Our Summer Book Picks

We may not be taking big vacations and I may often be distracted with Calvin’s care BUT reading out loud together carries us on many adventures, gives us invaluable experiences and discussions together, and glues us together in formative ways. Here’s what we’ve been reading in the evenings…our golden time.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

Summer ReadingAt first I thought this would be a rather dry book but I still popped it into my library bag. Often it’s the books you least expect to be good that capture the whole family! The story is about Charlotte, a 13-year-old upperclass girl, who travels from England to Providence, Rhode Island. She starts the journey under rather mysterious circumstances and begin a voyage that will indeed bring her to Providence but will change her completely. Be ready to feel the wind in your face, smell the stench of the brigg, and make friends with a salty crew. Full of intrigue, mystery and surprise, even your boys will love it.

Conversation Starters: At the end of the book there is a conversation waiting to be had about culture shock, how it changes us when our perspective broadens and how we react when we are misunderstood. Even if you’ve never travelled, your kids will feel the change in Charlotte, the difficulty in transition, and seeking to be understood.

It’s a book that challenges perceptions of race and class and identifying with people “like” us. It brings up a discussion of authority–“How did Charlotte react in the end? Why? What do you think about it?”

The entire family listened but I think my kids from ages 8-13 and the adults benefited most. There was lots of lively discussion along the way!

The Mysterious Benedict Society

summer reading for kids

This was a wonderfully creative story filled with a bit of science-fiction, strong morals and surprise. As a parent, I usually only carry on with big thick books that are interesting. I often wanted to read ahead on my own after I’d tucked the kids in. The character development was so clever and the plot-line kept us guessing.

When a peculiar ad for gifted children appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.

As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all?

Conversation Starters: Most of the time the kids only wanted to talk about which character they were like. After each of them deciding they were a mix of one or two we were able to get on other topics, but to them this was the most important discussion 😉

Some major themes that came up for us were the discussion of evil being portrayed as “good” and how most people doing evil often have convinced themselves they are doing it for the greater good. Which naturally led into a talk of communism (thanks Darryl), government structures and the use of power.

There was a lot of fun that went along with trying to solve the puzzles along with the heroes in the book. It’s a great time to talk about the way each of the characters have strengths and flaws and do a bit of self-reflection.

Again, this was perfect for my kids ages 8-13. They cannot stop talking about it!

The Penderwicks


Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a larger family like ours or perhaps it’s the way Birdsall makes the characters so alive and relatable, whatever it is–we love this series!

We stumbled upon it at the library at proceeded to go through every book together. We feel like we know the Penderwick family; my kids will frequently say things like: “Stop being so dramatic, you’re being like Jane” or “I am like Skye, I DON’T like girly things.” And on and on it goes.

The everyday mishaps, hilarity and sadness feel so real. So ordinary in the most precious way. The family is not a Christian family and you might need to guide some discussions when boyfriends come on the scene in later books, but the tried and true themes of loyalty, family bonds and the life of a sibling made the series a gem.

Conversation Starters: There are so MANY. You’ll undoubtedly start talking together about personalities (and yes, of course kids pick up the discussion of which character they most relate too), the responsibilities of older kids, the frustration and hilarity of toddlers, and how we deal with hard emotions like anger, sadness and feelings of failure. Overall, the book portrays the value of family and what it means to be a family…and there’s no end to discussion there.

This is easier reading. I’d suggest reading it to kids as young as five up to adults!


Not By Sight


“Disappointment is similar to anger in that there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons to feel it. If some evil has caused the event of our disappointment, the emotion could be right because evil defiles God’s glory.

But whatever the cause, if our emotion is growing in the soil of love and faith, it will produce righteous fruit, like contentment or just action or gracious forbearance.

But if its roots are in the soil of selfishness, it will bear unrighteous fruit, like jealousy and selfish ambition, which are themselves evil and defile God’s glory.”

Jon Bloom from Not By Sight.


Gift of the Gospel

Recently Gloria Furman recommended A Gospel Primer over at Domestic Kindgom. The book is all about why (and how) to preach the gospel to ourselves daily; the truth of it all is saturating my soul these days. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

I’ve grown up with a  somewhat vigorous theological training between school, catechism, countless sermons and books my parents amply supplied. It wasn’t until I was converted in my late teens that the the renewing of my mind actually began and all the old files stored away began to flip open and become alive. And yet today it still seems I am just beginning to understand the awesome totality of the gospel and how it transforms me by putting Jesus and his work in focus.

photo (5)

I’m finding my thinking is often more shaped by culture, assumptions and my own rationale than it is by the gospel. Check this out:

The gospel is so foolish (according to my natural wisdom), so scandalous (according to my conscience), and so incredible (according to my timid heart), that it is a daily battle to believe the full scope of it as I should. –A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent.

The gospel is contrary to everything this sin-worn world experiences. That’s why I can’t rely singularly on my heart, intellect, culture or popular theory–the Word needs to be my source, my compass. As society we muddle around with sticks and dirty stones of philosophy and human theory and regard our insights as “academic” and “lofty” while the Bible remains a snubbed book. We are missing the power of God with a closed Bible! And I need constant rigorous diving into the Word to wake my heart up and stir my mind. I can ponder ideas or read great books but it is the power of the Word that has the ability to transform my mind and thereby change my life.

Each day I need to remind myself daily of where I came from (sin, death!), how I was redeemed (by Jesus Christ!) and how to live this reality each day. I need to drink in fresh supplies of the gospel daily–it needs to be the oxygen I breathe in, it needs to expel the toxicity(sin!) from my heart, it needs to saturate and inform my mind. I want to be magnetized to the gospel. I’m so quick have my life revolve around the gospel in theory but in actual practice it gets really skewed. We are so quick to have a high opinion of our own thinking and rely so little the Word. I stunt my growth so often.

God did not give us His gospel just so we could embrace it and be converted. Actually, He offers it to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness. We extract the benefits by being absorbed in the gospel, speaking it to ourselves when necessary, and by daring to reckon it true in all we do. ~Milton Vincent

I’m thirsty for this gift. I want to meditate on the gospel in a more meaningful way and I’m so grateful for the help of this little book.

*In other news…our long ICU stay continues. Calvin is treading water. Seizures are under control but his breathing is really struggling. He seems to be so weak. The days are long and we find sadness seeping in often. We’ve received love from some of you by meals, cards, flowers, a note…thank you for your care for us. It feels as if our hospital stay will never be over (we’ve been home 3 weeks of 2013)! We really don’t know what the next few days/weeks hold for Calvin. Please keep us in your prayers. Thank you friends.*

Bringing a little cheer to the ICU!

Bringing a little cheer to the ICU!

New Tunes for Kids

My new favorite kid’s album is Big Stories for Little Ones. It’s not at all traditional in style so make sure you listen before ordering! I love this type of music, soulful and yes, of course a bit folksy. If you don’t folk then you’ll probably not like any of my music suggestions! You’ll recognize Sandra McCraken from Indelible Grace, Ellie Holcomb (schoolteacher turned performer), Elizabeth Mitchell (from my favorite kid CD), and many more.

My favorite track is number two; I’ve been playing it for Calvin this morning.


Little Listening Ears

Have some long trips ahead of you? We do during the holidays and are making our way through some great audio treats.

Peter and the Wolf is a classic and perfect for rides. Kids might get bored with it if sitting in the living room but it’s amazing what they’ll absorb in the car! It’s a delight, this version especially:

You can find it on amazon or check your local library for it.

We also have started the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I wasn’t sure how my kids would like them–we’ve listened to the first the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and they were absolutely spell-bound. Sophie was able to find many parallels the author made, fun! We checked out the audio edition with Michael York reading, his narration brought the story from great to fantastic. We’ve listened to it twice and Sophie enjoyed following along with her book. We’ll be doing the next book in the series soon.

You can find it on amazon or check your library.

May your cold evenings be cheery and cozy in your home. Sit in the living room with blankets, pillows, popcorn and enjoy!!!

Disability and The Gospel {To-Go Version P2}

I’m reviewing a challenging  book Disability and The Gospel in a short series.

Previously: Disability and the Gospel {To-Go Version P1}

When Calvin arrived with a head far smaller than normal and pieces of brain matter missing we had a real close intimate connection with the effects of sin and a broken world. And it was horrible (constant-nausea-insomnia-inducing horrible) with a good dose of terror and despair. It was the effect of evil in the world but somewhere in my mind I knew God was in control of this too. And it made me really angry. How could something so awful (like pieces of brain missing) happen to something precious and helpless? And how in the world did God put His stamp on it? How does brokenness and providence overlap? This book has helped me understand more fully about God’s involvement in disability.

Some of you have responded strongly to this series already and have picked up the book and are reading avidly. No doubt you too have been affected by disability in a very personal way; these are not simply philosophical discussions but the life and questions you are wrestling with everyday. This makes our focus just zero right on exactly how the pain of disability fits in with the hope of the gospel. I’ve summarized and expanded a bit on some of the ideas in the second section of the book. I hope it encourages you today.

Key Thoughts from Part 2 (continued from Part 1)

5.The disabled were a key part in Jesus’ ministry on earth. They served as a reminder to the rest of the put-together community that he was a healer of body and soul.  “God in Christ used real, tangible disability to show his grace and mercy to the weak and outwardly broken as a sign of what he can also do inwardly to those who recognize their weak and broken spiritual condition.” And he didn’t only heal from a distance, he got close and had physical contact. He reached out and touched the leper (Mark 1:41) and “intentionally crossed social and even religious boundaries in order to encounter the broken and rejected.”

6. When disabled people are segregated the body of Christ is deprived of the gifts and blessings God intended for them to receive from the disabled. Disabled people not only need the community of believers, the community of believers NEEDS them, in different ways.  “God chooses and uses those the world least expects to achieve his ends and to bring glory to himself. This is counter-intuitive to our Western sensibilities but it’s a clear pattern of the Scriptures.” Go through the gospels and look where Jesus goes, meet the ones he goes to. Who receives his call? Who seeks after him? “God chooses weak things, lowly things, despised things to nullify the wise, the strong, the self-assured. He does this to drive home the point that there is no cause for human boasting.”

I often think of Calvin as “broken glass”. Physically broken but perhaps more able to reflect and shine the glory of God than the physically whole. Broken glass can catch and reflect light brilliantly.

7. You and I are as broken as the mute, immobile, cognitively-impaired person who has no control of his body and function. Shocking, I know, but true for every man and woman ever conceived (except Jesus). The celebration of strength and ability is always sought after (anyone else enjoying the Olympic games?) and in turn we shy away from the disabled. We mistakenly think they are just an unfortunate lot that really have nothing to do with us (and many of us only change our minds when God brings disability real close). It messes with our illusions of control, safety, and fairness. Physical disability is a mirror of our spiritual and emotional brokenness. We are just a shadow of what we made to be, marred by sin nearly beyond recognition.

This was so real to me tonight, I put Calvin to sleep and for a moment I let myself imagine him physically and mentally whole. I feel like we have just a piece of him and in many ways we are living with a shadow. Then I turn the mirror back to me and see my soul-brokenness so much more and together we groan, yearning for that full redemption.

8. The Church confesses with her mouth that she is broken but we live contrary to the reality of our sin and mortality. We work so hard to look so unbroken don’t we? Putting on happy faces while relationships disintegrate behind closed doors. Looking clean and healthy and wholesome. I know, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that but we convince ourselves that we are so unbroken that we become self-reliant instead of grace-reliant. If we don’t understand the extent of our brokenness we will ALWAYS give glory to ourselves instead of where it’s really due, to God. So many of us are just ‘good folk’, working hard and not depending on anyone. Good qualities perhaps but is this strength? “Pride, self-reliance, and harder work will not save. Strength is too often measured by self-reliance and independence…We need to find salvation in repentance and rest; we find strength, contrary to the wisdom of the world, not in human ability, but in quietness and trust in the God of Israel.”

“Our age is typified by death, mourning, crying, and pain. These signs of weakness and brokenness are not aberrations that protrude into our otherwise happy existence. They arethe essence of our days.”

And again, here’s another quote worth jumping off the couch about:

“The absence of people with disabilities in the church indicates that the church has not fully grasped deeply enough the essence of the gospel; and conversely, God’s people have drunk too deeply from the well of cultural ideology with regard to wholeness and brokenness.”


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