Monday, September 30, 2013

Rainbow Magic Fairies

Rainbow Magic Fairies, Daisy Meadows

Today I suggest a series suitable to read aloud with your kids that some will disagree with, I know some parents hate these books. I have to admit I don’t love them. But I have come to realise they serve a good purpose.

The Rainbow Magic Fairies (books 1-7) are the fairies who give colour to Fairyland and the world. Evil Jack Frost has flung the fairies into the real world, thus depriving fairyland of any colour. Newly found friends, Kristy and Rachel are entrusted to find and rescue the fairies. The books follow a formulaic solution where each fairy is found and returned to Fairyland while the girls avoid or out-trick the goblins who are sent to stop them. After this initial series, many more follow including the Weather Fairies, the Pet-Keeper Fairies, the Party Fairies, etc. etc.

The reasons why many parents dislike these books are the same reasons many children (often girls, but also some boys) love them:
  • They are incredibly predictable and use a small range of vocabulary. Perfect for new and hesitant early readers.
  • There are hundreds of them. Seriously. We have (graciously given to us when no longer wanted by another family) 56, all of sets of 7. There are at least 200 out now. For children that want to keep reading them again and again, there is no shortage. We always have some out of the library.
  • Each only contains 6-7 chapters so even with a young one who is tired at night, a short chapter each night still finishes the book within a week.
My approach with these books has been to read the first two series – 14 books. Then after than if you want to keep reading them you have to do it yourself. This worked with our 8 year old a few years ago – we got her started and then she was off, devouring all of them. Now at 8, she is bored with them. She will read them when our 6 year old gets them from the library, but she has realised they all follow the same plot and they don’t really hold her attention any more.

However, our 6 year old is still in the grip of the world of Rainbow Fairies. Her reading has not progressed quite to her doing it solo (and we are up to book 13), so I may relent and read another series.

The advantage of this series is that if it hooks them, they have ample reading material for at least a year, until they are willing to try other things. Then I will switch to reading aloud other books to her and she can read the Magic Fairies on her own, to her heart’s content!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

You know how sometimes you make a mistake at the library, but it turn out to be a very good one?

I picked this up having seen it around a bit and had assumed it was fiction. In the mood for such reading, I grabbed it.

Upon realising it was actually a biography and a story of a man and his mother and their love of books I quickly needed to ‘shift gear’ but did so with joy. This is a lovely book. Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Anne, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As they prepared for a journey of ill-health, treatment and dying, he and his mother decided to form a book club. They were the only two members and although had spent their lives reading, they actively read the same books and talked about them together, often during her hospital treatments.

It is a powerful testimony about how rich a life full of books can be, and how books can impact us throughout all stages of our life. At the same time it is a moving story about the close relationship between a mother and son and from his point of view, how he faced her sickness and death. It shows an obvious love for his mother, but also his respect for her as a woman who cared for others, being intimately involved with refugees, fighting for their rights and as the founding director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, as well as being behind the funding and founding of libraries in Afghanistan.

She was a believer yet it is written from the perspective of her atheist son, and it is lovely to see his respect for her faith throughout, even though he did not share it:
[about church] Mom adored warmly greeting her fellow men and women and wishing them peace. She loved the Scripture and the sermons and the music. But more than any of that, she believed. She believed that Jesus Christ was her savior. She believed in the resurrection and life everlasting. These weren’t just words to her. Her religion gave her profound pleasure and comfort.” (p95)
She steered the book club towards some books where Christian faith played an important role, which included Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It was only later, when pointed out by Will’s brother that he realised “Mom had finally succeeded in getting me to talk about faith and religion and even Bible stories, something she’d been trying to do for years”. (p189)

The devotional Daily Strength for Daily Needs became her bedside companion and he believes it is from it that she read her last ever words “thy kingdom come”.

By no means is faith and religion a major part of the book. It is about books, cancer and families. In some ways, faith only has a passing mention in what was her extraordinary life. Yet I loved those parts.

This is a lovely book, highly recommended. And, as an added bonus, you finish it with a list of even more books you want to read! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Returning to some books to read aloud with your kids, this week we come to The Hobbit.

I remember reading this myself at age 10, so it seemed the time was right to read this to our son. He loved it. Tolkien creates a wonderful imaginary world of hobbits, goblins, orcs, elves and dragons, with a quest to reach an dwarf treasure. Like many books that were written over 50 years ago, some explanation is sometimes required and some sections are rather verbose. Yet, it is a world that invites your imagination to join in the fun. It is also a great primer before attempting Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I will not be offering to read Lord of the Rings aloud, it would take all year! But The Hobbit is a great way to whet the appetite and hopefully develop future Tolkien readers.

We loved the riddles between Bilbo and Gollum, the forest of spiders was suitably scary and the encounters with the dragon left you wondering whether they would get the treasure at all.

It is also fun to talk about how C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were friends and shared their writing with each other. It can help make an author from the past more real to today’s readers.

Another great classic to introduce to your children by reading it aloud.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just a Little Run Around the World

Just a Little Run Around the World, Rosie Swale Pope

I spotted this one at the library and being in the mood for a biography as well as some running encouragement, I picked it up.

It is an incredible story. At 52, Rosie Swale Pope set out to run around the world after losing her beloved husband to cancer in the hope to raise cancer support and early screening awareness as well as raising money for a Russian orphanage. What followed was a 33,000 kms trek taking 5 years over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth including Siberia, Alaska and Iceland. She did it solo, with no official support crew, but much loving care from various running companies, shoe manufacturers and extreme adventure equipment suppliers. She met bears, wolves and the occasional snake, battled frostbite and rib fractures, and faced the real risk to survival that persistent sub-zero temperatures (up to -60°C) brings.

It’s a fascinating read. She has a real love for the world, enjoying everything she sees and the people she meets along the way. Of all the hundreds of people she meets along the way and the majority of time she spent camped in the wild, she had only a handful of unpleasant experiences with people. Overwhelmingly, people gave her incredible support and protection despite sometimes their own need and poverty (eg. in Siberia).

This is not a woman who does things by half! She has also circumnavigated the world by boat with her first husband and young children, sailed the Atlantic solo, trekked through Chile on horseback and run numerous ultramarathons and long distances.

There is a hint throughout that she may have some faith, at least a theistic faith, recognising that “There are no atheists on an adventure or in battle, I reckon it’s time to say thank you to God”.

All in all, it’s a great read about people, the beauty of the earth and one woman’s determination to keep going.

And it makes it much harder to complain when I struggle to run 5km!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Heading Home

Heading Home, Naomi Reed

Naomi Reed was a missionary in Nepal and has written a number of books about that experience. Many readers I know, including myself, especially enjoyed her first book: My Seventh Monsoon, which is written about their life in Nepal and delves into how we should views the season of life that God brings. It was a very open and challenging read, as I discussed previously. Her second book, No Ordinary View, took you to their final years in Nepal and the things she learnt about God during that time.

Now, we come to the third in the series: Heading Home: My Search for Purpose in a Temporary World. Just like her other books it is a great story about their life, but more than that it is again a reflection on what God taught her in that time. It covers the years after they returned to Sydney from Nepal and faced the challenges of re-entry many missionaries face. The cultural changes and uncertainty, the materialism in the west, the commercialisation of Christmas, the feeling their neither Sydney nor Nepal was truly home and neither were they completely comfortable in either. It also charts how her books came to be written and published and how it affected her life and perspective.

I found this was a book you could read on two levels.

1. You could just read it as the next instalment into her life story. The challenges they faced, decisions to be made and what it was like to re-enter life in Australia. Just like her two previous books, it is highly personal and very open and so is a very helpful insight, especially for those of us who want to understand what life is like for returning overseas workers. It is also an insight into what it is like to have a book published.

2. However, it can also be read on a much more ‘devotional’ level. Each chapter addresses some sort of issue, such as trusting in God, where we find our value, where our home is, wanting to be liked, etc. At the end of each chapter is a prayer she has written that was her response to the situation. Each prayer is reasonably specific, but at the same time could be easily adapted to suit your own personal situation. As you know, I am a fan of written prayers, yet it wasn’t until I was a few chapters in that I realise what a gift these prayers are. They help us to stop, think about the point of the chapter in our own situation and then turn to God in responsive prayer, whether it be confession, thanksgiving, praise or request. For this reason I think I read this book too fast. I should go back and read it again, thinking about it responsively, not just learning more about her story.

There are very helpful reflections throughout this book, certain ones which I personally found very helpful. However, I’ll leave that for now and encourage you to read it yourself, for your own edification and encouragement.