Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From Early Readers to Chapter Books

What are your family's favorite books for young readers? I hope you'll share in the comments.

Here are some of what we've been enjoying this year as our first-grader has taken her reading skills from zero to sixty in a matter of months: (Since our reader is a girl, some of the our book selections tend to lean toward more girlish interests.)

Early Readers:
The Little Red Hen
Dr. Seuss's Beginner Book Collection  
Step into Reading Disney Princess Story Collection
Biscuit Book Collection
Little Bear Boxed Set: Little Bear, Father Bear Comes Home, and Little Bear's Visit
Fancy Nancy
The Frog and Toad Collection
Henry and Mudge 
George and Martha 

I've found that a good way to introduce a new book or series is to read the first chapter (or first few pages) expressively out loud. Then my daughter meets the characters (learns how to pronounce their names), latches on to the tone, and gets hooked into the story. Often, the result is that the book is snatched away and my daughter has finished reading it within 24 hours.

First Chapter Books:
Nate the Great (and the rest of the series)
The Boxcar Children
(I especially like the first 19 in the series, the one's written by the original author.)
Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth  
The Littles
Magic Tree House series
Voyage with the Vikings (and others in the Focus on the Family Imagination Station book series)
In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen (and the other five books in the Cobble Street Cousins series)
Actually, everything by Cynthia Rylant is fabulous. Wiki has lists of her books here.
The Hundred Dresses 
Little House in the Highlands (About Laura Ingall's great-grandma. This is the abridged version. There are others in the series following the stories of the great-grandma, the grandma, and the mother.)
Detective Camp (and all the A to Z Mysteries and Calendar Mysteries—These might not be the most literary or substantive books out there, but with the girl child reading a chapter book a day, I'm letting her devour these easy treats as well as chow on the meatier stuff.)

Another helpful practice for us has been to encourage repeat readings. Just as toddlers love to hear the same stories again and again, early readers get more out of a book when they read it more than once. (Their reading skills improve as well!) I like the sentiment C. S. Lewis is reported to have expressed: "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once."

More Advanced Chapter Books:
The Little House collection
Winnie-The-Pooh collection  
The Moffats
In Grandma's Attic (Grandma's Attic Series)  
The Penderwicks 

Currently Reading:
The Disappearing Stranger (Adventures of the Northwoods, Book 1)
Owls in the Family 
Baby Island
Ballet Shoes (The Shoe Books)
Pippi Longstocking 

On our "To Read" List:
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective
Anne of Green Gables
E. B. White Box Set
The King of the Golden River
Swallows and Amazons 

Our six-year-old started on A Little Princess, but the plot line got too sad for her tastes. Narnia is still too scary for her, as well, as are the George MacDonald classics such as The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, and At the Back of the North Wind.

We've previously done Heidi as a read-aloud, but it might be time to revisit it as independent reading in the next year or so. Same for The Little House collection.

I'm getting some of my book ideas from homeschool resources:
  • The grade-level "Literature" and "Free Reading" lists on the Ambleside Online (A.O.) website are helpful. See, for example, the A.O. second grade book list; scroll to the bottom. 
  • Veritas Press also has a catalog with literature picks by grade level. (See grade 2, for example.)

What are your young readers reading? Where do you look for book recommendations?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Doubt and Glory

I was honored to be able to write the parents' "year in review" article for Wheatstone Ministry's The Examined Life, "a monthly e-magazine that encourages a Christian life characterized by creativity, maturity, and wonder."

The great thing about writing the article was the opportunity it provided me to read and reflect on the last year's worth of articles from other thoughtful and inspiring folks on The Examined Life website.

Here's my article, replete with links to lots of good reads by others:

“Mom? Sometimes I’m not sure I believe that God is real.”

“I don’t want to go to church. I hate church!”

“I don’t want to pray. I can’t see God. I can’t hear him. He doesn’t seem real.”

“How can I be saved but continue to sin? Every time I sin I feel so guilty.” 

Some mom friends and I were recently swapping stories about our children’s struggles with faith, those harrowing moments when a child expresses doubts about what matters most, about our central values and beliefs.

It is especially difficult when our child seems to be reflecting back to us doubts and thoughts that we ourselves may struggle with: I am not always sure I believe in God. I do not always want to go to church. I find it difficult to talk to someone I’ve never seen or heard. I feel guilty when I sin, and sometimes I despair.  

When a child’s doubts overlap with our own doubts, it can touch a nerve.

Recently one of my children expressed some doubts about God and caught me off guard. My first thought revealed my petty narcissism: “I have failed,” I thought. (As if it were ever about me or up to my control in the first place!) And my next thought revealed the feebleness of my own faith: “Oh, God,” I pleaded inwardly, “please be real!”

I silently offered up one of those desperate arrow prayers, the kind that Anne Lamott likes: “God, help me!”

And he did help. Because in the next moment, I realized my child’s revelation of doubt was a gift, perhaps one of those “terrible goods” that Charles Williams describes.

I often fail to embody those everyday graces that Rebecca Card-Hyatt so beautifully describes in her article “My Parents and Everyday Grace.” Yet, here was my child trusting me, leaning on me for comfort and reassurance. Here was a moment to listen, to talk, to affirm, to grieve alongside, to offer a maternal hospitality—to offer a safe place to reveal doubt and receive comfort. The moment was a great gift indeed.

It was also an occasion to remember, as Heidi Johnson reminds me, that we cannot secure our children’s salvation. All our attempts to teach, train, and mold our children will fall short. It is God who will rescue both them and us when we look to him, when we ride out into the fray in weakness, sure of our insufficiency. 

The desire to keep our children safe is, as Chris Leigh shows through the story of Abraham and Isaac, one of the greatest temptations for a parent. We can’t protect our children from pain, failure, harm, and doubt. The illusion that we can is preposterous. Instead, we are called to willingly sacrifice our children to the God who is Good. We must look to God and hope our children follow our gaze.

We parents were not made to carry the full weight of the future—of our children’s future, writes Caitlin Cogan Doemner—but rather to live efficaciously in each present moment with hope in our children’s potential and trust in the eternal God. Megan Monroe adds to this by pointing out that even our hope itself  is from God and will be fulfilled by his power, not our own.

When our hopeful expectations are fulfilled, writes Zach Weichbrodt, gratitude is what keeps us and our children right with God. In gratitude we remember the work the Lord has done for us, and the exultation of gratitude leads us, like Hannah in the Bible, to continue to trust and lean into God’s continued faithfulness and not be disappointed. 

Often, though, our expectation means waiting, notes Chad Glazener. Sometimes that waiting is just as St. Teresa of Avila describes it: sitting among our weeds waiting for the Gardener to do his work in us. Sitting and waiting and resting in Christ is a discipline,  and an indispensable one as Cate MacDonald explains: in silence and solitude we hear God.

Although we need solitude, we do not need to spend life alone. Connor Collins reminds us, in “How Wheatstone Changed My Life,” that God works in and through community to spur us on and to transform us more and more into his likeness. 

And all will be transformed. Peter David Gross’s article encourages us as he reflects on the reality that our lives—our pains and losses, joys and uncertainties—are all a part of the overarching story of creation and redemption. The particulars of our stories will not be lost or forgotten but rather transformed and glorified.

As parents, we seek to embody grace—piety, patience, empathy, relational hospitality, truth. But we don’t always succeed, and we can’t guarantee the outcome for our children. We can’t save them, but we trust in a God who can. We rest in him. We hope and wait on God and lean on one another.

As St. Patrick sings in “The Deer’s Cry,” it is all Christ from first to last: Christ in others, Christ in the waiting, Christ in the hoping, Christ in the resting, Christ in thanksgiving, Christ in our weakness, Christ in our doubt, Christ in our glory.