We have one window in our living room—one window highly sought after by the cats, who get their best bird views there—and it’s in that window sill that I heap the books I’m currently reading. This is a terrible place for books—they fall when you bump them or when you put the blinds down (or when you lunge at a bird), and they block a small portion of coveted daylight. But it’s close to the armchair where I like to read, and so that is where the books stay.
And with Lent upon us, a handful of the books in that sill are Easter-related, which made me think of other Easter-related books you might like, which made me think that a post about Easter reading for you, dear grown-up reading this blog, might be well received. This list is a short one, but I’m sure you have other books worthy of joining its ranks. I would love to hear about them in the comments.
So, here it is: a list of devotionals for Lent! The first two are the ones I’m reading this year, followed by ones I’ve read (and loved) in the past.
This devotional isn’t marketed for Lent and I didn’t plan to read it for Lent, but I did start reading it and it struck me that it is, in fact, perfectly Lent-worthy. Each reading describes some new aspect the gospel—the beauty of it, how it transforms our lives—in Fitzpatrick’s warm, grace-filled voice. Familiarity may tempt us to grow deaf to the melody of the gospel, but Fitzpatrick reminds us that the Lord plays endless variations upon it in our lives, and that that melody will never grow repetitive to those who pay attention. Comforts From the Cross highlights some of those variations, and the result is stunning.
The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions written by a plethora of authors whose names occasionally end with “Spurgeon,” “Edwards,” or “Bunyan.” You can see by the condition of the cover that this is an oft-frequented book at our house (or at least one that got knocked off my nightstand and lost under the bed for a while), and I’m reading it this Lent with Joe Thorn’s guide for praying through The Valley of Vision.
I’m two weeks in and I love it already: these little breaks for prayer reorient my heart every few hours, and I need that. (It’s true that I pray on the stairwell, often with one or two daughters in my lap, poking my face and asking me what I’m doing, but praying in the midst of that is perfect training for praying through the greater storms of life. Right?)
You thought there was just the one reason, didn’t you? Nope. In fifty short chapters, John Piper lays out fifty illuminating reasons why Jesus suffered and died for us. What this is, really, is fifty reasons to praise God for his redemption!
Note: Piper’s book The Passion of Christ is actually the same material repackaged under a new title. How do I know? Because I own them both and planned to review them each separately here—until I read the table of contents. But hey, now we know they’re both good books!
I read this book during Lent last year, and it was beautiful. Nancy Guthrie has curated a collection of twenty-five readings from authors that span church history. You’ll find Augustine here alongside J.I. Packer, John Calvin next to Francis Schaeffer. This isn’t technically a devotional but an anthology, one that’s easy to pick up and read any time of the day. (Guthrie’s Advent anthology Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is lovely, too.)
This is one of my favorite books, and again, it’s not one specifically written for Lent. But Timothy Keller’s study of Jesus’s life through the book of Mark places Jesus’ life within the greater framework of God’s redemptive story. This is not a difficult read, but it’s a deep one that will give you much to ponder.
Note: This book has been republished under the title Jesus the King, so don’t let that throw you off the scent. Even if you don’t read it during Lent, it’s excellent reading any time of the year.
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.)
Be warned: I am not a spontaneous person. Some people might look at our daily routine and weep over the repetition of it all, but I’m cool with that. I find that repetition comforting and conducive to productivity, but if you find it dull and horrifying, then—fair warning—this particular post might not be for you.
Moving on: We try to read aloud at set times every day. As the kids grow and increase in number, these times have shifted, but they tend to stay centered around meals and bedtimes, because that is when we’re consistently together and typically seated.
I advocate for establishing a habit of reading because I suspect that the odds of us all feeling like sitting down to read a chapter out of a chapter book at the same time are not good, and if it does happen, it probably won’t happen every day. And to keep kids interested in the overarching narrative of a chapter book, I think they need to hear a bit of the story every day.
So, because I like making lists and schedules and spread sheets, I’m sharing a sample day at Chez Rosenburg with you. This is not every day, but it is an average day. Enjoy!
Mitch and I wake at 5:00, make tea, and read our Bibles. He sometimes reads other things after that; I write. The girls play quietly or read or do what sounds like Riverdance upstairs from 6:30 until 7:00. And then the day officially begins.
I eat lunch with the older girls, then pile a mound of blueberries on Phoebe’s tray to keep her quiet and read a story aloud from the Jesus Storybook Bible. We used to read story bibles at bedtime, but as Lydia and Sarah have gotten older, we’ve advanced to more challenging evening readings. But I do like knowing that the little ones still get that big picture view of Scripture, so even if it means reading over Phoebe’s post-lunch screeching, I press on.
I consider it a success if we do this three times a week.
After lunch, I put Phoebe to bed (and read The Three Musketeers while I nurse her). Then Lydia, Sarah, and I tangle up comfortably on the couch and read a chapter from our current book (All-Of-A-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor). I escort Sarah upstairs for her quiet time. She often insists on bringing our read-aloud book up with her, so she can look at the pictures and improvise her own story lines (loudly) while she rests.
After Sarah is settled, I grab both my Bible and Lydia’s and join her in our room, where she does quiet time. We read a chapter together from my reading plan (currently the book of Matthew), underlining verses that stood out to us and talking (very minimally) about certain parts of the passage. This time quietly slipped into our schedule and has become one of the best parts of my day.
I leave her with stack of books and head out to the living room—or, on a nice day, the porch—where I read, nap, write, and/or plan art lessons until Phoebe wakes up and we kick off the afternoon.
While I put Phoebe to bed, Mitch takes Lydia and Sarah through our catechism reading (from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds), then reads to them from a chapter book (currently Half Magic, by Edward Eager). I grab my sketchbook once Phoebe’s down and join Sarah on the floor. We draw together—often scenes from our book, since these books tend to be well above her reading level—while Lydia curls up with Mitch on the couch.
With all three girls down, the house feels bigger and quieter—until someone comes downstairs because someone else won’t stop talking and is keeping her awake. But eventually, the chirping upstairs drops to a murmur and Mitch and I drift out to the comfy chairs on the front porch or flop limply onto the couch and watch The West Wing.
When we go to bed, we bring books. I read another chapter in my Bible and then a novel until I can’t hold my eyes open anymore. Mitch reads or plays a game on the iPad until he can’t hold his eyes open anymore.
That might look like a lot of reading, but these chapter-long chunks of time spent together have become the sweet points in our day, the marshmallows in our Lucky Charms, and we get in big trouble with the little people in our home when we skip them for any reason, however reasonable.
Occasionally, I add other things into our routine (like poetry at snack time), or we drop things for time to accommodate new babies or a change in school routines. But this is the way things look right now.
Last week, while sifting through the photos stored on my laptop, I found this:
That’s Lydia. The one that turns seven next week. I went through the usual shock and aww that accompanies a discovery like that, from “Really? She was ever that small?” to “Oh, the cheeks!”, and as I moved from one photo to the next it occurred to me that you might be interested in these photos, not because they cause you to meditate on the rapid passage of time (though they may affect you that way if you’ve seen Lydia lately), but because they are from the day we built ourselves a library and named Lydia head librarian.
I suppose this is a picture of one way that we have made books a part of the daily fabric of our family life: we play with them as well as read them, and share them with each other in inventive, quirky ways.
We had received a library kit as a gift not long before those photos were taken. It came with Ex Libris tags, a date stamp, and a small notebook, and for the longest time, I wasn’t sure what to do with it—we had more books than Ex Libris tags, and I have no desire to loan books out with due dates—but then we received a box of old books from a friend and those books, that kit, and a big box left over from a move combined to make a trifecta of creative play. We made library cards for the family, tucked tags in the front of each book, and Lydia’s shift began.
So, how do you play librarian? It has less to do with the way you build a cardboard desk and more to do with how you view books. We have always kept our books within our children’s reach, and while that costs us some book covers when we have a toddler in the house, that price is worth the sense of ownership our girls feel when they browse the bookshelves of our home. They learn to respect books, yes, but better yet, they learn to value them for what they contain—not just for how they look on the shelves.
I grew up with that sense of ownership: my dad gave us free access to his books (and I mean free: when given the opportunity to choose my own subject for a book report, I once went my dad’s bookshelves and selected Bimbos of the Death Sun. It’s a pity I can’t remember how my teacher graded that paper)and so I always knew where to go when I needed something new to read—and who to ask if I needed help finding it.
We want our kids to be comfortable with our family’s books and so we carefully curate a library that we can share with them. We want them to feel free to read and touch and explore and play with the books we collectively own, and I have visions of watching them, nearly grown, browse the shelves, looking for something good to read. I will probably hover conspicuously in the background and ask (the way I do to my husband whenever he glances toward a bookshelf), “Can I help you find something?”
That is how I play librarian.
But better still, I have visions of watching my daughters pass books to each other, asking, “Have you read this one yet? You’ll love it.” And that is why I gave our daughters a box of old books to stamp and share at whim.
Librarian turned out to be an enduring game and it’s one that Lydia asks to play every so often, in part because we keep those old books with the library kit (it’s still around, on a shelf in their bedroom) and I know she’d like to read them again, and in part because she just loves playing Librarian.
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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