When we celebrated my birthday last month, I opened one daughter’s gift and found a book tucked in it alongside her present. I couldn’t keep the book, she explained, but I had to read it. I’d love it, she said.
She was right.
From the way Marguerite Henry describes the sandy beaches of Assateague Island to the beauty and fury of the island’s wild horses, I loved everything about Misty of Chincoteague. Paul and Maureen Beebe live on Chincoteague Island, where they train and sell wild horses with their grandparents (I’d argue those grandparents are among some of the most lovable in children’s literature).
Every year, riders from Chincoteague venture to neighboring Assateague Island, where they round up some of the island’s wild horses and bring them back to Chincoteague to sell. This year, it’s finally Paul’s turn to join the “pony penning,” and he and Maureen have their hearts set on not just any horse, but the wild and elusive Phantom—a mare known for escaping the riders year after year.
That’s the premise of Misty of Chincoteague, and the series just gets better from there. Marguerite Henry fills each book with physical details so vivid you feel you’re running on the sand, in the sea spray with Paul and Maureen. Chinoteague and Assateague Islands are as much characters in the story as the Phantom, or Misty, or the Beebes themselves.
Though I loved the first two books, the third, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, was my favorite. In it, Chincoteague faces a devastating storm. Henry doesn’t skim over the sense of loss and sorrow a storm like that leaves in its wake, but the story itself is hopeful, and as we read it during the first few weeks of quarantine, my daughter and I took comfort in watching the Beebes emerge from such a severe trial unbroken and hopeful.
I will include one note about the last book, Misty’s Twilight. My daughter enjoyed this one, so I can’t fully toss it out, butthe fourth and final book in the series was written thirty years after the others. Most of it isn’t set on Chincoteague (a loss) and doesn’t have a Beebe in it anywhere (a greater loss). The protagonist isn’t a relatable child, but a grown woman whose horses feature more prominently in the story than her kids do.
But the greatest loss, I think, is that rather than setting us on the ground alongside the characters, where we experience things as they do, the narrator of this book hovers somewhere above the characters, so we’re only allowed to watch the characters act out the story without so much as a whiff of salt water for us. For what it’s worth, I think you could stop reading after the third book and not miss a thing.
But the first three books aren’t to be missed. They would make the best sort of summer reading, for you or your kids.
We are weeks into a stay-at-home order here in Washington—I don’t even know how many weeks. Six? A lot. We are a lot of weeks in.
And while there are days when we feel desperate for the friends, family, and church community living outside our walls, and days when the news weighs so heavily on me that it’s almost physically painful, there are also ways in which we’ve settled into new routines. We have celebrated everything from Easter to May the Fourth (and four family birthdays) since the order took effect, and it hasn’t been horrible. Some of us have taken up crochet; some have formed an alliance with watercolor pencils. We have gardened a lot. And we finally—after months of squeezing it in around ballet lessons and youth group and home group and evenings out—finished Farmer Boy.
Reading aloud has become one of the sweet spots in our days again. We did not forsake it when the girls started school again—oh, no. But we did not have time to read as much as we had read before, and that was one of the things I missed most. These weeks of enclosure have been softened by lots of little excursions into stories and the discussions that have sprung from them.
I thought it would be fun, then, to compile a short list of great family read-alouds for this particular season—books that will appeal to a wide variety of ages, that you’ll want to sit down to night after night, that will make your world feel a little bigger and broader right now.
I love gathering information into neat little piles. It sometimes surprises people to learn that as arty and right-brained as I am, I enjoy spreadsheets and lists and charts, but it’s true: I make sense of ideas by sorting and labeling them.
I have reached the point with this blog now where I have reviewed so many Christmas books over the years that I find they need their own pile. Today’s post is my attempt to do that: here, for the first time ever, is a complete list of all the Christmas books I’ve reviewed since starting this blog in 2013 (plus a few extras I haven’t reviewed yet!).
I hope this heap of book titles helps you find some new favorites. And, as always, if I’ve missed any of your favorites, please add them in the comments below!
Merry Christmas to you all, and happy Advent reading.
Last year, I struggled to find good Easter books to review for you and share with my family. My plight was so dire I resorted to making an “Easter” book list of books that aren’t exactly about Easter. But this year I am delighted to report that I have a handful of wonderful Easter books to share with you, many of them recent releases!
This gives me great hope for mankind.
Easter is one of Christianity’s biggest holidays. And though I know it involves betrayal, execution, and very few cute barnyard animals, it also tells the story of the key event in our faith—the one without which we have no hope of redemption at all (1 Corinthians 15:13-17). The fact that I could find only a handful of books that told that story faithfully and skillfully prompted at least one rant from me per year.
But now! Authors and publishers are stepping into that gap and bringing us creative, gospel-rich new Easter books, and that brings me a great deal of joy. I cannot wait to share them with you.
Before I do, though, I decided to gather up all the Easter titles I have previously reviewed and drop them right here in a pile. I added the new titles to the list as well so you can get a jump on reading and loving them.
I was raised a reader. Though I don’t have many clear memories of being read to, my dad opened his bookshelves to me and kept a steady supply of good books on the shelves in my room. My mom gave me books at almost every birthday. That I would pass this love of the written word on to my children seemed inevitable, but how I would do it and why, exactly, it was so important were harder for me to articulate when I first became a mother.
So today I thought I would share with you some of the titles that helped shape our family’s reading life, either by supplying us with specific titles or by encouraging me to try again when a read-aloud flopped or a child waded stiffly through a reading lesson. This is a broad list, and one that I hope gives you some inspiration as you build your family’s library. It’s not an exhaustive list, though, because I have a pile of books about books that I’ve yet to read, and it’s almost as long (or longer!) than this one. Perhaps this post is only the first in a series?
When it comes to books about books, this one must be the standard: it’s the first I read when I discovered the genre, it’s the first that crops up any time someone asks a blogger or interviewee where to find good books, and it continues to be a favorite since its publication in 1969. Gladys Hunt shares a beautiful vision for reading aloud as a family, some practical tips for how to do it well, and chapters upon chapters of wonderful recommendations divided by age and topic. This is one to own and dog-ear thoroughly.
As parents we are concerned about building whole people—people who are alive emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. The instruction to ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ has enormous dimensions. It is to teach a child to think, to influence character, to give high ideals, and to encourage integrity. It is to provide largeness of thought, creative thinking, imaginative wondering. How large are your goals for your children? . . . Young children, fresh with uncluttered minds, the world before them—to what treasures will you lead them? With what will you furnish their spirit?
In For the Children’s Sake, Macaulay distills the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason down into a slender, inspiring book. This is a great introduction to the work of Charlotte Mason and to homeschooling in general, but best of all, it introduces the concept of “living books.” (If you’re not familiar with that term but you enjoy reading this blog, then read this book posthaste!) Macauley also gives a beautiful portrait of the life of a family, as well as some really great parenting advice. I reread this one every few years and come away each time refreshed and reminded that it is a joy to explore this world (both in person and in story) with my children.
If we begin by choosing the tried and true, the best of literature, we will give the child a love of excellence and the really ‘good.’ As we go on reading he will find that there are distressing happenings, stories which need discussion. Literature can help children think about what life is like before they live it as adults.
Sarah Clarkson’s lovely book views childhood as a narrative arc with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement. She dedicates a chapter to each part of the story and peppers her book with book recommendations that suit each age and whose great and timeless stories can shape the hearts of young readers.
Stories challenge us to see our lives as the narrative in which we have the chance to live all the beauty and bravery we can imagine. What hero will I become? What great thing have I been created to accomplish? I believe those questions of heroism are the driving force behind a life of virtue, creativity, and purpose . . . Search deeply enough into the history of any real life hero and I am convinced that you will find a story, imagined or actual, on which that hero’s life is largely based, a narrative that opened their eyes to the part they were called to play in the story of the world.
Though this book was first published in 1985 as an examination of how television was transforming the way our culture learned, thought and reacted at the time, it has turned out to be eerily prophetic: what Postman had to say about the advent of TV could easily be said about the introduction of the internet, smart phones, and social media today. (To test this theory, I read a passage aloud to Mitch, leaving out the references to TV, and asked him what the author was talking about. “Twitter,” he said. Oh my.)
Postman’s contrast between the printed word and image-based learning made me want to read a lot more and cancel my Facebook account. This is a fascinating book, folks.
This book is an inquiry into and a lamentation about the most significant American cultural fact in the second half of the twentieth century: the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television.
Jamie Martin provides us a booklist with a slightly different vision: in Give Your Child the World, she takes us around the world, chapter by chapter, sharing a different global region at each stop. I hadn’t realized that our home library was a bit thin when it came to multi-cultural titles, but that quickly became apparent (and was quickly remedied) before I finished the first chapter of this book.
Martin’s enthusiasm for introducing her children to many cultures (or deepening their connection with their own) is contagious, but it’s also timely: listening to the news each morning, I’m reminded of the importance of teaching our children to value and respect everyone they meet, regardless of race or culture, and books are a beautiful way to do that. (Read the full review.)
Parents naturally get concerned when we look at the state of the globe today. And it’s true—your children and mine will one day inherit a world filled with unique issues and problems. But that is no accident. They have been chosen to lead their generation through its difficulties. Destined for this moment in history. With love, faith and compassion firmly rooted in their spirits thanks to the power of story, they’ll be able to see the people beyond the headlines . . . Our job is to fill their lives with that love, faith and compassion today—so they can rest their feet on a story-solid foundation in their tomorrows.
Jim Trelease was one of the first people to write a popular book on reading, a book that made its way into the hands of teachers and parents and brought out the importance of not just teaching kids to read, but of reading to them. This book is full of research (some of it pretty astonishing) on the benefits of reading to kids little and big, and it includes a treasury of read-aloud titles at the back of the book.
I found this book inspiring and helpful, but deliberated about whether or not to include it here. Trelease’s tone can, at times, put pressure squarely on the shoulders of parents and teachers in a way that might be discouraging, were we to forget that we do not raise our children without God’s grace. I am including it here, though, because The Read-Aloud Handbook is full of so many practical ideas for including stories in the daily life of families and classrooms, I just couldn’t pass it by. This one also includes a list of great read-alouds.
Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation—the literate and the illiterate.
When Alice Ozma was in the fourth grade, her father set out to read to her for 100 consecutive nights. But when they reached that goal, Alice and her dad decided to keep going. This sweet memoir about a reading streak that ended only when Alice left for college is charming, yes, but it’s also deep and, at times, quite sad. I loved Alice’s perspective and her way with language.
The greatest gift you can bestow on your children is your time and undivided attention. As the years advance, you may reflect upon your life and see that in some areas, you have regrets about what you took to be a priority. No one will ever say, no matter how good a parent he or she was, “I think I spent too much time with my children when they were young.”
Alice’s dad, from the foreword of The Reading Promise
In every episode of Read-Aloud Revival, Sarah MacKenzie inspires and motivates listeners to “build your family culture around books.” To that end, she introduces guest after amazing guest and fills our wishlists with rich and beautiful books. I have bought many books on her recommendation and can’t think of a single one that fell short of my expectations. Listening to the podcast is a sure way to revive my waning enthusiasm for reading as a family. (Read the full review.)
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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