“It was too long,” my friend Jo protested of Inkheart.  “I am just so discouraged by the state of juvenile fiction these days!”  I was only halfway through the book myself, and thought this rather a strong statement.  Although Jo is the Ph.D. I’m not always ready to defer to her literary assessment.  When Dd1 finished and announced she really didn’t like the book, I was beginning to wonder if the book’s content didn’t quite match it’s hype.  I had to admit, I was a little disappointed; but it wasn’t until a discussion with fellow bibliophile, Leah, that I understood why.  

“It was a good idea,” I admitted, “but wasn’t executed very well.”  

“It could be that it was translated from German,” said Leah.

“Oh, yes.  I wondered about that. I mean, why was it written in German.”

“Well, Cornelia Funke is German.”

“Ahhh!” I said.

“You know, I always wondered, if the characters were leaving the books, I mean, when you read from another copy, wouldn’t they still be in the book.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, pointing.  “This is exactly the kind of problems that I had with it.  And then like, why in the world would the aunt try to go back to her house when she knew that the villains knew where she lived.”

“I know.  That made no sense,” I agreed.

On the other hand, there have been some very good children’s books written lately.  Take Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm series.  They are excellent.  The  storyline is well thought out and executed, full of suspense and a lot of humor.  There are blogs upon blogs of kids talking about them, and wondering, like my daughter, when try-outs will be held for the first movie. Speaking of movies, Inkheart was a bit of a disappointment there as well.  It really had the potential to be a great movie, but flopped from the getgo.  Movies based on books are either done really well, as in the case of The Lord of the Rings series or the first Narnia movie; and I must admit the one based on The City of Ember was excellent.  The directors were probably fans of the novels and did their homework.  Others such as Inkheart or Prince Caspian seemed to be rushed onto the screen therefore the storyline had to be manipulated a bit.

In short, I don’t think that juvenile fiction is in a sorry state at the moment.  I forgot to ask Jo how much of that genre she has read lately.  My daughter recently blogged on 21 Balloons by William Pène du Bois herself (See http://talesfromduncanrd.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/the-twenty-one-balloons/). This interesting work of fiction had the added effect of spurring some of the children in her class to watch a documentary on a volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa.  The City of Ember (the first in a series of books by Jeanne DuPrau) is a post-apocalyptic book that is not only a non-threatening social commentary that gets kids to think about actions and their impending consequences; but is also full of mystery and edge of your seat action.

In short, I think I’ll spend a little more time in the J section of the stacks.  I’ve got my eyes on Eragon and Pendragon next, so it should be an exciting summer.


The Roots of Endurance

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Hebrews 12:3

William Wilberforce spent 20 years of his political career trying to abolish the African slave trade in England and the next 26 trying to end slavery itself.  Along with this tireless pursuit, he was also involved in over 60 different acts of legislation, from ending animal cruelty to opening up the doors to evangelism in India.  Both his friends and adversaries spoke highly of his tireless, enthusiastic service of his country despite ongoing, almost interminable resistance.  But how did he endure?  What was the source of his perseverance?  This is the subject of John Piper’s excellent book The Roots of Endurance, part 3 in the “Swans Are Not Silent” series of biographies.  This volume focuses on the lives of three men:  John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce.  All three were contemporaries, all knew each other, and had some contact, and all faced incredible opposition which required amazing endurance.  I had heard of Wilberforce and Newton (the former slave ship captain turned preacher and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”), but had never heard of Simeon.  Charles Simeon was the vicar at Trinity Church in Cambridge for over 60 years.  In over 30 years of that time, he faced opposition from the “pew holders” in his congregation who would lock their pews so no one else could sit in them because they did not want this young preacher.  Despite this, Simeon continued to preach God’s word, dedicate himself to the poor and needy, and focus on his role as peacemaker.  The ability of all of these men to endure is Piper’s prime objective, and a look at their lives reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us and spurs us on toward love and good works.  I thoroughly enjoyed this biography and am newly convinced that our posh form of 21st century Christianity has resulted in a mediocrity worse than what Wilberforce accused his contemporaries of.  His book, The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians blamed the lack of morals of his society on the lack of focus on doctrine.  It was doctrine and specifically the doctrine of the cross of Christ that enabled him to endure struggles in politics, in personal relationships, and his ongoing bouts with colitis and other chronic illness.  It was Simeon’s focus on doctrine that enabled him to endure persecution and to count himself as nothing, and everyone else as worthy of his service and esteem.  And it was this same doctrine that gave Newton a love of people and a hatred of his own sin, and caused him to write a hymn that will go down in history as one of the greatest in all Christendom.  If you watched the movie “Amazing Grace”, I challenge you to take a look at the real story and see what truly shaped the lives of these men.  Their lives remind us that trials, though difficult, are able to mold and shape us into vessels truly fit for service of the One who endured such hardship as is impossible to grasp.  Read it again and again, share it with your children around the living room, and let it be one of your “roots of your endurance”.

Book Sales of Note

I thought it might be beneficial to my readers to report on-line book sales that I hear about from time to time.  You are welcome to email me, or let me know in the comments if you hear of any others.  

One of my favorite book sites is Library and Educational Services.  They are having a huge sale right now which includes a 5-classic audio drama from focus on the family.  This CD set includes:  Les Miserables, Billy Budd, Silas Marner, A Christmas Carol, and Ben Hur for only $10.  The sale is good through March 30,2009.  www.libraryanded.com

Also, childsbooks.com is having a sale which includes various homeschool curriculum and classics at 25-30% off.  This sale also ends on March 30th.

Also, if you have Borders rewards, you’ve got one more day to use your 40% off coupon, good on any item.

So, get busy with your book lists and order some books!

If you haven’t heard from me in awhile, it’s not  because I’ve stopped reading, it’s just because there are a few more important things to do at my house.  The first one is, of course, a new baby.  The second is that I am homeschooling full time now.  In case you didn’t know it, I was a part-time homeschooler before, which is another story, for another time.  And finally, I am writing monthly articles for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, which has taken up any brain capacity I have left for creative endeavors.  This morning, however, I thought, “Enough is enough!  I have several posts rattling around in my brain that I must get out, be they ever so sloppy.”  So, here we go.

This morning I had the bright idea of doing some spring cleaning.  I asked my husband to drag the shop vac out of the garage for me so I could clean out the fire place which was filled with ash amounting to around 6 inches in height, evidence of chilly evenings filled with hot cocoa and conversation.  I turned the machine on and began happily sucking up the mess of black and grey when I heard my husbands voice over the fan, “Stop!  Stop!”  I looked back to see what the commotion was.  Had I sucked up a child?  A puppy?  Then to my dismay, I saw the black cloud of dust shooting out from the back of my machine and floating toward my kitchen, my hallway, and covering my living room furniture.  “Oh well,” I thought.  “I wanted to give everything a thorough cleaning anyway, so now I’m just forced to do it.”  

Later, as I was dutifully vacuuming (with my Sears Kenmore canister vacuum), my husband came up behind me laughing.  “You know, you’re just like that maid in the kids’ storybook.”

I thought for a moment.  “Oh, you mean Amelia Bedelia?” 

“Yeah, that’s the one.  You were ‘dusting the living room’.”

That I was.

You’re Wearing That?

c75f81b0c8a08b3994bf8110lIt started out to be a typical exasperating scene between a mother and a would-be tween-ager.  The mother (me) and the daughter (Dd1) were having a difference of opinion over the consequences of failed tests.  I was speaking calmly (for once) and trying to rationally explain that she needn’t try to hide her latest marks from her daddy, that he loved her, etc.  Dd1, however, was becoming increasingly irrational and began, through tears, a long defense of her performance on said exam.  After awhile, it became impossible to make out any words, because of the hysterical cries and intermittent gasps for breath that came from her as she pleaded for my assistance in not telling her dad.  That’s when it came to me.  Not a scripture, not wise counsel from other veteran parents, but a piece of information from a linguist who was patient and methodical enough to listen to and interview hundreds of mothers and daughters about their own conversations, was my heroine this day.  Deborah Tannin had said, what daughters want most from their mothers is approval, not criticism.  Using this information, I grabbed my daughter’s hands, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Sweetheart, we are soooo proud of you.  We think you are a smart girl.”  She stopped sobbing and listened intently to what I had to say.  “Taking away your computer and TV time isn’t intended to be a punishment.  We just feel that these things are taking away from the time you could be studying.  Part of this is my fault, because I haven’t taken the time to study with you the way I should.”  I said a few more things, but suffice to say, the end result was my daughter clutching me close to her and with relief in her voice saying “Oh, mommy.”  Instantly, there was peace.

What Deborah Tannin has done with her book You’re Wearing That?:  Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation is not give a list of do’s and don’ts of conversations, but rather to just report the reality of how mothers and daughters communicate.  Though intended to reflect the relationships of mothers and their adult daughters, the history that these adult women share begins much earlier and their verbal and non-verbal conversations begin almost from the point of birth.  In fact, it is these non-verbalized “meta-messages” that Ms. Tannin focuses on primarily.  This separates what is perceived from what is actually said by the two parties.  See, mothers and daughters have a history that informs their conversation.  If a mother has always been critical/caring about a daughter’s choice of clothing.  A simple question such as, “are you wearing that” is frought with implications that the casual observer might not pick up on.  According to Ms. Tannin, and based on her hundreds of interviews, the main culprits in conversation between mothers and daughters are:  clothing, hairstyle, weight, and in some cases child-rearing.  Mothers who are preoccupied with these issues in their own lives are going to be just as preoccupied about it in  the lives of their grown daughters.  Where mothers, however, perceive the subtle or not so subtle attempts to inform their daughters of how to improve themselves as caring for her, the daughter of course views it as criticism and intrusion on her independence.  Mothers, who at one time had authority to shape, and to care for their daughters physical and emotional well-being without hindrance, have trouble adjusting to this new role of observer that their daughters have relegated them to; and daughters only want one thing–approval.

I really enjoyed the insights that Ms. Tannin shared, mainly because she did it in such an entertaining way.  Being on the outside looking in on each conversation puts us in a position to evaluate our own relationships and motives, and hopefully make changes where they are needed.  Words become important (as they always were), and poor relationships can be mended as we simply reframe our way of speaking and consider what the other person “hears” (those metamessages) before we speak.  

This has become an important book in my relationship arsenal, and I’m ready to buy a copy for every mother and daughter I know, because I feel it helps us understand one of life’s most complicated relationship–the mother/daughter one.  And you thought it was the male/female one that had you confused.  Hah!

Profiles in Humility

I am looking forward to reading William Bennett’s new book The American Patriot’s Almanac.  You will remember Bill Bennett from The Book of Virtues where Mr. Bennett used stories from history, mythology and folklore to teach character and valuable life lessons to both children and adults.  He has done something similar in this new book, by condensing American History into 365 easy to read, yet not simplistic, stories that will inspire both old and young Americans by showing us the true heroism and patriotism that make this country one of the greatest on earth. Another reason I was excited about Mr. Bennett’s book is because of a long-standing desire that I have had to compile stories (365 in fact) that reflect one particular character trait, put them in book format, and read them to my children every night of the year.  What is that one trait?  The one that exemplifies “true greatness”, of course.  The wisest man who ever lived, who was in fact God, Jesus Christ, said that “the greatest among you will be the servant of all”.  He also set the highest standard of “humility” and “servanthood” for us by leaving his throne of grace where thousands upon thousand of angels worshipped him day and night to be born in frail humanity, in a stable with animals, to be laid in a feeding trough, suffering every need that was common to man, and then finalizing this “great condescension by an ugly, painful, pagan death on (yes, Jehovah’s witnesses) a Roman cross.  This is the truth I needed reminding of daily as a teenager.  Jesus was the epitomy of humility where I, on the other hand, followed closely in my former master’s footsteps by committing the oldest and gravest of sins–pride.  While the King of the Universe put on vile humanity, Satan and all his children (of which I was one) were ever trying to elevate themselves.  (See Genesis 3:4-6 for the beginning of this human quest for importance).  

There have been many stories I have heard about humble men and women over the years, but I have yet to write down a single one.  Well, that is about to change.  I have a request from all of my millions of readers (tongue in cheek).  Please post in your comments your favorite stories from history or personal experience of those “great ones” among you.  Kennedy had his Profiles in Courage, but I want my  children to aspire to something different:  laying down their lives daily for their fellow man in little ways.  Seeking the “lowest place” (Luke 14:10) is the way to be truly great in God’s kingdom, and that’s the only kingdom I want them to seek.  That’s the only one I want to seek as well.  

So, tell your friends.  Send them links.  I need enough stories that I can have 365.  If you have a verifiable source, send that to me as well.  Thank you in advance for your help in this.

Hallelujah! Food!

376My pastor came up to me yesterday, having just begun a series on the book of Daniel, and commented that he had thought about me this week as he was preparing this message.  Of course, several thoughts crossed my mind, “How did he know that I had been studying Daniel?”  “Does he think I’m like Daniel in some way?”  (Prideful thinking of course.)  No, he was thinking back to ten years ago, and an article I had written addressing church people’s reluctance to make healthy dietary changes, show wisdom in food choices, and specifically become vegetarians, citing all kinds of scripture in defense of their habits.  My response in the article was that they didn’t want to give up their “sacred cows”–church picnics, barbecues, pot roast, etc.  I had talked to so many people at that time who were suffering from chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, whose response was “I’m just a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”  Never mind that there is more evidence that cancer can be cured through dietary change than through chemotherapy, the thought of enduring several rounds of chemo and radiation with bouts of nausea and loss of hair was definitely more appealing than giving up coffee, sugar, or dare I say it “steak”!  My pastor said, “Yeah, as I was thinking about broccoli and water, I was thinking about you.”  

Okay, let me say this, I have definitely toned down my approach to people, and even become lax in my own eating habits; however, my ideology has not changed.  I am still a rank and file vegan to the core.  I don’t protest chicken factories (although I think they’re terrible), I don’t throw paint on people with fur (although I believe faux fur is just as nice); but I do think it is a healthier lifestyle, if you are a well-rounded dieter.  Let me say that in a different way.  I have spoken to extremely sick vegans who subsist on cooked starches and tofu; and rarely get a raw veggie in their body.  I do not think these people are any healthier than those who eat meat with every meal.  And, I am not saying don’t eat meat at all, unless of course you have cancer, in which case, know that protein does make tumors grow, just like they make muscles grow.  Am I going to preach a message from scripture telling you all not to eat these things?  No, but I will say a few words about wisdom.  “Above all things, get it!”

So, I say “Hallelujah!  I love vegetables!”  “Hallelujah!  I love good food!”  Do I prefer vegetables to meat?  Absolutely!  Is it harder for me now that my husband and children have decided that they don’t want to be completely vegetarian?  Yes!  Do I still make them eat a predominantly vegan diet?  Yes, because I love them!  And because they have their splurge days, and get the occasional candy bar or icecream, and because my husband gets to make his chicken wings on weekends or a ribeye every now and again, they appreciate my food even more.  However, since their diet has changed, their tastebuds have changed.  They don’t appreciate the simplicity of things as much as they used to.  I have to be creative, and I have a number of resources that help me do this.  In fact, what prompted this post, apart from my pastor’s comments, was the breakfast I made this morning.  Perfect for people with allergies to wheat and eggs, as well as vegans, it is “Rice/Millet Pancakes” from Julie Wandling’s book Hallelujah Kids.  A thick, hearty pancake, sweetened with a whole apple and honey.  It’s just the thing to fill their bellies before heading off to school.  My husband likes these so much, he even sat down and joined them for breakfast–something he never does.  The desserts, smoothies, soups, pastas, and breads in this cookbook were all designed with kids in mind.  It is completely vegan, but so much more.  All of the recipes are designed with no sugar, no white flour, no artificial chemicals of any kind, and are simply delicious.  Most of them are kid tested, and some, like the “Chocolate Granola” were submitted by children.

I have some other favorite cookbooks, or in this case, un-cookbooks.  Think you can’t get your kids to eat raw vegetables?  Well, try a “Raw Pizza” from Julianno’s un-cookbook, simply named raw.  My kids love the crust (made in a dehydrator on a low setting), the sauce, and the cashew cheese.  I am simply wild about the spaghetti with noodles made from zucchini and a saladacco.  My other favorite un-cookbook is How We All Went Raw by Charles, Coralanne, and George Nungesser.  These siblings stopped cooking their food as a result of a commitment to try it for one year.  If it didn’t work, they would go back to the traditional S.A.D. diet.  What happened was a cessation of all their physical ailments, including:  severe food allergies and asthma.  There was no going back for them, but in their quest to find new and interesting foods for their changing palates they came up with some incredible recipes like:  “Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie”  (this has avocadoes in it) and “Philly Cheese Steak” (i.e. portabella mushrooms).

I know that many of you are rolling your eyes and are contemplating that Big Mac you want for lunch, and that’s fine, my mouth is watering too.  Only, I am trying to decide whether I want to make “Purple Mystic” salad or Hummous and tabouleh sandwiches.