Family Read-Alouds for 2019

The last several years my end-of-year book posts with micro-reviews of everything we’ve read for the year have grown longer and longer. I made it through 33 books in 2019, so this year I’m going to split them up by categories, starting with the books the kids and I read aloud together (or in a few cases, that I previewed for them to read on their own). 🙂

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. This was a favorite of mine as a child and I finally shared it with my kids this year. When the Herdmans—the “worst kids in the history of the world”—show up asking to participate in a church pageant, the story of the birth of Christ is about to become very touching and real for them and for those who come to see the play.

This story will have you laughing…and possibly crying. We started and finished this 80-page book in one sitting then watched the movie based on it.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. Speare’s Newberry award-winning children’s novel was published in 1961. It tells the tale of a young Jewish man named Daniel who seeks revenge on the hated Romans who have conquered his land. He and a band of other Jewish boys eagerly await the return of the promised Messiah, hoping He will rid them of their enemies.

When a Teacher from Galilee shows up and multitudes begin to follow Him Daniel is intrigued, but hesitant. Will this man wreck vengeance on their enemies? Or has He come for some other purpose? Is He the answer to their longings? Or just another distraction?

The Hedge of Thorns, Lamplighter Rare Collection Series. Years ago my husband read this short little book. He was very impressed and decided that one day he would have his children read it.

That day came—this year. I ordered a copy from Grace and Truth Books and shared this little gem with the kids. Originally written in 1611, its language has been updated to better convey its timeless truths to young people of modern day. It tells the story of a brother and his little sister who learn that God sometimes puts “thorns” in our path to protect us from greater spiritual dangers.

A brief ten chapters, it’s a great little read—I recommend!

Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson, selected by Helen Plotz. I picked this up at a used book store one day and decided to use it as a read-aloud with the kids. The beginning of the book contains a short biography of Stevenson’s life. This Scottish author of classic favorites such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped was quite a character himself!

The collection was quite varied; some of the featured poems were written for children, while some dealt with more mature themes like death and loss (there were even several I chose to skip when reading them to the kids, due to his sometimes irreverent way of expressing his opinions on religion).

Paddington’s Storybook. I have always loved A. A. Milne’s classic characters from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. But after reading Paddington I realized I was finding a place in my heart for the loveable, innocent, silly bear who turns every situation into a disaster—and yet manages to save it all in the end.

With the story set in London, my kids (and even husband) were going around making little exclamations like “Crikey!” after reading this book (English authors/books are so fun!).

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Another sequel in the Little House series, Laura tells the story of her family’s settlement in Minnesota, the good times and the challenges they faced as they started life again after they had to leave Kansas.

Wild Light by Erik Stensland. This is not a children’s book.  It’s not even fiction. I had bought this in anticipation of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during a family trip. We wanted to learn what we could about it. Stunning photography combined with scant but informative text about the history, wildlife, and original peoples of the Rocky Mountains make this a great coffee table book.

Sarah, Plain and Tall and Caleb’s Story by Patricia MacLachlan. I remember watching the movie series based on these children’s books years ago, but I’d never actually read the books.

In Sarah, Plain and Tall, a woman from Maine answers a mail-order bride advertisement to meet a widower and his two young children in Kansas. Caleb’s Story continues the tale, in which a stranger with a dark secret shows up on their farm when Caleb is a teenager (there’s actually another book between these two, but the library didn’t have it so I haven’t read it yet).

These are sweet stories about family, love, fortitude, and forgiveness. They’re easy reads for young ones, too—Sarah, Plain and Tall was just 58 pages, and Caleb’s Story 116.

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan. In search of more books for Brianna, I turned to Ambleside Online for suggestions. The Sarah, Plain and Tall series were on that list. When I found them at the library I also swiped several other titles by the same author off the shelf to preview.

In White Fur Flying, a dog-loving family becomes curious about their mysterious new neighbors. The little boy doesn’t speak, and the woman and her husband keep to themselves. It takes the special love of a dog to bring all of them out of their shell so hurts can heal.

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan. This may have been my favorite of the MacLachlan titles. A family goes to help their aunt with her farm during a flooding. The eldest child loves writing poetry and wishes she could sing. She has a secret she keeps to herself: her baby brother, Teddy, can sing beautifully. He sings to her every night, and they have a special bond. When Teddy suddenly disappears during the flood, family comes together and secrets are revealed.

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan. Family love figures prominently as a theme in MacLachlan’s stories and this book is no exception. A boy and his grandfather share a tight bond together. To surprise Billy, the grandfather, the family comes together and builds him a sod house, just like he used to have. As Billy’s health deteriorates, a dog comes into his life and stays with him, keeping him happy.

There was one thing in this book I had to discuss with Bri. In the story, the dog shows up and then after the grandfather’s death it disappears. It is implied/suggested at the end that the dog was an angel. I explained to Bri that the Bible does not say that angels take the form of animals. Might not be the biggest deal, but was something we talked about.

52 Spurgeon Stories for Children Book 1: How a Spider Saved a Man’s Life by Tony Hutter. We finished the first book in this 5-volume series and we’re hooked! These are great, simple devotional readings (two short pages each) that are very interesting and entertaining. He uses each illustration to teach a biblical truth.

We really enjoyed the story about the monster—when Spurgeon is walking home from preaching one night he sees a ghostly apparition.

What does he do?

He attacks it!

Usually Spurgeon wasn’t scared of anything, but this particular evening he really was frightened. He suddenly saw something awful, horrible, terrible! It was like a giant, a monster, with great outstretched arms! Whatever was it?

To find out, you’ll have to read the story for yourself… 😉

What books has your family enjoyed reading aloud together?

 

I’m Playing Chess With Life

I’ll form a plan and see it through,
Make my move on timely cue,
Take stock of assets, route my path,
Prepare to challenge my rival’s craft–
For I’m playing chess with life.

Marble statues, checkered floor,
I know I’ve seen these patterns before–
Black and white like day and night;
I won’t go down without a fight
When I’m playing chess with life.

Checkmate or a draw,
It’s not my opponent’s call,
Not when answers I can find,
Diving in the labyrinth of the mind
While I’m playing chess with life.

Inside out and upside down,
I scan it all from top to ground.
The answer’s here I have no doubt,
I’ll find it quick before I’m out–
‘Cause I’m playing chess with life.

The smart and clever can pull the lever,
Outwit opponent’s sly endeavor.
Just give me data–it’s all I need;
I’ll take control with facile speed–
For I’m playing chess with life.

It all makes sense, it all connects;
Facts and gen esoterically intersect.
Life’s an equation–just work out the figures;
With numbers and logic compute, configure–
I’m playing chess with life.

Clock is ticking, time is twirling,
This blitz has got my mind a’whirling.
Queen takes bishop, pawn, then knight,
All I need is shrewd insight–
While I’m playing chess with life.

Wait! What happened? I didn’t see
The move that swiftly cornered me.
Was sure I’d think my way through this;
“Mind over matter” can never miss–
Not when I’m playing chess with life.

I move my pawn, my desperado;
I can’t fail here in victory’s shadow!
With reasoned logic I’m on the beam;
The match is close now it would seem–
As I’m playing chess with life.

But facts and logic, plans and schemes
Can fall apart like shattered dreams.
I’ve learned a lesson here today:
I’m not the master of my way–
I thought I could play chess with life.

But I’m not the sovereign One who rules it,
Planned it, made it, orders, keeps it.
I must trust the wisdom of this Lord;
So on bended knee I yield my sword…
To the Good King of my life.

*****

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2)

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

Dreams

We all have our own plans, dreams and desires.  Especially when we are young.  But we learn very quickly that life never goes exactly according to plan, and we are forced to grapple with realities that do not match our imagined idealisms.  This poem pictures the struggle of accepting disappointment, and learning to gain an eternal perspective as we learn to seek first Christ’s kingdom, rather than our own.

Weaving dreams and making plans,

The ethereal unfolds

In the mind where these stand—

Jewels of desire to behold.

Rich I deem myself to be,

I write my story page by page,

Charmed by lucid fantasy,

And passion of youthful age.

There are no words, and yet,

I know it all, I am so sure;

Dreams of light I’ll not forget,

As though encased in jasper.

On and on the music plays,

The siren song of passion;

Into my future I, smiling, gaze

In such a careless fashion.

Everything is bright and fair,

There is no dreary way,

A frown, a fret, a care—

These things will not play,

Not in my song of songs,

Nor in my visions sweet.

No dissonance or raucous gongs

Will bring desire to defeat.

But then one day—it happens;

From my pleasant dreams I wake.

I sit, awestruck, as passions

A restless roar within me make.

For there they are, my perfect dreams—

Stardust scattered o’er the ground.

The shattered bits flicker and gleam

But to an empty nothingness are bound.

Stepping round the ice cold shards

I survey the dismal scene.

It all came down, this house of cards—

A useless, empty fling.

Then looking up from this cruel turn

To the steel-gray heavens above,

I feel my heart within me burn

And wish for the wings of a dove;

That I might fly above all this—

Beyond the darkness into light

And find a true and steadfast solace,

A rescue from my night.

Pegasus and Scorpius

In their proud courses run;

The glory of great Sirius

Only pales by moon and sun.

Wind and water, waves and sea,

Salty breezes, frozen steppes,

Mighty mountains, ancient trees

And tiny robins in their nests—

All the glorious grandeur here

Of nature flashes through my vision,

As before my eyes appear

Scenes of serenity Elypsian.

Had I the wisdom of the ancients,

The knowledge of Archimedes,

The eloquence of Antony,

Precision of Thucydides…

I could not, with greatest effort

Express the magnitude and beauty

Of the great creation concert

In perfect harmony of key.

Then I ponder, “Who am I?

In all this vast expanse?

Just cells and atoms, nuclei?

Result of random chance?

A speck of nothing on a ball

Flung out in time and space?

Forgotten when I take a fall?

Obscure member of our race?”

No. No I know better.

I have met Him whose name is Truth;

His gift to me is no dead letter—

His Word a comfort from my youth.

This King who made the earth and heaven,

Who rules o’er land and sea,

He stoops so low to reckon

With man His creation…with me.

Not a sparrow falls before Him

But He sees and knows it all.

From His kindness does life stem;

Nothing for His interest is too small.

I am loved and known by Him,

And His promise is to me,

A cup with mercy filled to brim

For all eternity.

Center of the universe I’m not—

That place belongs to Christ.

For mankind’s freedom He has fought,

His sacrifice sufficed.

His kingdom interests are supreme,

They take priority o’er all

Man’s infinitesimal dreams

And plans so trivially small.

He’s working out His purposes

Planned from eternity;

He works all for our good, He says.

In Him we find identity.

Sometimes when all our hopes are dashed

And disappointment all we know,

When plans are swiftly crashed,

And for dreams we get a “No”…

A broken heart may be God’s gift

To raise our eyes to better sights;

The imaginations of our hearts to lift

To much fairer heights.

To break us free from minuscule visions,

To see His bigger scheme;

A greater good to envision,

As we embrace redemptive theme.

As I find comfort in this certainty,

The gray of sky is lifted.

The rays of sun break through to me

And warm my heart uplifted.

Then gather I the stardust bits

Of dreams and plans all broken;

To give an offering that fits,

A sacrifice of love—a token…

To the Lord who lived and died for me,

The God of my eternity.