The older my kids get, the more Christian biographies I try to squeeze into our bookshelves. Of course I pray that God surrounds our daughters with godly examples—believers who can walk alongside and encourage them, whose steadfastness through trials bolsters their own fledgling faith, and whose love of Scripture is infuses their lives. There is something beautiful about watching the body of the church tend to and cultivate its youngest members.
But there is something powerful, too, about listening to the voices that carry from way back in history—voices that proclaimed God’s excellencies then and, through biographies, still speak to us now. Rachel Yankovic writes about it this way:
When I read about [God’s] tender love and care of His children, I learn more about Him. When I read how He used His children from all over the world for His purposes . . . then I see how our Father loves all His children with such attention and faithfulness. He provides for their every need, answers their prayers when they didn’t believe it was possible, introduces them to each other when they could not have found each other by any other means. When I rejoice in His love for them, I rejoice in His love for me. When I love those He loved, I learn more about who He is.
I want to fill our shelves with these stories and fill our family language with the names of our spiritual ancestors. Everyone a Child Should Know is a beautiful introduction to this sort of story.
Clare Heath-Whyte tells of fifty-two Christians from all across church history, some of their names familiar, some surprising. She touches on the main points of their story, sharing their lives in a way that connects with young readers and fits many stories into a short book. From Augustine to Corrie Ten Book; from Gladys Aylward to Rosa Parks; from Brother Lawrence to William Wilberforce—this is a little book spanning centuries and brimming with the love of God.
First, Fanny Crosby. I herded the smaller members of my team into the library, and found, front and center on the display shelf, a biography of Fanny Crosby. Ordinarily, the Christian books are shelved in a little side aisle, next to the Mythology section. They make brief forays out onto the display shelves around Easter and Christmas, but here was Fanny, shoulder to shoulder with Amelia Earhart in women’s history display.
Then it was Paul. Two weeks later we returned, and there was Paul Writes (a Letter), a book I’d just seen reviewed on Story Warren, eagerly catching my eye from another, bigger, closer-to-the-door display. I snatched it up before I even made sure all my daughters were in the door.
It seems that one of our librarians has excellent taste, and I am determined to find out which one. But in the meantime, I am happily reading and adoring Paul Writes (a Letter), a book that unexpectedly summarizes Paul’s letters while also introducing young readers to Paul’s personality. Rashka illustrates him in ways that so perfectly express his tone in some of his letters: joyful, as he contemplates his dear friends in Ephesus. Rubbing his forehead in exasperation, a glass of wine within reach as he writes to the church in Thessalonica.
Paul Writes (a Letter) invites young readers into a beautiful but—given its lack of story—perhaps less approachable portion of Scripture and shows one artist’s interpretation of the man behind the letters. This book doesn’t exactly follow a story either, but it’s a beautiful introduction to Paul, a faithful servant of God and a powerful instrument in God’s hands.
Paul Writes (a Letter) deserves that spot by the library’s front door and on our own shelves, as a regularly visited friend.
In the beginning, God created numbers. Numbers declare the glory of God.
That is where God Counts begins: right at the very beginning. From there, Irene Sun counts to twelve (and beyond!) with readers, pausing at each number to share a verse and show how each number points us to God. On its surface, this seems like a simple concept, one that could could go wrong if the author decided to play it safe and count animals marching into the ark. But Sun explores big theological concepts through this counting format, and she does it beautifully:
Two tells us we are not alone. In the beginning, God made two people, Adam and Eve. They walked with God, side by side. The talked to God, face to face.
God Counts aims not only to teach our kids about numbers, but to show young readers (and parents who might need reminding) that even numbers declare the glory of God.
Remember The Mistmantle Chronicles? I was only slightly joking about starting a movement to get them reprinted. This week, I hope the news of their goodness, their loveliness, their urgent need to live on bookshelves worldwide spread a little further, because Story Warren let me revise and share my review of the series on their site.
From time to time, I get emails from readers. I want to say first of all that these make my day. Some of them are heart-warming thank yous, but most are requests: requests for gift ideas for struggling readers or for help finding a new read-aloud after the bittersweet end of a beloved series. I love both of these species of email, each for their own reasons. But the second kind gets by far the longer response.
It might surprise you, though, to learn that there is a third species of email. Or, perhaps, a sub-species of the second kind of email. It is a request, but it always points to the same topic—the one sitting heavily on the shoulders of many parents, giving us wet willies and making life uncomfortable.
Do you know of any good books for teaching my kids about sex?
I love this question because it means that:
a) there are parents out there who are deliberate in how they discuss sexuality with their kids, and
b) there are parents out there who are willing to talk to their kids about sex at all. (I also like feeling like the cool aunt that people feel comfortable asking about, you know, awkward stuff.)
To be honest, my kids live a pretty sheltered life. They are not, to my knowledge, hearing cuss words from other kids on the playground* or throwing caution to the wind as they click link after link on YouTube. But even so, they still bring some interesting ideas to the dinner table, and we want to give them room to raise questions and debate issues and have clumsy follow-up talks with us.
We might shelter our kids, but we can’t insulate them. We don’t want to.
We want them to recognize pornography for what it is and to know what to do when it finds them. We want them to know how to love and empathize with those whose views differ from our own, but to still hold fast to the truth and offer it as a gift—not use it as a bludgeon. We don’t want them to be mystified by their own bodies but to recognize them as good, if sometimes comical, gifts from their Creator. And we definitely want them to know how to respond if someone tries to hurt them.
To that end, I have read a lot of books on a lot of awkward topics. The good news is that there are a lot of good books available by Christian authors. But I finally whittled my list of favorites down to nine. Here they are.
*Good grief, I hope not, since the “playground” is our yard and the “other kids” are their sisters.
I included age recommendations here, but please use those as guidelines for purchasing books but not for determining which conversations your kids are ready for. You know your children far better than I do, so I strongly recommend pre-reading all of these books before reading them with your children.
Also, this is a long post dealing with some weighty and potentially divisive topics. You all are a gracious lot and I love corresponding with you. If you have specific questions or want to challenge me on something, I welcome that. But I encourage you to do so privately (via email, please) and respectfully. Thank you.
This book is a simple doorway into later discussions: Jim Burns explains what makes boys boys and girls girls, and he does so in a fun and welcoming way. The focus here is not just on private parts, but on the whole of our wonderful bodies—parts of which are private. He also introduces conception and pregnancy in a gentle, age appropriate way. (Read the full review.)
This book picks up where God Made My Body left off. Addressing the same material but at a greater depth, it’s recommended for slightly older kids. These books are both part of a longer series that increases in depth as kids age, but I haven’t read the others. Have you? Are they good? I want to know! (Read the full review.)
This book takes a more serious turn. The focus here is on equipping kids to know what to do if they find themselves at risk for (or victims of) sexual abuse by presenting one family’s conversation about this difficult topic. The authors anchor the whole book in an understanding that our bodies are good and that God crafted every part of them for good and specific purposes.
They also discuss the difference between a secret and a surprise, and define what sort of touch is good and what isn’t. Another thing I like about this book is that it says emphatically that it’s okay for kids to say “no, thank you” to any kind of touch if they don’t want it: a hug, a kiss, a high five—none of those are okay if they’re unwanted. This is a great place to begin those hard conversations. (Read the full review.)
Please note: The story itself is very kid-friendly, but the material in the front and back of the book is geared toward parents only and could be upsetting for kids.
Pornography is a subject worth addressing specifically with our kids, and Good Pictures Bad Pictures is the best way I’ve found to bring it up. The authors define pornography simply and explain what an addiction is, how it starts, and what we can do to prevent one from forming. They do this through the context of a mother and son having a warm conversation, and they break the story into short readings, ideal for tackling individually and building slowly to an understanding of how our kids can respond wisely and quickly when they encounter questionable content.
This book only mentions sex once, quietly, but it is all about the context in which sex and romance belong. Jani Ortlund explains beautifully what marriage is, first sitting at the child’s perspective and asking, “A lot of people get married. Have you ever wondered why?” She then goes on to explain not just what marriage is, but what many people believe it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be. I appreciated the way this book doesn’t pick up any of the spicy language that surrounds this topic in our culture but discusses a sensitive subject with honesty, gentleness and grace. (Read the full review.)
Every chapter in this book answers a question that girls might ask about their bodies. These range from topics that introduce puberty to weightier, more complex topics in the back of the book. The authors answer from a gracious, Christian perspective, blending medical knowledge with a deep respect for the girls they write for. They treat the reader like she deserves to understand how her body works, yet point her to the gospel again and again. This is definitely the best book I’ve found on this subject. (And for those of you with sons, good news! The Ultimate Guys’ Body Book is available, too!)
This book uses allegory to introduce the subject of sexual purity. Through the story of a young princess, Jennie Bishop illustrates the idea that we are each given a gift worth saving for the one we marry. This is a lovely story, and I think that, paired with some of these other books, it could start some beautiful conversations. (And there’s a partner book for boys called The Squire and the Scroll! I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things.)
Subtitled “A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors,” this skinny book gives a solid, biblical perspective on gender, both outlining what our culture says about it and what the Bible teaches. In three sections, the authors outline how we might discuss the topic of gender with our little, big and nearly grown kids.
They offer, too, ideas for how we can lovingly interact with friends and neighbors who hold differing views on gender, and how to treat one another with grace through those conversations. You may not agree with everything the authors recommend (I can’t say that I did), but the foundation of this book is solid and makes a great starting place for discussions.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet. But our church hosted a conference with the authors a few months ago and it was a great time of awkwardness, hilarity, heavy truths, and the gospel (so much gospel).
You may recognize Jessica from Give Them Grace, a book she co-authored with her mom Elyse Fitzpatrick (and one that I re-read every few years). Or you may recognize both Jessica and Joel from the podcast they host with their mom, Front Porch With the Fitzes. Or maybe you don’t recognize their names at all, and that’s fine.
But you should still read this book. The authors don’t treat purity as a finish line—as though waiting for the wedding night is a mark of high-ranking holiness—but recognize that we, as Christians, are saved not by fulfilling our “purity vow” but by Christ and Christ alone. The finish line we’re aiming for is much further down the road, and the reward is much bigger. In fact, marriage is a purifying part of that race, not its end. Their perspective is humble and refreshing; their advice wonderfully practical.
Okay! We made it! Now, which books have you found helpful? Which books have I missed?
I love finding a book that seems impossible to describe. Reviewing it is a challenge—not a “cleaning the girls’ bedroom after we’ve all put it off for far too long” sort of challenge (I hate those; I did that yesterday), but the fun kind. The kind that requires one to have her wits about herself. Like baking elaborate cakes* or breaking boards with one’s bare hands, the challenge of reviewing impossible-to-peg books ends either in defeat or in a adrenaline- or sugar-fueled rush.
But best of all, finding one of these books means I’ve found an author who is either doing something new or doing something old in a new way. In the case of the Rwendigo Tales, author J.A. Myhre sets her magical-realism stories in Africa, where she and her husband serve as missionary doctors and raise their four children, and she infuses the whole thing with the gospel.
These are beautiful books, and they are unlike anything I’ve read. Myhre writes complex scenes; she deals with hard topics, like rebel attacks, kidnapping, disease outbreaks, and death. Her characters are called upon to make some brutally hard choices, and they do not always choose well. But grace and forgiveness abound—in believable, costly ways.
If I were, for simplicity’s sake, to try and compare these stories to other stories, I’d have to say that the Rwendigo tales are a bit like A Long Walk to Water, The Wingfeather Saga, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, andTreasures of the Snowcombined, with maybe a dash of Narnian animals thrown in. And as unlikely a combination as that sounds, it works. It works beautifully. The Rwendigo Tales now live on the Bookshelf of Honor, between The Chronicles of Narniaand The Wingfeather Saga. I can bestow no higher honor upon a book.
*A few months ago, my brother sent me a cookbook and challenged me to a baking duel. We are both devotees of The Great British Baking Show, so I accepted the oven mitt he slapped on the counter. We have since baked a dozen or more treats from that cookbook, texting back and forth as we do, or occasionally sharing a kitchen when he comes to visit.
This is a ridiculous amount of fun; I recommend it to any grown siblings who share a love of pastry, a quirky sense of humor, and bad British accents. Also, today is my birthday, so a footnote about cake seemed appropriate.
One of the difficulties of telling the Easter story to young readers is the fact that the main character, the Creator of the Universe, dies right in the middle. The story doesn’t end there (praise the Lord!), but that is still a dark moment. Authors might soften it by moving Jesus’ death and all the horror of it off stage, but no author can remove it entirely without crippling the story. They shouldn’t.
Agostino Traini (author of The Life of Martin Luther) handles this conundrum thoughtfully and begins Jesus is Risen three days after Jesus’ death. Rather than take readers through Jesus’ life or through the timeline of Holy Week, Traini tells the story of the Resurrection itself, from Easter morning to the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
These passages sometimes read, to me, like an epilogue at the end of the gospels (or like a preface to the book of Acts), so I love reading a book that focuses solely on Jesus resurrected. We get to see the disciples’ bewilderment and Jesus’ kindness as he answers their questions, lets them examine him, and cooks them breakfast.
Jesus is Risen would be a beautiful book to read on Easter morning. It is all joy and delight (with pop-ups!), perfect for sharing over Easter breakfast or, if you roll the way we do, early-morning cookies. (You know it’s a true feast day when it starts with cookies.)