You will note in the list below that half the books I read this past month are children’s books. I read some of them to my children, some of them to investigate for making recommendations or writing reviews for parents, and some of them just because I wanted to. Reading children’s books is pleasurable on many levels, (not the least of which is that they are supremely enjoyable), but I also find they always make my world feel right side up again--which is a tremendous virtue.
A couple of the following books have been on my nightstand waiting for me for a year or more, a couple have been slowly being trudged through for months, a couple were reread after decades, and a couple were written by authors I had no acquaintance with before.
In the order I finished them, here are some remarks on each.
1. The Birth of Tragedy and the Geneology of Morals by Friederich Nietzsche.
Yes, this is one I have plowed through for months. I, of course, have heard of Nietzsche throughout my life and had my ignorant opinions. In reading Ourselves by Charlotte Mason, I was again challenged to stretch my intellect in new directions, as well as base my opinions on knowledge. Philosophy, in particular, is an area in which I am grossly uneducated. This book worked on that. Surprisingly, the translation I read made his ideas clear and I could follow his line of thinking. This in itself was encouraging. I definitely do not agree with him on his theories, am woefully ignorant, I discovered, of Greek tragedy, but felt I made his acquaintance a little now.
2. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.
As you know, I’m on a roll with this author’s books for young people this year. This is an historical fiction book based on a true incident where the residents of Malaga Island off the coast of Maine were removed and their homes destroyed in 1912. In this story, Turner Buckminster moves to town, the new minister’s son, and doesn’t fit in with the small town’s closed community. Consequently, he makes friends with many of the unpopular residents and discovers courage and compassion drive his life more than a need for acceptance. Here are this author’s usual poignant and emotionally-piercing events with strong characters for young people to identify with and emulate.
3. Okay, for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.
Here’s an objective opinion: I loved this book. It is the story of one of the characters met in The Wednesday Wars, whose abusive father’s life choices cause an abrupt change of course for Doug’s family. Again, thanks to compassionate and insightful adults in his life, Doug learns valuable life lessons of many kinds, including discovering beauty in nature, lessons in drawing like Audubon, managing ornery customers, holding down a job, compassion for his wounded Vietnam vet brother, telling the truth, protecting the weak and helpless, learning to read, and trust. I think those are fairly strong reasons most young people should experience this story.
4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
I read this book partly because “everybody” is reading it. The main character is blind, so many who enjoyed it have urged me to read it. There were fascinating and beautiful notions in it. Unfortunately, after all the tension of living through World War II with the two main characters, one German, one French, I was disappointed with what Emily calls, "the modern pointless and uninspiring ending.” Its value is in its historical interest and experiencing the war from both sides, particularly the growing awareness of injustice and true loyalty by the German orphan. Both main characters were admirable and inspiring.
5. Kristin Lavransdatter Volume I: The Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset.
In reading a book I haven’t finished by Anthony Esolen, he mentioned this author as his favorite female novelist. I had not heard of her (though this book is in our library). A few days later, a friend sent me George Grant’s 25 recommended books of all time and, lo and behold, this book was on his list. I looked her up and discovered she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, for this trilogy. My knowledge of Christine of Sweden, the subject of this novel, is scant. Undset’s writing is powerful and beautiful, her insight into human nature brilliant. I adore historical fiction and anything that makes the Middle Ages come alive. Though I am eager to read the rest of Kristin’s story in the subsequent novels, I am holding off for a while before I do. Some books, like this one, are meant to savor.
6. The Borrowed House by Hilda Van Stockum.
The Winged Watchman is one of my favorite children’s books of all time for dozens of reasons, so I have always wanted to read this one. It is helpful in the realm of historical fiction on World War II for young people because it tells the story of a German girl in the Hitler Youth who, through life in occupied Holland, has her eyes opened and her world view challenged. I recommend this for junior and senior high readers, but suggest an introduction to the story of The Ring in Norse mythology as a helpful background preparation for understanding the plot.
7. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff.
My children have all read this and the following two books in the trilogy, but not their mother. Sutcliff’s intimate knowledge of English history and skill as an author make any of her historical fiction tales worth reading. This trilogy takes place in Roman occupied Britain in the third century. Boys and girls (grades 6-12) will learn much about life in early Britain while caught up in the intrigue, suspense, and danger of all the factions competing for supremacy in the untamed land.
8. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.
I read this book for the first time at 45 years old and stayed up till two in the morning to finish it. I had just as much fun reading it again 15 years later. It’s a fairy tale written as a children’s novel, full of the typical villains and heroes one would expect. Wolves are not always four-legged. This story is ideal for children who don’t like to read or who are addicted to reading (especially fantasy fiction), and makes a splendid family read aloud—as long as you know how to stop in the exciting spots and go to bed.
9. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.
Perhaps this is my fourth time reading this book. I appreciate it more each time. Cassie Logan and her brothers hold a unique position in Depression era Mississippi: their family is the wrong color, have the right values, and, because of both, are the object of hatred and injustice. The author tells this story of courage and loyalty with sensitivity, humor, and respect—telling the children she is writing for how it was and allowing them to see how it should be.
10. Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter.
So delightful I have to write a blog on it soon. Definitely not out of date for today’s children.
11. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson.
This skillful weaver of scientific knowledge with the surrounding atmosphere in which world-changing discoveries were made, manages yet again to bring vitality to a field of knowledge that is often dull and dry for most readers. For Charlotte Mason teachers, the understanding of the importance of ideas is familiar, but this fascinating biography of Joseph Priestly, key figure in the discovery of oxygen, demonstrates how an individual in the convergence of many influential ideas of his era, takes hold of those ideas and changes the thinking of the world. For high school chemistry students, this is an eye-opening account.
12. The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff. Second in the trilogy about the Ninth Legion, a military surgeon and a tribune forge a friendship through discovery of a plot to kill Caesar and the ensuing threat on their own lives. For junior and senior high readers, but thoroughly enjoyed by my husband. I found it even more exciting than The Eagle of the Ninth.
13. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis.
I first read this book 20 years ago and, in reading it a second time, realized afresh how important it is to read some books a second time. My pleasure in it, after 20 years of reading and growing, was immense. The passages copied into my commonplace book will doubtless appear in future blogs. C.S. Lewis’s books have changed my life, and this book tells about the books that changed his.
14. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller.
Pastor Keller’s gift of teaching is skillful in his ability to make the most complex and controversial subjects clear, logical, and heart altering. He explains our typical conception of justice and brings the power of the Word of God down to shatter our complacency—mostly by just reminding us of the character of God and our call to reflect it in our every day behavior. This would be an excellent book for high school students studying government and citizenship, not to mention for book clubs, Sunday school classes, or Bible study groups.
15. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books I-X.
I’ve been slowly delighting in this beautiful autobiography of one of the heroes of faith for months. It was a lovely companion and would make a valuable impression on your high school students. It was simply and humbly written and rereading Lewis’s own testimonial book alongside it this month made me grateful anew for the wondrous grace of God’s calling in a life.
For the joy of reading,