A hefty novel for high schoolers or adults
The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead is a looooong novel that was recommended to me years ago. I finally got around to it this summer and very much enjoyed it! It’s a little gory in parts (ancient Celtic battles), and there is some Druidic-style mysticism but it’s a great story that uses Truth to spin a fictional tale. Lovers of fantasy novels will most likely enjoy this first book in a trilogy. The author also has a series of books called The Pendragon Cycle which focuses on the life and times of King Arthur: possibly a great choice for our history time period this year.
A defense for moms and dads to prioritize reading
Lit! by Tony Reinke may give you a reason to put a few books of your own choosing on your next library request list. I was most helped by this book’s suggestion to write specific reading purposes. When I pick up a book, I should know why I’m choosing it. Is it to help my faith journey? To advance my own education? To connect with others? To enjoy a beautiful story? There are plenty of good reasons to read; Tony Reinke will give you a few and help you discern the most important reasons you pick up books. Reinke also explores why reading should matter to Christians, why the Word of God (and Christ the Word) should prompt us to value the slow work of reading a real book, rather than the rush work of skimming fleeting content on our phones or computers. I was greatly humbled and inspired by this book.
A favorite autumnal picture book
Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland plays on nouns and verbs with brief sentences, and longer descriptions if you choose to read them, on each page that introduce autumn. The illustrations are gorgeous photos of paper cut-outs. Highly recommend (and I promise I’ll return my library copy soon so you can check it out!).
A history-linked chapter book for elementary and middle school
A Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli was a very fun read-aloud for Henry (age 6) and me this fall. If you are looking for a somewhat short castle-time-period novel, look no further! While telling the story of a boy whose life has veered of its planned course as a result of the Plague, A Door in the Wall reminds us that life is full of obstacles (walls) in which are hidden unexpected ways to something new (doors).
A sampling of middle-grade fiction
This month I sampled a few popular YA novels with the goal of tasting what our culture is producing for young minds. I had mixed feelings, as you’ll see.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan tells the story of a wealthy Mexican teenager whose circumstances force her to escape across the border into California. I didn’t care for the “Rising” part of the story, in which Esperanza actually senses a mythical “floating” sensation. But the “rising” she experiences – getting over her pride, learning that the world will change and that growth is good – is a healthy lesson for the target age range.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown was a disappointment. The story (about a robot who is accidently left alone on an island of wild animals) had the potential to address the difference between human life and manmade “life,” but that distinction was sidestepped. Instead, the story gave the robot a heroic role (even a wise and sacrificial role) that assumed her personhood. Sure, fiction can always assign human traits to non-human characters, but I just didn’t love this story’s approach.
Divergent by Veronica Roth describes a world in which people are sorted by their vices – or by their virtues, depending on how you look at it. I cannot recommend this book for a variety of reasons, but if your teen has read it, I encourage you to discuss the central theme of separating society into Factions based on character. Would such a world be a better place? Or worse?
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt is a sweet ode to life. If you could stop aging right now, would you? What about when you were 17? Or when you’re 60? Is life better if it’s longer, or is part of life’s beauty the fact that it ends? These are good questions and this book addresses them tenderly. (I have not seen the movie so I have no opinion there.)
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck follows a Chicago teenager as she is transplanted to live with her small-town Grandma during the latter years of the Depression. The story reminds us that people are not all they appear to be, that softness can be hidden under a tough exterior. It’s episodic, a series of vignettes linked together, rather than a story circling around a central plot line. But I realized that what I disliked about the book was the lack of any strong male characters. It’s a subtle girl-power book and while it’s important to teach our girls to be strong, it’s most beneficial to set that strength in the context of men who are also strong.