Friday, July 27, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

I have a clear memory of my grandmother at a Fourth of July picnic commenting to the family that summer was half over when we celebrated that holiday. My young heart rejected this idea. Summer was just getting rolling. Hadn't I just gotten used to school being out and weren't there many, many weeks till Labor Day turned us back to the classroom again?

As we may be preparing for the next school season's studies and activities we may likely forget our child's perspective. Two weeks are a lifetime when you are young. I've written before about the hustle-bustle kind of summers many families spend today, comparing them to my reminiscence of long, lazy, slow, hot, endless summer days. If you read my posts even infrequently, you will recognize my soapbox of encouraging participation in reading and giving your children the time and space for that essential practice. Summer is perfect for this.

For after all, reading is a learned habit. It is an art that requires time to cultivate. Like playing the piano, reading doesn't just happen. For most children, it takes daily effort, work, and, well, repetition, to form that habit, increase ease, perfect the skill. Without being encouraged to acquire habit, most children will not acheive competence. Some children are seemingly "born" readers, but most of them need conscious cultivation, often for several years, before the desire to read becomes their own personal pursuit. Unlike the skill of riding a bike, which once learned is never forgotten, the art of reading, if gained at all, can be lost.

What's a parent to do? The book must have enough interest to motivate an unenthusiastic reader, and this requires a rich supply of absorbing literature to not only kindle interest, but continue to fuel that small flame  and keep it alive. If reading is ever to be not merely functional, actually pleasurable, nutritious and absorbing stories have to be on hand to offer. There's a long, long road between picture books and Jane Austen or Tolstoy.

Michelle Miller of Children's Preservation Library sympathizes that if you are dependent on the public library, it is no surprise that no one wants to read. The selection there is measly if you're looking for the book that will hook and keep a reader coming back for more. It is no wonder children, and their parents for that matter, are bored with the idea of reading a book. The overall public library mentality is to be relevant, provide material that matches the picture of how today's children are perceived. It is the attitude that Charlotte Mason lamented in society not viewing children as capable or worthy of anything great. Truly it could be compared to having children who don't like to eat so continuing to keep them alive with candy, then wondering why they are neither satisfied by candy or interested in food.

This website is dedicated to providing tasty morsels to keep children coming back for more. If your child can read, but you are always at a loss for worthy books, may I suggest you find some books by Jim Kjelgaard. Emily is always remarking, "you can't have enough dog stories in the library." Kjelgaard has provided more than his share of them for your children's reading pleasure. Most familiar of course is Big Red.

The tale of a boy and his dog is common enough, which may give us an important clue to what actually interests most children. For even children who have no instinctive liking for dogs can enjoy them in the pages of a good story. Big Red is the account of a boy who has lived in the wild, alone with his father whose self-sufficient lifestyle hasn't afforded Danny much need for the outside world. At his young age, however, Danny is a wealth of wisdom when it comes to survival, the every day battle for food, respecting nature, and accepting its harsh realities. This is a foreign world to most children of the twenty-first century, but that is part of the intrigue of the story. Contrary to popular opinion, children are captivated to discover experience different from their own. Danny's world is widened in this way as well when an exquisitely beautiful Irish setter befriends him. Later, the reader discovers this is a potentially priceless show dog whose owners don't appreciate the dog's infatuation with this backwoods boy. The plot thickens as Danny is drawn into the world of dog shows, but is still very much a part of the world where an infamous bear is terrorizing the county. Full of vivid descriptions of nature and human relationships, the story builds to high tension. Kjelgaard spins the tale to a breathtaking climax of danger, as Danny and this intelligent animal work together to use their combined wits in a life and death struggle. No boy or girl can resist being drawn in and will then want to read the further adventures of Danny and Big Red's offspring in Irish Red and Outlaw Red.

Jim Kjelgaard was one of five sons born in New York City to a physician and his wife, but moved to remote regions of Pennsylvania while still in diapers. There, he and his brothers lived "within a half-mile of all the fishing, hunting, and trapping a boy could wish for." He confessed that this early exposure to outdoor life and adventure continued to be his life-long passion. There's no doubt that it provided the experiences that were then so masterfully brought to life in his animal stories for children. The language is simple, but powerfully captivating. Among his dozens of dog stories, are more than forty books revolving around children and animals. He grew up learning more than wilderness survival because his insights into the human heart are acute and poignant.

Besides this wealth of accessible fiction, Kjelgaard also wrote non-fiction, historical fiction, and biographies. I can't resist remarking on his Story of Geronimo (one of the Signature series), which is our example of choice when presenting a talk on living books. It is a hands-down contest between a typical modern biography with its dry introduction to the tribes and geography of Geronimo's tribe, and Kjelgaard's description of a young Indian boy stealthily sneaking through the grass above the home of a powerful Indian chief whose horse he was preparing to steal. That's just the first page and no adult or child does not want to turn the page to find out if and how he accomplishes this feat. Just because these non-fiction offerings are available and valuable to supplement your child's history lessons, however, don't neglect the values your child needs to learn from Desert Dog, Snow Dog, Wolf Brother, Rebel Siege, Nose for Trouble, Stormy,  Forest Patrol...and on and on.

His life was short, not living to fifty. He never felt he had any particular calling or profession. Wandering from work as a laborer, teamster, factory worker, plumber's assistant, surveyor's assistant, he then pursued writing for children during the 1940's. He enjoyed bringing nature and adventure alive for young people. I'm so glad he did and can say that, from my perspective, his use of the pen was a most worthy and well executed skill. His books need to stock your fund of reading material to feed the habit of reading for months and years to come so your children can be readers for a lifetime.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ask the Librarians...

"I'm looking for a living book about . . . for my child who is . . . "

Many such inquiries come our way, mostly within the physical space of our library, but also through this site. Knowing just which living book at just the right moment is a challenge for anyone. If we can help you with some ideas, please feel free to use us as a resource to direct you to a particular title and author.

We would be happy to help not just our actual library members, but anyone else we can.

Need some book recommendations? Send an email to info@livingbookslibrary.com giving as many details as possible regarding:

1. Desired topic or genre
2. Age(s) of child (or children) concerned
3. Reading level if for independent reader
4. Other topics or books enjoyed by child (children) even if in a different category
5. Whether the book will be read aloud to the child or if he'd be reading for himself

We'll feature our responses in the Top Picks section that appears midweek. Hope we can help.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Top Picks for World War One

Casey Over There by Staton Rabin
This picture book chronicles the wait of a young boy at home in Brooklyn whose brother is sent "over there" to fight in The War. Through correspondence and harmonic events in the two brothers lives, readers glimpse the feelings of family waiting for their brothers, sons and fathers to come home. Beautifully illustrated with warm paintings.

The French Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
From the vintage Twins Series, Perkins weaves a tale of boy and girl twins caught up in the fight to stop the burning of Rheims Cathedral after the Germans shelled it. Written in 1918, this is a contemporary account, from an American vantage point, of the impact of The War on the citizens of France. For Elementary readers.




The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy

One of our dearest authors, Kate draws on her own experience of serving as nurse on the front lines during The War to weave authentic incidents into this sequel to The Good Master. The exciting climax of this story will move you, and if you're anything like me, Emily, you will be crying tears at the inextricable mix of beauty and sorrow. Not to be missed. Newbery Honor Winner for Middle-Elementary on up.

The Story of Edith Cavell by Iris Vinton (A Signature Biography
Part of the excellent Signature Series, this is perhaps the most popular biography on WWI that we have in our library. A nurse during the war, Cavell was executed by the Germans as a spy. This is a story about a girl that all boys who read it love it (not a usual occurrence!). One of my favorite library anecdotes involves an 11 year old boy whose mother was annoyed that he didn't capitalize "german" in his written narration of this book. Knowing he was accountable for correct punctuation of proper nouns she inquired into the matter. "Mom, they DO NOT DESERVE to have their names capitalized," he said through gritted teeth, evidently so moved by the injustice Cavell suffered--that's a living book!

We Were There with the Lafayette Escadrille by Clayton Knight (A We Were There Book)
From the popular "We Were There" series, a young French boy, from Alsace-Lorraine (whose understanding of German looks suspicious to those around him) raises carrier pigeons and ends up helping the American Lafayette Escadrille stationed in his town. Historical fiction based on fact gives the reader a peak into life during The War. For Middle-Elementary to Junior High readers

Flying Aces of World War One by Gene Gurney (A Landmark Book)
After an introductory chapter on the causes of WWI, the impact of the newly invented airplanes, and the transition the machines underwent during The War, Gurney's book is a series of chapter-biographies of the Great Aces on all sides of the conflict. For Middle-Elementary on up.



The Falcons of France by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

Two pilots who were in the Lafayette Escadrille themselves give us this excellent historical novel of a young man joining that prestigious company of pilots. Their insight into the daily life of American pilots serving in the French Foreign Legion, the emotions and strength involved in their combat missions depicted in the pages of this book makes for an honest, stirring, and educational tale. For Middle School on up.

Bold Leaders of World War I by Col. Red Reeder
Written by a retired Army Colonel, this book is a collection of 12 chapter biographies of men and women on all sides of WWI. The Great War is not easy to understand, but through the lives of the men and women living, working, fighting, and surviving during those tumultuous years readers will begin to grasp a difficult time. For Middle School on up.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
This classic novel is set in the days leading up to the declaration of war in 1914. A young British man is caught up in a web of murder, espionage, the intelligence agency, and must run for his life while trying to crack a code that will save him and his country. For Middle School on up.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Marking Time or Making History?

For as long as I have been homeschooling, just the last twenty-five years or so, summer has meant all the usual seasonal activities--change of routine, vacations, swimming, family visits and outings, gardening, and leisurely reading. Even if we continue formal school lessons, the pace is relaxed. However, as the teacher, school is never far from the back of my mind.

I like the summer space to be able to ponder what has been accomplished and what should be tackled next. There is time to investigate and research ideas and books for the coming year. Some of my evaluation is to consider correction, what should be done differently, more effectively or more intentionally.

The best part is thinking about the books to read in the coming year. I realize that my growing, changing  children are now ready to enjoy dearly loved books. I pull out lists I've made of books I've heard about or always wanted to read. Eventually though, I have to make decisions. Selection time often brings a little anxiety because I want the best, the most challenging, the most appropriate, the most living books I can find. This is more crucial to me than it once was.

In the past, my uncertainties and insecurities often resulted in relying on someone else's recommendations--usually someone I respected as a teacher--to choose some curriculum package. Over the years, I again and again realized that, though my children faithfully plowed through a few such courses and I could check off that subject as accomplished and cross it off my list of "must study" subjects, in moments of honesty, I had to admit my children weren't personally engaged in those kind of programs and only completed them to please me. At the end of the year, I cleared the desks or shelves and, likely as not, tossed such work in the trash, unwilling to take up space saving the workbooks, feeling guilty over the wasted expense. I knew we would never pour over those courses again with nostalgia, refer to them again for refreshment, or repeat them again with another child. Other people's choices for curriculum didn't fit my children's needs, spark their  imaginations, or feed their souls. More and more I came to understand that school wasn't a burden, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that it should bring joy and enthusiasm. Life is meant for living every day, not to move through just for the sake of closing some door behind us to push on to some vague and unknown something in the future, like the witless rats in the maze.

Over the years, as I have read Charlotte Mason more and more, and used her methods more and more, I have come to trust her. Every observation and recommendation she made about the nature of children and why and how they should be educated has rung truer and truer. As a result, I no longer dread the coming school year or panic about what I haven't ordered in time. Instead, I make plans for how to make nature study more a part of our lives, which poet or composer to explore, which new people or places we should get acquainted with in the pages of living books.

Having our library at my disposal, packed literally to the ceiling with more books than I or all my children could take time to enjoy in the next ten years, or twenty, draws me like a magnet. The families in our library come here to do the same. I am not heartless enough not to think of all the homeschool mothers who do not have this privilege. Reading lists and recommendations online or in catalogs can be daunting, and receiving your selections in the mail sometimes disappointing. Teaching children is not a burden, but an honor. Lessons are not just matters of necessity, but matters of nourishment for a lifetime.

Recently, I have been reading the last half of Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason. Again, I have received reinforcement of the things I have experienced. My once eager little six-year-old boy now has three children of his own, little persons throbbing with life and eager to learn anything. I still have two young boys at home now and want the understanding of past mistakes and Ms. Mason's vast experience to guide my current school decisions. I know Mason's observations and advice to be wisdom, and well worth marking here's a pertinent passage:
He got something out of this random reading, bits of history and bits of fable, real, both of them, out of which his mind got its necessary food. Now, here is a point worth attention. How seldom do we hear of a famous man who got that food for his mind which enabled him out of his school studies! And how often, on the other hand, do we read of those whose course of life has been determined by the random readings of boyhood! We go on blindly and stubbornly with our school curriculum, as if this were a fact of no significance, because, say we, the boy will have chances after his school-days to get such pabulum as he needs; but life is not long enough to afford the waste of some dozen years, its freshest and most intelligent period. And, what is more, the boy who has not formed the habit of getting nourishment out of his books in school-days does not, afterwards, see the good of reading. He has not acquired, in an intellectual sense, the art of reading, so he cannot be said to have lost it; and he goes through life an imperfect person, with the best and most delightful of his powers latent or maimed. Why in the world should we not give children, while they are at school, the sort of books they can live upon; books alive with thought and feeling, and delight in knowledge, instead of the miserable cram-books on which they are starved?
Why in the world indeed. Are we viewing their education as a line to move along, administering chunks of information at regularly scheduled intervals, or a life to feed with living ideas? Are we giving them the educational recommended daily allowance, or, a lavish banquet? Jesus said He came to give life, a fulfilling life, an abundant life. He also said, "Let the children come to me and forbid them not." These are the school options we need to decide between.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dear Kate,

I know you've been gone from this earth nearly forty years and some will think it silly of me to write to you now, but I am pretty sure that you would not. I am writing to share how much your stories have meant to me, and will continue to, and also to disagree with your self-mocking remark:
"I hate to talk about myself, not because I'm modest, but because no matter how drastically I try to telescope all the things that have happened to me and all the ventures I've gotten into, the abridged story still sounds like a Baron Munchausen tale."
I disagree with you here. Certainly your life story was extraordinary, but the way you lived it was courageous and beautiful. This is why your stories resonate with so many. For instance, the first story of yours I read was A Tree for Peter, which my daughter Emily considers to be the most perfect book ever written, all about a fatherless, crippled boy living in poverty and ugliness, receiving a spade as a gift which he used to transform his neighborhood and the lives of all around him into beauty. That is you, Kate. I know you thought pictures told everything and words were just incidental, but you painted with words and were masterful at it. I know because I've never been able to see one of your illustrations and have such vivid pictures in my mind from each book. Reading Peter's story is now a Christmas tradition in our family.

In some way or other, you wove yourself into every invention you wrote. You had such a rich childhood, your father so admired by all who knew him that he drew many friends and students to your remarkable home. It was a rich atmosphere for a child to grow up in, full of books, conversations, music and art. No wonder you became such an avid little artist so early. When you wrote The Good Master and The Singing Tree you were reliving some of those experiences, especially the time your father took his "spoiled little girl" out to the  country. He wanted you to observe the way the peasants lived, you wanted to sow wild oats, and those simple people curbed your willfulness like taming a wild colt. Yes, you were privileged to nourish your artistic  talents at the Academy of Art of Budapest and to spend summers in Paris, Rome, Berlin - but, no one can begrudge it because The Great War to end all wars tore your world apart soon enough.

True to your character, you made light of the fact that you were studying anatomy on two fronts, one in art  school, the other as a nurse at the front. The horror pictures you lived in during that time almost broke you,  physically sending you to the hospital as a patient yourself as a result, but your passion for life gave you the courage to travel to America to start a new life.

How frightened you could have been, not knowing a word of English, the culture so different from your own, but you tore into it in typical Kate fashion. Did you see working in factories, stenciling lamp shades or drawing greeting cards as demeaning? No. Even then, you were making something beautiful for others and  learning a new language with a vengeance. You sure did since I can't think of many other children's authors with such powerful, vivid language skill.

Just as you were finding a little niche as a children's book illustrator, everything dried up because of the Great Depression, which you remember as the coldest winters in history. Life dealt you some rough blows again, but no, there you are prattling on and on over lunch to an editor who had to give you the bad news that she doesn't have any more work for you. You charmed her so much with your tales of growing up in Budapest that she suggested you write a book. So, never-say-never Kate, went straight home and started scribbling,  packed a crate full of long-hand manuscript and your very first book was not only published, but ended up a Newbery runner-up, the year Caddie Woodlawn won (illustrated by you), and Janet Elizabeth Gray's Young Walter Scott biography won an Honor (illustrated by you as well). You were bound to be a winner and won that  award yourself two years later with The White Stag.

It was the introduction to that book that really drew me to you as a person. Charlotte Mason would have loved how you were so disgusted with the
"modern book on Hungarian history...typical twentieth-century book, its pages an unending chain of facts, facts, facts, as regular, logical, and as hard as the learned pens of learned historians could make them."
That was not the Hungary you knew, the history you had had woven into your childhood. So you slammed the reference books shut and started spinning your own magic about the Huns and Magyars of your lively imagination,
"I took a ball of golden thread with me and unwound it as I trailed the white stag of legends from the great tomb of Nimrod to the green plains between two blue  rivers...for those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow that thread on the pages  of this book."
You certainly didn't have problems with English in that fanciful, poetically told tale. You were right, it is "a fragile thread" that "cannot bear the weight of facts and dates." The children of America became acquainted with Hungary and thought of it as a beautiful place.

This letter is too long, but before closing, I must thank you for my most beloved of all your stories, The Chestry Oak. The way you began in the misty memories of Michael's childhood, described the strength of love and loyalty, and revealed God's masterful plan despite the terror and brokenness of war is beautiful well, I guess you are right, beyond words. You would howl with gleeful laughter to hear how our family was reading the closing chapters of that book on the way to church one Sunday. When we arrived, sniffling and wiping our eyes, friends gathered around with concern. "Are you guys all right?" they wondered. "Oh, very. We just finished the most beautiful book."

I know that story would tickle you because your sense of humor is infectious. We also have laughed our way through many hilarious adventures with you. I think of The Open Gate, that conniving but very insightful  grandmother getting her "citified" children and grandchildren to buy a farm seemingly by accident! We howled through their ineptitudes because we were living that story right then ourselves. You helped us take ourselves less seriously and enriched our own family memories in that one. Speaking of city people learning to love the country, my little ones will carry the beautiful pictures in The Tenement Tree with them forever. I must ask you about trees one day, you loved them so much. Well, you just loved life, it's evils part of the beautiful tapestry of the whole of it.

Knowing that I still have more of your gifts to literature to enjoy ahead of me is the most delicious idea of all. I look forward to Lazy Tinka, Listening, Philomena, A Brand New Uncle, and Gypsy. I will savor each one and will reread them all. You made your life a beautiful experience by letting joy ripple through it all and the springs that fed your imagination refresh our souls, reveal life in all its glory. You said you wrote your first book just to prove you couldn't and that your subsequent success made you lose reverence for people who write. "A writer just talks on paper," you joked, but your pages are not just talk. You bring us to beautiful places, show us beautiful people, weave beautiful stories. If you could see our graphics, our scrolling text, our bored and listless children now, you would know why I value your "talk" so highly, Kate.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Top Picks for Middle Ages Historical Fiction

Virginia Kahl's Picture Books
Many of this author/illustrator's stories feature "A long time ago there lived over the waters a Duchess, a Duke and their family of daughters." Though they have 13 daughters, don't neglect reading these to your boys too. Not only will they love the medieval knights, castles and feudal life, they will enjoy the rhyme and meter as each story is written in poetry. Five in a Row, Volume 3 calls for The Duchess Bakes a Cake, but don't miss The Baron's Booty, The Perfect Pancake, The Habits of Rabbits, Plum Pudding for Christmas and more.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
This could have been a pick for books dealing with adversity as well. Author/illustrator de Angeli's warm and inspiring tale centers on a young boy, crippled by the plague, who learns that there is always a door in the wall, no matter how insurmountable it may seem. Implicitly teaching an invaluable character lesson that one's hardship and suffering may be the advantage needed to scale the wall that God has placed before us.

Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle
A story for middle-elementary readers, Otto is the son of a German Robber Baron caught up in a terrible feud with another family. Though he suffers greatly, Otto finds solace and comfort and doesn't lose faith that love is more powerful than hate. An exciting tale not to be missed.


The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
Set in Poland in the 1400s, a refugee to the city of Krakow is caught up in a mysterious adventure involving some alchemists, a famous gem, and the legend of the trumpeted Heynal. Based on historical fact, this early Newbery winner seamlessly weaves fact and fiction together in a captivating story. For middle-elementary readers on up.


The Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli
Longer than many of de Angeli's more popular books, this should be on your list of must-reads while studying the Middle Ages. An exciting tale of twin Viking boys, using their shared identity to save the day, this book also gives a unique perspective on "the terrible Norsemen" landing along the coast of England. Invaluable insight behind the reason many Vikings left their homeland in search of a new place to settle. For upper-elementary readers.

Men of Iron by Howard Pyle
Though we've featured this book before, I can't leave this tale of a young boy training for knighthood off of this list. Set during the reign of King Henry IV of England, this is an adventurous tale of a boy on a quest to redeem his family. For upper-elementary readers.



The Prince and the Page by Charlotte Yonge

By the author of The Little Duke this is the story of a young son of Montfort who rose against the king in the Barons' War. Taken to serve as a page to the king's son, Edward (soon to be known as Longshanks), our hero soon learns to respect his Prince as he accompanies him on a Crusade. For upper-elementary readers.


The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Set during the Hundred Years' War between England, France, and Spain, this classic by the author of Sherlock Holmes is sure to be a hit with middle school readers on up. A boy joins the service of a noble Knight in his band of archers. Authentic details of daily life and customs of the Middle Ages permeate this exciting tale.


Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
A classic tale of England after the Norman Conquest. This book offers its reader the unique perspective of feeling what it must have been like to be a Saxon in the days of Norman rule--holding on to ancient customs of your people, seen as "savage" by the "cultured" foreign rulers of your land. Ivanhoe is a bold and noble knight fighting for his land and lady, at odds with both the Norman rulers and his family. Though a ten-year old boy first recommended this book to me, I'd say it would appeal more to Middle- or High- School readers.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Sowing Living Book Seeds

Liz has written this week's post for ChildLight USA. She gives an expanded vision for the importance of Living Libraries and how sowing these living book seeds is a vital part of the Culture Care that Makoto Fujimura spoke of at the CLUSA 2012 Conference (listen here).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Who Needs to Read?

"What have you read lately?" I often ask anyone I happen to be talking with."

I haven't read anything for awhile ...so busy...don't have the time..." they trail off. This doesn't surprise me anymore. It is truly the most common response. In fact, I feel a little shocked if anyone even talks about a book, whether read or not. Reading is just not popular. A study done by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2005 published in a report called, "Reading At Risk" indicated that less than half of Americans read anything of any kind that they don't have to read. Less than one-third of college graduates read at or above a proficiency level.

Why should this be disturbing? It is disturbing because reading is not just at risk of extinction, but culture is, freedom is. Historically, people who don't read are destined to live under tyrants.

Sure, reading is a relatively new phenomenon, the printed word being made widely available only in the past five hundred years. How did people get along before that? Well, there was a several thousand year long history of oral tradition prior to the printing press. Stories were passed from one generation to the next literally by word of mouth. People were skilled in relating verbally the stories and information they knew, to others, even more skilled at listening.

The danger for our time is that if the reading of books dies out, we do not have this oral tradition either. Without stories, we are reduced to the level of animals. Our humanness is distinctly set apart from the animal kingdom because we have been made in the image of God. Part of that God-like personality we have inherited is that we communicate through words. God has chosen words to make Himself known to us. Jesus is The Word. In the beginning, "God SAID." He spoke and the world came into being. Jesus reminded us, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Jesus demonstrated this in his ministry. "Without a parable, he did not speak to them." Parables were the stories, the teaching tools, he used to communicate truth. When he asked the disciples if they were going to leave him, Peter exclaimed, "Where would we go? You have the words of life!" Jesus' life was the story made alive for us that we might know the whole plan of God for man and see, touch, and believe that God's story includes us.

A favorite Bible teacher of mine is fond of simplifying God's story down to the three essential components:
1) life in the garden
2) man being expelled from the garden
3) man getting back to the garden -- only better.
It's a simple plot. It's an incomparable story. So incomparable, as a matter of fact, that every story is some variation or imitation of this one.

But we'll never know if we don't read any of them.

The problem with reading is that it is work. It requires effort, energy, even practice. As Dana Gioia, poet and essayist points out, it's like playing the piano. You can't become proficient at making music without time and practice. Neither can you be a reader without spending time acquiring and practicing the skill.

Maybe we are too busy. Maybe we don't have the time. It does take staying home, sitting down, withdrawing from the hustle of life to read. Reading also requires being alone, either individually, or as a small group, and that is something few of us know anything about. We are never alone: the TV is there, the iPod is in the ear, the CD or radio is with us in the car, the computer and movies and YouTube entertain us. Yes, we sit down and are still. We watch and listen and mimic. Certainly we are learning - quietly, just a minimal movement required to click the mouse, slight pressure to touch the pad that brings us new images. Our conversations have been reduced to quoting movie lines and sharing links. Even our friendships are invisible, text on a screen, little tweets.

Reading is not like that. You have to hold the book, turn its pages, move your eyes continuously in one direction, use your brain to consider its content. Before that, you have to work to choose a suitable book to read, walk to a shelf and find it, even drive to a library or store and spend time searching for just the right book. It's so much harder than pushing buttons and letting the machine do all the work.

Why should anyone bother? Because you were made for more than this. You were made to know and think and learn and live. You are alive because there is a story going on and you are one of the characters in it.You are not a puppet. Your mind was made to be more than a receptacle of information, but is just one aspect of who you are, a living, breathing, moving, feeling, active person. Books are not a pastime.> Reading is essential to inspiration, to creativity, to the joy of being alive and involved and giving and beauty.

Don't passively submit to the tyranny of time and empty living! Make the effort. Learn to read. Make it a habit. Meditate, ponder, consider ideas. This quiet, personal activity of reading will fuel your spirit and energize your life. Stories were made for real life. You were made for stories and real life. Don't just assent to the possibility that what I say is true. Open a book and discover for yourself.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

Monday, July 9, 2012

Changing the World, One Library at a Time

A nationally historic event has occurred, but you will not be reading about it in the news. Nevertheless, it was momentous and the outcome may eventually have a tremendous impact on this country. It is certainly true that most of the world changing events that are now recorded in our history books were not initially reported in the news either.

{ 26 attendees from 10 states gather on our farm }

The event was the first Homeschool Librarians Conference. It took place in a small mountain neighborhood in southwest Virginia. Twenty-six attended. Some of them are currently operating homeschool libraries, most are not, but plan to begin their own in the near future. Emily and I, along with our entire family, were  privileged to host it, organizing the two day conference, preparing and serving the meals (on site due to inaccessibility of local dining opportunities), and presenting the workshops. The theme was "A New Vision for Old Books," and we tried to cover every aspect of running your own private lending library that we could possibly think of, from how to find mostly out-of-print living books, where to put them, how to repair them and make them ready to be borrowed. There was information on the Dewey Decimal System, how to design enough shelf space within the confines of your existing home, and how to manage the cost of the library without interfering with your family's budget. This information was delivered to an eager, enthusiastic, teachable group of homeschool parents who are committed to home education and passionate about books.

We hadn't met or spoken with most of these people before and had no idea what to expect. We need not have worried as they were all as crazy about children's literature as we are. Did you know that if you have books in common, you will find many other attitudes, experiences and beliefs in common as well? Jan and Gary Bloom of Books Bloom hauled in five thousand gems for us to pour over and purchase for our individual libraries and Emily and I made sure there was plenty of time for shopping. The conversations we had among the bookshelves, in our library, around the picnic tables on our farm, and during the various sessions was inspiring. This group of mostly strangers had so much in common.

{ we enjoyed not only the opportunity to shop, but to share
and discuss our favorite authors with one another }

So what is the new vision for old books? That, after all, was what we had gathered to consider. Learning how to label and cover books, catalog and select books was absolutely enthralling to us all. (Oh yes, I know we are a different breed.) But the overwhelming thing we had most in common was a heart-felt passion to share our hard-to-find books with a generation who doesn't know much, if anything, about them and doesn't know why they should.

{ enjoying the fellowship with our extended families }

Can you imagine generosity such as this? These books have been collected and are prized by these families yet they are willing, even intensely desirous, of sharing them with other families, most of whom do not really understand the value of them. One mother at the conference has a burden for the young children who just hang about her inner-city neighborhood, apparently without anything to do or anyone to care that they don't. Why? Why in this world of easy media entertainment would anyone want to interest children, homeschooled or otherwise, in reading dusty old books? That is the question that motivated people to come to our little out-of-the-way area from Washington, California, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey and other states. We all sense an urgency, a need that those in need aren't even aware they have, because books are in trouble, reading is in trouble, living ideas are in trouble,children are in trouble.

{ liz shares with librarians, present and future,
the pressing need for these libraries }

I've mentioned before that less than half of all adults today read anything they don't have to. Their children learn "how to" read, but do not spend their time doing so, or if they do, have no idea what a truly soul absorbing experience a book can be. Moms in my library admit to not having been read to by their parents. They have never heard of the Laura Ingalls books. This is not an exaggeration. It is not a joke. It is a  frightening reality. Homeschooled children, unfortunately, are not necessarily any better off either, for though their parents have departed from the public school system, they still follow the cultural model that education is a matter of acquiring the information necessary to ultimately hold down a successful career.

And this small group of ordinary people is preparing to do something about it. We feel a bit like the disciples facing five thousand hungry persons looking to Jesus for help and hearing him say, "you give them something to eat." We know our resources and efforts are insufficient for such a time as this, but we have read the Living Book and believe that He can bless and multiply our meager offerings. We believe that some child, in some book, is going to be impacted by some living idea that takes hold and nourishes him - perhaps one of tomorrow's great leaders. Greater still, we believe that many children learning through nourishing literature will take delight in the beauty of story and, realizing the purpose of God's story for themselves, will grow up to raise godly children who will increase His light in the world.

{ already, after one week, these women are starting to change their communities }

God has chosen the foolish things in the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things in the world to put to shame the mighty. It is not through slick programs and educational gimmicks, but with truth revealed by the Spirit. Our confidence isn't in ourselves to change the world through libraries, but we do have confidence in the Living Word, who makes Himself known through words and reminds us, "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Reading is not optional. It's critical. We are working on unique libraries, working to feed literature-impoverished lives. There are a couple dozen families building such libraries because they are convinced it just might be a matter of life and death. All who attended last weekend have felt this call, and as a result of the conference, we now know we are not alone in the good fight.

For the joy of reading,

Liz