all its unrealistic idealism, is also somehow inspirational. There is even a packing and leaving reminiscent of The Sound of Music. To read the book is to want to bake a pie, brew tea, engage in community, talk literature, and enter into the mysteries of faith.

For an educator, there is a strong current of educational philosophy throughout the book. The town’s children have the best of all worlds: community school and home education, together harmoniously, with each person giving according to his strengths. It’s remarkably simple and yet just beyond reach for those of us outside the fictional village.

Faith, love, literature, philosophy: it’s all there—masterfully written in such a way that this book begs to be discussed. It is charming and intellectual, replete with delightful literary references and yet, at the same time, it’s the story of a soul and its simple turn towards the source of beauty.

“I have to tell you that equality has nothing to do with marriage. The basis of a good marriage, a reasonably happy marriage-don’t delude yourself, there is no such thing as an entirely happy marriage-is, precisely, inequality. It’s essential if two people are to feel mutual admiration. Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you. You must not aspire to finding a husband who’s your equal, but one who’s absolutely and completely better than you...
[Men] must seek women who, from one or several points of view, are better than them. If you look back over history you’ll see that most great men, the truly great ones, have always chosen admirable women...
If you reflected a little more deeply you’d realize that you can only admire that which you do not possess. You do not admire in another a quality you have yourself, you admire what you don’t have and which you see shining in another in all its splendor.”
“What beauty will save the world?” she murmured.
He peered at her through the gloom inside the car.
”Dostoyevsky, Prudencia? Dostoyevsky? If I were you, I’d start worrying.”
Miss Prim, snugly wrapped in her employer’s coat, gave a happy grin, unseen in the darkness.
“You say you’re looking for beauty, but this isn’t the way to achieve it, my dear friend. You won’t find it while you look to yourself, as if everything revolved around you. Don’t you see? It’s exactly the other way around, precisely the other way around. You mustn’t be careful, you must get hurt. What I am trying to explain, child, is that unless you allow the beauty you seek to hurt you, to break you and knock you down, you’ll never find it.”
“So seek beauty, Miss Prim. Seek it in silence, in tranquillity; seek it in the middle of the night and at dawn. Pause to close doors while you seek it, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t reside in museums or in palaces. Don’t be surprised if, in the end, you find beauty to be not in Something but Someone.”

 

My copy is dog-eared and highlighted. So many lovely lines to revisit!

I do have to admit I was disappointed with the ending. It seemed abrupt after such careful plot and character development. I wanted to know so much more about Miss Prim’s personal journey after she left San Ireneo. If I’d been Natalia Fenollera’s editor, I would have asked to see the letters that were exchanged between Miss Prim and Mrs. Thiberville during Prudencia’s time away. I’ve literally lain awake at night imagining what those letters held.

If you’ve read it, what do you think the letters said?

If you haven’t read The Awakening of Miss Prim, treat yourself. Right now. Go ahead. Indulge. You’ll be so glad.