One of my great delights, as both a parent and a teacher, is reading with children. So when I saw that two of my favorite authors – Nikki Grimes and Mitali Perkins – were releasing holiday picture books, I was giddy with anticipation. Grimes’s Lullaby for the King (Beaming Books) and Perkins’s Holy Night and Little Star: A Story for Christmas (Waterbrook) celebrate Christ’s birth with a fanciful look at a few overlooked participants on that first long-ago Christmas.
There will always be
Only one Thanksgiving for me,
With you at the head of the table.
As a middle- and high-school English teacher, I am always on the lookout for books to add to my classroom library. To make the cut, I tell my students a book must have high literary, historical, or spiritual value. Preferably all three. So when I read the first lines of author Dana VanderLugt’s just-released debut middle grade novel, Enemies in the Orchard, a World War II novel in verse (ZonderKidz, 2023), I knew it was destined for my shelf.
As the remnants of Hurricane Lee whipped the trees outside my bedroom window into a frenzy of whirling trunks and leaves, I pulled up the covers and opened my laptop to review Toni Buzzeo’s new middle grade novel, Light Comes to Shadow Mountain. Here I was, reviewing a historical novel about young Cora Mae Tipton, who aims to bring electricity to her rural Kentucky community, and my own electricity had just gone out.
I’ve always been grateful for the year I took between high school and college to attend a little Bible school in Rhode Island. We had worship services every day, along with classes from committed Bible scholars who instilled in us the value of living a God-centered life. Not just focusing on God in church on Sunday mornings, but making him the focus of every part of our lives.
My husband’s grandmother loved cats, particularly the kind that slunk up to the bowl outside her kitchen door, where she scraped her dinner scraps. She lived in the same house in a quiet Maine town for seven decades, feeding the neighborhood felines until well past the age of 100, when she died peacefully at home.
This past week my family packed the car and drove two hours up the Maine coast to visit my uncle for the Fourth of July. Just before leaving, my 13-year-old son, Asher, spotted Mitali Perkins’ new middle grade novel, Hope in the Valley, on my desk.
Growing up, I struggled to read and did not have access to many books. Ironically, for a short time my mom worked at a public library. When I was about nine, she brought me with her, and I signed up for a program to win prizes by reading books. I chose a story by Beatrix Potter – probably because it was short, but also because I loved animals and wished they could talk.
Easter began with a misunderstanding. Driving to church this past Sunday in the gray-morning dark, I discovered an empty parking lot and vacant building. Wishing I’d checked to see if the sunrise service was in-person or online, I drove on, seeking a quiet place to pray and reflect. A few miles more, and I spotted a banner, advertising an ecumenical gathering at a local park.
When it comes to reading the Christmas story in the Bible, the Gospel writer Luke gets most the attention. Like a film director, he vividly captures poor Mary giving birth in a stable as shepherds watch their flocks and a band of angels fills the Bethlehem sky, announcing the good news. But to me, the neighboring book of John best answers the mystery of who Jesus is and why he came.
In need of some encouragement? Me too. Each morning when I check the news, I’m more and more aghast at what I read. My constant prayer in this time of trouble is “God help us.” Not as a flippant aside, but as a persistent reminder of our unrelenting need for his Grace. One way I’ve found to combat the underlying stress of the day is to scatter faith inspiring books around my house. And so, here are three books, written by friends, that keep me going:
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could edit our lives the way we edit stories?” I recently asked one of my children while driving to school. “That way we could delete or change parts of our lives that we’d rather forget or that didn’t work out the way we hoped.”
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” so begins the ancient record of creation in Genesis. While children’s Bibles and picture books abound about how life began – and how our relationship with God, the earth and each other went bad – three new narratives cleverly approach this familiar topic in unique ways easing children’s anxiety about the future.
“What makes a poem a poem?” a student in my high school English class asked me last year. “Can anything be a poem?” I struggled to answer. Poetry is often hard to define, the way abstract art is hard to define, but I did my best. “Narrative writing is an elephant...
Every morning I drove past her house on my way to work, and again in the afternoon on my way home. In winter, her front door usually stood open to let in the sun. In spring or fall I’d often see her sitting on her stoop, gathering light.
I am old enough to wish that I could forget certain parts of my life. Old enough to grieve certain losses, to mourn the demise of unfulfilled dreams, and to lament life’s inescapable disappointments. But what if the erasure of someone’s life is due not to avoidance but to a failing memory? Such is the case in Linda MacKillop’s thought provoking debut novel, The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon, which releases this week.
Several months ago I found myself in the unenviable position of needing to buy a vehicle. After nearly 210,000 miles, my reliable Dodge Caravan (affectionately dubbed “The Rust Bucket”) had failed an inspection. To repair it would have cost twice what my van was worth. So with only a few options, I bought a used Subaru for nearly the same price that it had originally retailed for five years before.
Late last November, I stood over a frozen mound of soil in my garden, holding a long wooden stake. Beside me on the snow-crusted ground lay several blue mesh bags full of garlic bulbs, each tied with a curl of white ribbon – the kind for wrapping gifts.
One of my greatest joys as a parent is daily reading aloud to my children – a practice I’ve maintained for more than 25 years. As eager, wide-eyed parents, my husband, Dana, and I began reading Winnie-the- Pooh to our oldest son, Judah, when he was just two months old, not because we thought he’d enjoy it, but because we did.
“The outer world is only an expression of an inner, spiritual world,” the theologian Eugene Peterson wrote in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. In other words, the violence and strife erupting around us are a produced by the violence and strife raging within us. If our spiritual world is broken, then our physical world will be as well.