Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Reading

Today is the last day of school in our town. If it hasn’t arrived in your area, it will be here soon. If you haven’t already packed the days ahead with non-school fun, it’s a good time to think about summer reading.

How about your children? Is the thought of release from school studies their eagerly awaited opportunity to read to their heart’s content, or have they slammed the last book shut with a sigh of relief and look forward to not glancing at a page of print for the next three months? Do you, like the libraries, have to offer incentives of special treats and prizes to entice your children not to neglect their books? Either way, we are wondering how we here at Living Books Library can help you make the occupation of reading a bigger part of your children’s lives.

What are your reading plans this summer? Do you need suggestions for books, suggestions for implementing enjoyable reading time, advice for interesting your children in reading at all? What are your hesitancies, fears or apprehensions—basically, what prevents you from having avid readers in your home?

Write and let us know. I plan to list summer reading lists for various ages and tastes all summer. What kinds of books do you need to know about? In addition, I will attempt to thoughtfully answer any concerns you face with reading in your family.

And, what about you, Mom? Now is your time to explore and indulge in books yourself. How can we help you make a plan, spend time in the best books? Again, we will gladly answer your questions for your own reading dilemmas.

We do have one ulterior motive beyond the ultimate one of building a reading culture, and that is feedback. We would be delighted to hear your children’s reaction to the books they read, positive or negative, enthusiastic or apathetic, endorsement or denunciation. We would also like to hear from parents about their successes and failures, attempts and challenges.

The stretch of summer seems long, but we all know the days fly by swiftly. Let’s seize the season and enjoy the sun and savor travels with new friends to new places—many of them in books.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, May 16, 2016

Are We At The End?

Everyone who has traveled a long distance with children knows the universal question: “Are we almost there?” I confess to wondering this as I reread George MacDonald’s children’s tale, At the Back of the North Wind. An experienced reader, I kept trying to recall the plot and to predict the wind up. After awhile, I succumbed to the magic and let that rational self drift away with the tale.

One of the delights of reading MacDonald’s children’s books is that ability to draw me back into childhood to read with younger eyes and ears and imagination, just to enjoy the consequent refreshment that comes with that pleasure. Of course, it is impossible to read with the full innocence and wonder of my childish mind; still, it is fun to try because I simultaneously have my adult perspective and that has its rewards too. Life’s experience helps me to gain insights I would never have been aware of or interested in as a child. A young reader could care less about the author’s views and opinions. As an older reader, I find myself trying to discern the author’s intentions and meanings constantly.

My child delight in MacDonald’s tales is worth noting, and I will get back to that shortly, but first, here are the things my adult side could not help taking note of and marking, a few tidbits that encouraged and affirmed my faith:

“What’s the use of knowing a thing if you know it only because you are told it?” the North Wind asks the little boy, Diamond.

Another time, she says to him, “If there’s one thing that makes me more angry than another, it is the way you humans judge things by their size.”

During one flight together, he expresses fear of falling and she says, “’But I have a hold of you, you foolish child.’ ‘Yes, but I can’t feel comfortable.’ ‘If you were to fall and my hold of you were to give way, I should be down after you in a less moment than a lady’s watch can tick and catch you long before you hit the ground.’”

“Trying [to be brave] is not much.’ Yes it is, a very great deal, for it is a beginning, and a beginning is the greatest thing of all. To try to be brave is to be brave. The coward who tries to be brave is before the man who is brave who is made so and never had to try.’”

“It is not good at all, mind that Diamond, to do everything for those you love and not give them a share in the doing. It’s not kind. It’s making too much of yourself, my child.”

And when his mother fretted because they were on their last bit of bread, Diamond expresses his trust for their provision so that his mother concludes, “He hasn’t to eat for tomorrow as well as for today so that what is not wanted can’t be missed.”

“Diamond began to feel a sort of darkness spread over his own mind, but at the same moment, he said to himself, ‘This will never do. I can’t get into this. I’ve been to the back of the north wind; things go right there, and so I must try to get things to go right here. I’ve got to fight the miserable things. They shan’t make me miserable if I can help it.”

“To try to make others comfortable is the only way for us to get right comfortable ourselves and that comes partly of not being able to think so much about ourselves when we are helping other people. For ourselves we always do pretty well if we don’t pay them too much attention. Ourselves are like little children who will be happy enough so long as they are left to their own games, but when we begin to interfere with them and make them presents of too nice playthings or too many sweet things, they begin at once to fret and spoil,”-- a bit of wisdom spoken by Diamond in conversation with his mother on another day.

And some more advice of North Wind, “Some people don’t know how to do what they are told. They have not been used to it and they neither understand quickly nor are able to turn what they do understand into action quickly. With an obedient mind, one learns the rights of things fast enough, for it is the law of the universe, and to obey is to understand.”

“'I think,’ said she, after they had been sitting silent for awhile, “that if I were only a dream, you would not have been able to love me so. You love me when you are not with me, don’t you?’ ‘Indeed I do,’ answered Diamond, stroking her hand. ‘I see, I see! How could I be able to love you as I do if you weren’t there at all, you know. Besides, I couldn’t be able to dream anything half so beautiful all out of my own head, or if I did, I couldn’t love a fancy of my own like that, could I?”

I doubt if these things would have spoken to me about life’s struggles when I was a child who had not had many of them, for children read for the pure pleasure of the thing. For our children, MacDonald’s flights of fancy are an invitation to be as free as the north wind.

“A child,” MacDonald’s son wrote in his biography of his father, “No more grasps intellectually it’s exalted symbolism than he reflects upon form’s relation to its indwelling idea when he runs to his mother with a primrose because of its beauty. Certainly the book can be read and enjoyed on two levels: that of a child for its marvelous story, and that of the adult for its deeper message.”

The first children’s fantasy fiction writer, MacDonald was influential in C. S. Lewis’s life and one of those he credits with his eventual conversion to Christianity. What a powerful influence children’s fiction can have on both adults and children.

Maybe the childish part of myself recognizes one of the greatest gifts for a child this book has to offer. Though children grow weary of travel, they do not grow weary of stories. I remember weeping when certain beloved stories ended, or reading slower and slower as I neared the end, which is why I begged them to be read again, or when I was older, flipped back to page one to enjoy them once more. To be lost in a tale as a child is the bliss of being lost and always found. It is the bliss of continuous delight, extending without end. That is the special nature of At the Back of the North Wind, it rambles and meanders, has a maze of episodes without much purpose, includes lengthy ditties and fairy tales within the tale so that you almost forget the main characters’ existence. It is the perfect bedtime book to be enjoyed for months with many, many short chapters and an endless reintroduction of the adventures and episodes of Diamond’s little life. And even at the end, lets go of the main character without his ever needing to grow up and face the cold and hard realities of adulthood. In that way, it is similar to Peter Pan’s “Never Never Land.”

Adults travel through life, wishing it never to end, knowing there is an ending; for children, childhood is what they wish never to get to the end of. MacDonald didn’t forget that desire. For believers, this is part of the enchantment of our faith as well. Our story started a long time ago, is still going on, and even when it eventually reaches its closing chapter, is going to be yet the beginning of a never-ending real living in the story.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, May 9, 2016

Happy Mother’s Day

This holiday is viewed as sacred by some and scorned as an advertising gimmick by others. For me, at least this year, it is a special day because I hope to celebrate the birth of another grandchild whose mother is due any day.

Besides being the mother of six myself, I have a lot to do with mothers in our work at Living Books Library. I saw 19 of them this week, some young, some old, some with a troupe of children accompanying them, some on their own. We are all intent on the same things: raising lovers of books and learning. These efforts are only part of our higher goal to raise lovers and knowers of God and a generation who will increase His Light in the world.

The mothers of the children in our library are worthy of honor for the daily and constant sacrifice and efforts they pour out for their children. My oldest daughter, mother of two under two, herself rises early twice a month, packs them and all their paraphernalia into her car, drives 30 minutes to the library to be available to these mothers in selecting books—in addition to physically handling a few thousand books coming and going throughout the day, then packs the children into the car and returns home to get dinner on the table and get her children to bed. Still, I know they don’t go to bed without her reading stories.

In addition to what our children learn about mothering from the blessing of having one themselves, our children are learning about mothers apart from their own, for they meet them in the pages of the books they carry home. I have spoken and written often about the influence of some of these mothers in my own life. In my preschool years, I learned that there were wicked mothers and gracious mothers. Then, as I grew, I discovered through books that there were children who had no mothers at all, which in itself was informative for me to consider what life without my mother would be like.

I was blessed to have my mother until two years ago, but again, I honor her today for all she was in my life. I also thank her again for all the hours of reading, for ensuring that I learned to read myself, and for being a reader and talking about books with me. She is far more precious to me than the mothers I’ve met in literature, but is responsible for introducing me to them. Consequently, I am thankful for Marmee March, Mary Emma Moody, Caroline Ingalls, Mrs. Moffat, Tiny Tim’s mother, Mother Carey, and Marilla Cuthbert, who was more than a mother to Anne.

Last, I wish to thank all my known and unknown mother readers here, for giving your children life, and a life full of books besides.

For the joy of reading,