Children’s Novels in Which the Pen (or Love) is Mightier than the Sword

A friend recently asked me for recommendations of children’s novels where the day is saved…but not by lots of violence.  He has a ten-year-old son who loves Narnia and Middle Earth, but he doesn’t want his son to count on Glamdring to solve all his problems.  (I am aware that it is Aslan’s sacrifice, as well as Frodo and Sam’s sacrifices, that make things right.  But there are soooo many swords in the meantime!)  Anyway, here is my humble attempt at a list, with a few comments.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I loved this one.  It’s an animal story – cats, dogs, snakes – but be warned – it is not for the faint of heart.  There are some heart-wrenching scenes, and a broodingly evil character who gives the White Witch a run for her money.  But the payoff at the end is worth it, and it’s beautifully written.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Time travel?  Yes.  School bullies?  Yes.  $20,000 Pyramid?  Yes!  And finally all the pieces come together in this middle-school mystery story.  Let’s just say, someone goes to incredible lengths to give up his life for a friend.  

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  Lyrical, very magical, it sweeps you off your feet.  A magic little girl and her grandmother, the mother who went mad when she lost her, a young man trying to protect his family from an evil witch…plus a dragon, a swamp monster, and a volcano.  There is violence, and attempted violence, but it is love and forgiveness that win the day.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

A modern-day fairy tale.  Again, this one is heart-wrenching, delving into the depression can bring into a family.  Hazel knows it is up to her to save her best friend Jack from the grip of an evil witch.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Another story about forgiveness.  An orphan boy wonders if his sister is still alive.  A magician accidentally conjures an elephant – right into a woman’s lap.  And the snow just won’t stop… This one is a quick read, and it’s hard to beat Kate DiCamillo’s unique use of language.

A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle

These two are classics, but in both it is self-sacrifice, not violence, that wins the day.  Madeline L’Engle was my introduction to science fiction, though neither of these is too science-y to appeal to those who don’t care for the genre.  Actually, I thought it was amazing to read about a heroine, and physics, and a Christian worldview all in one book.

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

This is an amazing historical novel for its detail describing the Middle Ages – I highly recommend it for that alone.  The language is what you’d expect from a book from 1928: the vocabulary and syntax are both more challenging that what you find in most modern children’s literature.  But the characters are wonderful, and the story is gripping, and, of course, good triumphs over evil in the end.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

This was another one of my favorite books growing up.  Annemarie must use all her wits and bravery if she wants to save her best friend and her family – who are Jewish – from the Nazis.  Beautifully told, and edge-of-your-seat exciting, yet still appropriate for younger novel readers.

The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son by Lois Lowry

I read The Giver in second grade, and I don’t think I ever recovered.  It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I realized there were three more books in the series!  That was a joyous day.  Each is wonderful on its own, but I recommend doing the whole set, because Son brings it all together so beautifully. 

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

This book blew me away, simply because I’ve found very few children’s novels which take faith seriously, and fewer that take a child’s faith seriously.  Three misfit children and a miraculous dog race to save Jewish books from being burned by a crusading prince.  With all the fun of the middle ages plus secret identities, The Inquisitor’s Tale is a thrilling ride.  (Violence-wise, there is one pretty harrowing scene early on, with William and some bandits, if you’re looking to avoid such things, but it’s not Williams’ strength that wins the day in the end.)

Whew.  So really this is also a short list of some of my favorite books ever.  Enjoy!  I’d love to discuss them if anyone is interested!

Bucket List

 

A humble suggestion for an alternative “Bucket List” (courtesy of the Gospel reading for the Feast of Christ the King – Matthew 25:31-46):

  • Feed the hungry

  • Give drink to the thirsty

  • Welcome the stranger

  • Clothe the naked

  • Care for the ill

  • Visit those in prison

1 Thess 5:(5cf.)

First, the irony.  I am a large five months pregnant, and was scheduled to lector this weekend.  [Which is now last weekend.  The whole no-internet-at-home thing seriously delays posting sometimes.  Or often.  Or always.]  In case you forgot, or were wrestling small children during the first two readings, the first was the bit from Wisdom about a good wife; the second included the lines then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

So that was fun.  But that wasn’t what convinced me to drag out the ol’ laptop and actually bother to post.  It was the next bit of the reading from First Thessalonians:

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief.

For all of you are children of the light and children of the day.

And as I looked out at those listening (more or less…it was roughly eight AM), at the faces I had been watching through the pre-Mass announcements and the first reading, I thought how true that was.  These were the faces of the “children of the light,” whether they knew it or not.  Did they think those words were for them, if they even heard them?  I almost choked on the words, realizing their meaning.

We are not of the night or of darkness.”

I was blessed to proclaim that for myself, and for everyone in the church with me, and honored to be included in their company.  I hoped, and hope, that everyone in the room this morning thinks of themselves this way.  Not perfect, of course, but living, struggling, and hoping in the light of Christ.

Homeschool Highlights

Lucy and her friend were practicing multiplication tables this morning (not my idea – I love having extra kids around sometimes!) and they decided it would be fun to make it into a Go Fish! game.  So they did.  And spent half an hour or so playing 6 Times Table Go Fish.

Just caught Clare explaining to another friend about how difficult it was for Michelangelo to carve David (“and if he made a tiny mistake, just this big, the whole thing would be ruined!”) and retelling the story of The Library Mouse.  Narration?  Done.

And as I type, Isaac is trying to put an apple slice in my pocket.  Earlier he was working on building train tracks.

In other news, I should be putting my first children’s book manuscript in the mail in the next couple of days.  Pray hard!  Asking St. Therese of Lisieux for special help, since it is about her, after all.  (And if you want a preview, let me know and I’ll send the text along.)

Homeschool…it’s been a while

So it’s been a while…like almost three years…but yesterday morning was too much fun not to record.

Samantha was up before 7 asking for paints to finish the canvas she’d drawn on. (It’s a split image of a Holy Spirit dove and a crucifix.)

We got dressed, had breakfast, etc.

Then came the morning routine of Book of Saints (St. Jerome today!), Life of Fred, and today’s special: “How are mammals and fish different?” More work to do there the next couple weeks. And Story of the World part III starts next week, if the book ever gets here. My fault – I sent it to the old address and the post office can’t seem to forward it very quickly.

Then I came in from trying to change the alternator in the Honda (success! In case you were wondering) and found:

Clare running a ballet class (including stretching) for a 1-, a 2-, a 3-, and a 4 year-old,
Samantha engaged in Legos with a 5- and a 6-year-old,
And Lucy (who only does math with moping and sighing) happily doing Saxon math with her 9-year-old friend.

And apparently the older girls had the little girls color drawings of their hearts for the life-sized human body tracings they made of them. I know this because Clare’s heart was left out on the homeschool room table.

And the older girls are also on a crochet kick, which has taught them hand-eye skills, and taught Samantha that there is an end to the length of tape measures. And that they don’t work well anymore if you pull them too far.

Now the crochet chains are going into the tent plans.

Week Three: The Letter C

Well.  We’ve made it through another week, somehow.  It was actually pretty laid back until today.  Took the girls to run errands, then the nurse called back and said it might be a good idea to bring Lucy in for the swollen bump on her arm (just a little infection, nearly healed, so no need to worry), and so we spent two hours at the urgent care clinic.  At lunch time.  And I still have to go pick up the medicine, since it wasn’t ready when we went and I wasn’t up to entertaining the girls any longer.  But we made it through lunch, and I’ve got the cranberry cookies in the oven.
Next we drop the girls with “Aunt B” so Craig and I can go to the first True Fasting meeting, which will be our Friday afternoons pretty much until Thanksgiving.  Then it’s to the Verrett’s for a back to school party.  If I’m still awake.  But like I said, the rest of the week was calmer.
We made C’s and clouds out of cotton balls (Sam made a bird nest instead.  You know Sam!)  Lucy worked on writing out number words and cursive, which was her favorite thing to do this week.

This week’s reading included:

illustrated by Barbara Cooney-

Emma by Wendy Kesselman

And we’re back

A tablet computer has reappeared in our house.  I am ambivalent about this, but it means I don’t have an excuse not to write anymore.  So we’ll see how I do.  For now:
Why I think I like Louisiana better than Texas:
Two words: heated restrooms at the rest stops.  Stop calling Louisiana backward, y’all.  At least we’ve (mostly) moved past outhouses.

The Gift of Compassion

I wrote once, years ago now, about an article in America Magazine called “A Fiery Gift,” in which the author argued that there are important spiritual insights to be gained from a natural birthing experience.  Essentially, she claimed (and I agree) that the pattern of birthing occurs often is our spiritual lives, and having the experience of physically birthing a child gives us a context against which to compare the movements we make toward growth in our souls.

In our Engaging Spirituality group we have discussed the different kinds of deaths we face – of ideas, dreams, plans, youth, etc., but birth has been largely left out until tonight.  But one of our group members, during centering prayer, came to a very similar conclusion to the author of that article.

Which got me thinking.  We try so hard to avoid suffering, or anything messy, really.  So much of life is messy!  Especially some of the best parts – birthing, making love, making mud pies.  And women’s bodies are messy, so we try to control them and clean them up.  Heaven forbid we be too smelly, or hairy, or anyone find out we have our period.  But like with birthing, when we push this all away, what are we missing?  The whole world works on beautiful, simple cycles of birth and death.  It is the Pascal Mystery – life, death, resurrection.  And our bodies do it every month, if only we allow them.  We complain about the discomfort of PMS or cramps, or crying for no apparent reason.  But what if God has really just given us a gift of tears that we aren’t humble enough to accept?  What if the “no reason” that sets us off at “that time of the month” is really the greatest reason of all – compassion, true suffering-with, for all those unnamed sufferers in our world?  Our ES group has been learning about the importance of holding the world in all its suffering in our hearts and lifting it up in prayer.  It sounds like a daunting task, but what if God created women – mothers all of us, biologically or not – to do just this caring, comforting, weeping at the foot of the cross, and to do it naturally, easily, every month?

I have to admit, I am more stable emotionally when I am pregnant or nursing than when I am am cycling.  And as I move back towards those constantly changing hormones, I feel the mood swings and sudden onset of tears acutely.  But I am grateful for the insight this prayer group, these readings, and these fellow sojourners in faith have gifted me with.  So that maybe, instead of cursing my body for being so inconvenient, I can now learn to welcome and bless God’s gift of tears as the opportunity for a deepening compassion.