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What is a Living Book?

“Living books” is a big buzzword in homeschooling these days. What does it mean? Really, living books are just good books, books that engage the reader and make the subject “come alive” in one’s imagination. But I realize that definition or re-statement rather begs the question.

The difficulty lies in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the reader. The books that make history or science or imagination come alive for me might not be the same books that do the same for you and your children. However, there are a few characteristics that at least indicate that a book might become a “living book” in your pantheon of well read and fondly remembered books:

1. Books that tell a story are to be preferred over books that recite facts. Some children sometimes can enjoy books that have little boxed facts grouped around the perimeter of the page or textbooks that just give the facts, m’am—for a while. But a dry recitation of tiny packets of information, even if it’s spiced up with pictures and fancy fonts, isn’t going to hold anyone’s attention though an entire book, or engage them to want to read more. We need and crave story. Tell me that bees live in hives with workers, drones and a queen bee, or tell me the story of a hive of bees with its queen that is about to become the victim of CCD (colony collapse disorder). Tell me the story of how, almost overnight, the worker bees disappear, and no one knows why it happens or what to do about it. In other words, tell me a bee story, true or fictionalized, and I will remember and be interested and engaged.

2. With the exception of picture books, which are a special case, books that emphasize printed narrative are to be preferred over books that devote most of their space to pictures and graphics. Unless the book is meant to introduce children to art and the rich world of artistic story, the books that you choose to read should be rich in narrative, painting pictures with words. And even picture books or wordless books should tell a story, and in in quality picture books the story and the illustrations work together to create a captivating narrative.

3. Living books are usually written by one author who has a passion for his subject or story, not by a committee. Books by committee, textbooks or compilations, are not useless, but they are usually ineffectual for the purpose of introducing a subject or arousing the reader’s passion and curiosity for learning more.

4. Books that appeal to the imagination and nourish passionate relationships with the subject of the book are to be preferred over books that simply provide pieces of information without giving readers a reason to desire that knowledge. Nowadays, one can turn to Wikipedia or other internet sources to get basic information about anything from kite-flying to welding. Sometimes, after a person has already developed an interest in a subject, knowledge intensive books are just what is wanted. However, “living books”, what Charlotte Mason called “ideas clothed upon with facts”, are what is needed to inspire interest, engage the imagination, and speak to the soul of a reader, giving him reason to remember the knowledge that can be acquired from books and from other sources.

5. Living books ask questions or create questions in the reader’s mind. Instead of telling a child that 3 x 4=12 (memorize it!), a living book might ask what would happen if we arranged twelve marbles into sets of four? Or sets of three? Or it might tell a story about how multiplication is used in the real world, or about the beauty of mathematics. Yes, there is a place for the memorization of multiplication tables and of other facts, but it is much easier to memorize or to get children to memorize when the facts that are being committed to memory are perceived as important and valuable.

6. Living books inspire rather than depress the mind and the spirit. Living books create a deep sense of hope in the reader, not by ignoring the sadness and and sin in the world, but but by showing that there is also beauty, hope and redemption to be found. Modern books tend to either end in near-despair (Hunger Games, other post-apocalyptic and dystopian young adult books) or deal in false hope (put on a happy face! follow your dream! you can succeed if you try!). If any book old or new is frightening your child (deeply, not deliciously) or leading them to despair, don’t read it, no matter how classic or beloved the book is.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8

Learn more about living books and about libraries that seek to preserve living books for all of us to enjoy:
Liz Cottrill and Emily Cottrill Kiser talk about their library, Living Books Library in Virginia.
Toward the Definition of a Living Book by Colleen Manning at Ambleside Online.
How a Library Was Born by Michelle Miller: Children’s Preservation Library in Michigan. (Old Schoolhouse Magazine)
How Can I Know if a Book Is Living? by Michelle Miller (Old Schoolhouse Magazine).
Our Good-Book-Collecting Journey by Michelle Miller (Old Schoolhouse Magazine)
Information about my living books library, Meriadoc Homeschool Library, in Houston, Texas.

Books about Books, with Book Lists

Maybe you’re not as addicted to book lists as I am. But I often get questions about what books are really good to read aloud or to give to my seven year old or nine year old. Or what should I give to my son who reads nothing except Redwall or Encyclopedia Brown or whatever the latest fad is? Or how can I help my voracious reader find more good books? Or what books do you suggest that are set during the Middle Ages? What about books for science-loving children?

Well, I almost always have some to suggest. However, when I run out of ideas, or when I want to dream about more books for my future reading or for my library, or when I want to remind myself of all the great books I’ve already enjoyed, these are the books I go to. Books about books for children and for young adults:

Picture Book Preschool by Sherry Early. I am putting my book first, not because it’s the best, but because it’s for the youngest of our children—and their parents, of course. The simple spiral-bound book is a preschool curriculum, suitable for ages three to five, based on picture books that I have been reading to my children for the past twenty years. Each week of Picture Book Preschool is built around a theme, and includes a suggested character trait to work on, a Bible verse, and at least seven suggested picture books to read to your children. Available in print from Cafe Press or on Amazon as an e-book.

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. First published in 1969, this guide to “the imaginative use of books in family life”, is in its fourth edition (2002). Ms. Hunt recommends Harry Potter and other “modern classics” as well as as older books by more established authors, writing about all of these varied authors and books from a Christian perspective. Even if you’re anti-Potter, you can still get a lot out of this well-loved book about the joys of reading together as a family. Gladys Hunt also has two other books, Honey for a Teen’s Heart and Honey for a Woman’s Heart, both with excellent reading recommendations.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Mr. Trelease’s book has been around for quite a while in several editions. (Latest seventh edition, 2013) It’s not written from a specifically Christian or homeschool perspective, but I didn’t find any of the ideas or the recommended books to be offensive or inappropriate for Christian readers. About half the book talks about why you should read aloud to your children, impediments to reading aloud, studies and thoughts about how reading aloud to children is foundational to their education, and the creation of a climate of reading the home and at school. The other half is an extensive list of suggested books: wordless books, predictable picture books, reference books, whimsical picture books, short novels, full-length novels, poetry, anthologies, and fairy and folk tales. I have the 2006-2007 edition in my library, and in it Mr. Trelease recommends lots of good books, some of which I have yet to experience and others of which I am quite fond myself.

Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. Sarah Clarkson is the daughter of Christian homeschooling inspiration, Sally Clarkson, and her book, subtitled Whole Books for the Wholehearted Family, is a treasury of wonderful reading suggestions. Sarah is a kindred spirit, including many of of my slightly lesser-known favorite authors such as Nancy White Carlstrom, Mem Fox (Australian, not as well known in the U.S.), Joan Aiken, Caroline Dale Snedeker, Brinton Turkle, Sydney Taylor, Barbara Willard, and many more. Ms. Clarkson’s newest book is Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books and Imagination with Your Children. Long title, great book with even more reading suggestions.

Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Chidren’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. (Revised edition: 2002) Susan Macaulay is another daughter of a well-known Christian thinker, Francis Schaeffer. Her book of book lists is based on Charlotte Mason’s ideas about the use of “living books” (another term for good, enriching books) in the education of children. The books are listed by grade level, and many of them are old classic books that would enrich any child’s, or adult’s, education.

Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom. The ungrammatical title notwithstanding (the author explains and defends her reasons for choosing to use “who” rather than “whom”), this guide to “authors of good books for children and young adults” is invaluable for its listing of wonderful authors and series from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, authors who wrote wonderful, imaginative books for children and who are in danger of being forgotten and not enjoyed by a new generation. Some of my favorites listed in this book, with information about the author and an exhaustive list of each one’s works, are: Patricia Beatty, L.M. Boston, Leon Garfield, Elizabeth Janet Gray, Cornela Miegs, Lois Lenski, F.N. Monjo, Leonard Wibberly, Glen Rounds, Katherine Shippen, John Tunis, and again, many, many more. Ms. Bloom’s book is ring-bound so that it lies flat, and there’s a sequel: Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2.

The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. This book is more for mature students and for adults who want some sort of guide to reading the “best” books that they never managed to read in high school or college. Ms. Bauer writes about training your mind to read thoughtfully and wrestling with books and keeping a reading journal, and then she recommends books for “jumping into the Great Conversation” in the areas of classic novels, autobiography and memoir, history and politics, drama and poetry. The book is somewhat intimidating to some folks, but I just read it as another book of old friends and new book suggestions, not as a definitive list of the books one must read in order be properly educated.

You should know that these books were all published at least ten years ago. Many of the books in them are out of print, and many public libraries have weeded these older books out of their collections in spite of their quality and excellence. Librarians must keep up with the new and the popular because of public demand, but when they do so, these older books are endangered. That’s why some homeschoolers and others I know are making it their work to preserve, publicize, and in some cases loan to others, these endangered titles.

If you have any of the books on this list or any of the out of print and hard to find books that are listed in these guides that you would like to donate to my library, please feel free to contact me.

The Abolition of Man, ch. 1, Men Without Chests

C.S> Lewis begins this essay with his thoughts about a textbook that he has received for review and that he thinks is pernicious in its influence and teaching. He calls the textboook’s authors by the pseudonyms Gaius and Titius.

“The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”

Yes, indeed, schoolboys and girls are unaware of the subtext and foundational assumptions of their textbooks and their literature assignments—even when I try to make them aware. I find it harder to put assumptions into children’s minds, however, than Lewis assumes it is. Most of the books I use, at the younger levels at least, have “good assumptions”; however, I have found that the students are not thinking about the assignments at all unless I deliberately provoke them to thought, again and again. They are not taking in the assumptions in school assignments, good or bad.

Now the assumptions and implicit messages in song lyrics and television shows and movies are a very different matter. The students I know share many of the assumptions that Hollywood and the music industry are selling:

Sex is the most important part of a romantic relationship. No one waits until after the wedding to have a sexual relationship.

You should always follow your dreams, and ignore or demolish anyone or anything that prevents you from doing what you really want to do.

Marriage is confining and generally unhappy.

The universe exists to make me happy.

My conclusion is that bad assumptions that appeal to our sin nature are easier to sell and implant than good assumptions that make us into people of good impulses and decisions.

Read Aloud Revival

I haven’t managed to post much here on Semicolon this week for two reasons:

1) I’m reading a really long and somewhat discouraging biography of Florence Harding, and I don’t really know what I’m going to say about it. The book itself and the writing are fine; it’s the people and events that the book chronicles that are discouraging and sad. I can’t believe that anyone could be as sexually promiscuous and dishonorable as President Harding and still live with himself, much less become president of the United States. No wonder the twenties were roaring.

2) On a more encouraging note, I have been gorging myself on a podcast, listening in the car and at home every available moment. I don’t do audio-books, and I haven’t done podcasts. I’m not an auditory learner, and I find that with audiobooks, my attention tends to wander off into some foreign pasture when I’m supposed to be grazing on a good book. But this podcast! Others have tried to tell me about it; Amy at Hope Is the Word has mentioned it several times, but I probably saw the word “podcast” and skimmed over with glazed eyes.

Anyway, the podcast is Read Aloud Revival, produced by Sarah MacKenzie at Amongst Lovely Things. I found it on iTunes and began by listening to the interview with Sarah Clarkson, On Living a Story-formed Life, because Ms. Clarkson’s website, Storyformed.com, is where I actually tuned in and the podcast registered in my brain. So, Sarah’s interview with Sarah was lovely, and quotable, and I went around thinking about living a story formed life and and creating a family culture of books and stories.

Then, I saw that Sarah MacKenzie had interviewed one of my favorite people, Melissa Wiley of Here in the Bonny Glen, so I had to listen to that episode of the podcast. Melissa made me remember all about how I love her philosophy of tidal homeschooling and how I want to just slow don and read more, but also more slowly, and quit worrying about getting all the subjects covered. And I thought about how I really want to meet Melissa someday (and now both Sarahs, too).

If you give a mouse a cookie . . . I just had to next go back and start at the beginning of Read Aloud Revival podcast and listen to every episode. So far there are eighteen episodes, and I’ve listened to numbers one through eight, plus number seventeen, the Sarah Clarkson interview. Thus far, I’ve been inspired to read aloud and read aloud some more by Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, even though my youngest child is thirteen now and could read everything for herself, although she doesn’t want to read anything by herself (another story). And I’ve been drawn to a whole list of audiobooks and storytelling recordings that I would love to beg, borrow, steal or buy if absolutely necessary, not for me, but for my youngest and for my library. And I’m determined to make more time for Shakespeare in our days. And I want to have more in-depth and interesting conversations with my children about the books we’re reading.

Oh, flibbertigibbet, you don’t want to listen to me talking about this podcast any longer; go thou, and listen for yourself. I am inspired and replete with homeschooling read aloud goodness. Thank you, Ms. MacKenzie and Read Aloud Revival for the shot in the arm that my homeschool year needed.

Finally, after I listen to the other ten or so episodes of Read Aloud Revival, does anyone have any other podcast suggestions for me? They don’t have to be about reading or homeschooling, just any podcasts that I can subscribe to and listen to in the car that you think are insightful and engaging.

I think I’ll start a list to refer back to.

Sarah MacKenzie has her own list of podcasts and other listening stuff:

Quiddity: CIRCE Institute podcast.

Homeschooling IRL with Kendra Fletcher.

Links From My Blog Friends

Melissa Wiley: “Blog first. Blog freehand. Write it down today, while the thought is fresh.” I grok this post from Here in the Bonny Glen.

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Cara at Little Did She Know:

“I would like to meet and marry someone lovely, but truly, I am seeking a companion with which to do life, someone to whom I can recount everything I ate during my day, my excitement over an email, and my concerns about road construction. I am looking for someone who will contact me first when you can turn on your phone after the airplane lands.”

So beautiful and vulnerable. I’m praying for Cara and for all those best friends who haven’t found each other yet.

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100 Actual Titles of Real Eighteenth Century Novels. I found this list by way of Maureen at By Singing Light. Thanks, Maureen.
Examples:
The Affecting History Of Two Young Gentlewomen, Who Were Ruined By Their Excessive Attachment To The Amusements Of The Town. To Which Are Added, Many Practical Notes, By Dr. Typo.
Socrates Out of His Senses.
The Three Perils of Man. Or, War, Women, and Witchcraft.
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Rod Dreher writes about what he’s been learning lately from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

“All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.”

Mr. Dreher is working on a book titled How Dante Can Save Your Life.

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Melody at Life in the Mommy Lane has a post about homeschooling, Why Homeschool?. I think she has a great perspective on the education of Christian children.

“I’m not too concerned with whether my son can read or multiply or if he ever goes to college; I am concerned with his soul and his character. Don’t worry, I do want him to learn to read, but it’s a secondary priority to the desire that he passionately and humbly pursue his Creator, that he lead courageously with mercy, defending what is true and just.”

Everybody Paints by Susan Goldman Rubin

Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin.

This family biography grabbed me enough that I had to go look up some of the paintings and illustrations that were mentioned, even though many of them are included in the text.

N.C. Wyeth, the patriarch of the family, was known mostly for his illustrations for children’s and adult classic books, such as Treasure Island and The Boy’s King Arthur. He always wanted to be a fine artist rather than “just an illustrator” but as he grew older and his work received many accolades, he began to see that his youthful aspirations had been achieved after all.

Andrew Wyeth, the son, was the youngest of five children in the Wyeth family, all of whom painted and drew and dabbled in artistic endeavors to some extent. Henriette, the oldest, became a well-known painter of portraits and still lifes. Carolyn, the second child, was also a painter and taught art classes in her father’s studio. Nat, the third child, was a successful inventor. Ann was a musician and a composer. Andrew “considered himself the least gifted. However, he was the most dedicated.” Andrew Wyeth was homeschooled because of his bad health, and his father taught him both art and self-discipline. Andrew Wyeth’s paintings became some of the best-known artworks of the twentieth century, including the one below called Christina’s World.

Jamie Wyeth, the grandson, is the younger of two sons of Andrew. His art tends toward portraiture, jack-o-lanterns, domestic animals, and tree roots as subjects, more modern but still in the photo-realistic style of his father and grandfather.

I found Ms. Rubin’s book informative and readable. Young people who are interested in artists and their family life and working habits will find a lot to think about in Everybody Paints! Homeschoolers, too, will find the book and the Wyeth family of interest since their aversion to formal education and their near-obsession with the artistic life is compatible with the “unschooling” philosophy of some homeschool families.

30 Bits of Wisdom and Advice from Mostly Cybils Sources

Last year when I was reading Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Cybils, I made a collection of wise sayings and proverbs from the books I was reading so that you could choose your own “philosophy”, a la Charlie Brown’s sister Sally, for the new year. This year I made another from the Cybils nominees I read.

1. “Do not expect to find all your answers in the first asking.” ~The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck.

2. “Economy is a poor man’s revenue, and extravagance a rich man’s ruin.” ~Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl.

3. “Be the cockroach.” ~A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer. (Meaning: survive like a cockroach.)

4. “There are no coincidences. Just miracles by the boatload.” ~Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.

5. “Sometimes it’s best not to see your whole path laid out before you. Let life surprise you.” ~Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.

6. “The reward for working hard is getting to do more work. And better work.” ~Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker.

7. “These days may not be the best days of your life, but like it or not, these days will define you. Live them.” Katherine Longshore in Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves.

8. “One failure often sparks another success.” ~The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore by Kate Maddison.

9. “Always be truthful to yourself and your beliefs.” ~The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore by Kate Maddison.

10. “Leading a very public life can be injurious to your health.” ~Bad Girls by Heidi E.Y. Stemple and Jane Yolen.

11. “Just because you make it up doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” Bad Girls by Heidi E.Y. Stemple and Jane Yolen.

12. “It’s wrong to believe a thing till your mind has examined it.” ~Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison.

13. “Life always goes on . . . even in Troy.” ~Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison.

14. “Unexpected things could even be good.” ~Listening for Lucca bySuzanne LaFleur.

15. “Words matter . . . What we say about ourselves matter[s]. The words we use to represent ourselves matter. We have only so many ways we can express ourselves, and words are the most powerful.” ~Lena Roy in the essay “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

16. “A single story can change many lives.” Craig Kielburger in the essay of the same name, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

17. “When no one knows you’re there, they say all kinds of things, and you can learn from what they say.” ~Maile Meloy in the essay “Invisibility”, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

18. “Sometimes you have to dig deep.” ~Alane Ferguson in the essay “Death Is Only a Horizon”, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

19. “It’s always worth making new friends in new places.” ~Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg in the essay “Death by Host Family”, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

20. “We need our imaginations. There’s a part of us that hungers to be creative.” ~Joshua Mohr in the essay “Creative Boot Camp”, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

21. “Sometimes . . . [you] just gotta break the rules. And I mean BRAKE the rules. No, I mean BRAKE. I put my foot on the brakes. NO MORE RULES.” ~Ellen Sussman in the essay “Break the Rules”, Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

22. “Words are free and plentiful. They’re for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving. They are treasures of inestimable value.” ~Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

23. “Hold fast to dreams. You can do this. Not as hard as it seems.” ~Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

24. “Secrets can be lovely. They give you a chance to surprise people you love.” ~Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

25. “Always go to the funeral.” Cindy Rollins at Ordo Amoris.

26. “Waste nothing. Be always employed in something useful. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” ~Benjamin Franklin in Becoming Ben Franklin by Russell Freedman. (originally from Franklin’s Autobiography)

27. “She who hates, hates herself.” ~South African proverb from A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk.

28. “Children are the reward of life.” ~Congolese proverb from A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk.

29. “[E]veryone has some evil inside them, and the first step to loving anyone is to recognize the same evil in ourselves, so we’re able to forgive them.” Allegiant by Veronica Roth.

30. “Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage. . . . But, we can be mended. We mend each other.” Allegiant by Veronica Roth.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller, sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, Texas.

Ms. Keller’s thesis can be summarized in two sentences: To make children into lifelong readers, surround them with books and let them read whatever they want to read. Treat them like readers, and they will become readers.

I’ve been following this plan in our homeschool for about twenty-five years now, with mixed results. Most of my eight children are readers. Several of them are voracious readers, the kind I am and the sort Ms. Miller describes herself as:

“I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go, don’t-look-at-my-Amazon-bill reader. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person whom family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. (It was Johanna Spyri.)”

However, even with all this reading environment and encouragement and, yes, pressure, I have one child who does not see herself as a reader (she reads, just says she hates to read) and another who has quit reading for pleasure for the last two or three years at least. Unfortunately, Ms. Miller’s book gave me very few ideas about how to re-awaken the love of reading in my son or how to instill a love for reading in my daughter. I already let them read pretty much anything they want to read. I already suggest books for them, buy books for them, borrow books for them, encourage them to read about subjects they love, and show them daily how much reading means to me by reading as much as I can, anywhere I can. Our house is full of good books.

The Book Whisperer is a very public school, teacher-ish, kind of book, but it is a good resource for teachers of reading in school settings. It did spark a couple of ideas in this homeschool mom mind of mine: I could have a time (half an hour? an hour?) each day when we participate in ye olde public school D.E.A.R (Drop Everything and READ). I could require them to read 40 books for the school year (a requirement Ms. Miller has for her sixth graders) and see what happens. I could keep giving my daughter piles of books that I think she might like until she finds one she loves. It hasn’t worked yet, but it might still click one day.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

Betsy-bee loves Blue Balliet’s books–Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game— which incorporate art education and mystery and adventure to make up a lovely, colorful mixture of a read. She might like this one, too, even though it’s different. It’s set in Chicago, but it’s not a Chicago of art museums and art thieves. Instead Hold Fast is about a family of four, Dashel and Summer, the parents, and Early and her little brother, Jubie (short for Jubilation). Dash works as library page at the Harold Washington Public Library, and he’s “a man who love[s] language almost as much as color or taste or air.”

“Words are everywhere and for everyone. They’re for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving. They are treasures of inestimable value. . . . Words are free and plentiful!”

51tNF5vxWjL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The above quote is an example of the way Early’s father, Dash, talks about words and books and learning and, well, life. He’s a whimsical, poetic, word-lover sort of guy, and unfortunately he gets mixed up with a rough crowd by mistake. Early and Jubie and Sum end up separated from Dash and living in a homeless shelter. Everyone, including the police, thinks Dash has run away because he might be involved in criminal activity. But Early knows her father is a man of honor and responsibility. Dash will come back to the family, and they will prove his innocence and fulfill their family dream of having a real house someday.

The book is confusing at first. But if a reader can get past the first couple of chapters, this one is a keeper. Early has a voice that shines, or resonates, or whatever the right word is. And she’s quite as concerned about words and how to use them and treasure them as her father is. I doubt there are many families like Dashsumearlyjubie (yes, that’s what Early calls her family in the book), but I doubt there are many families quite like mine either. Or yours. Happy families are not all the same, no matter what Mr. Tolstoy said, and unhappy families are only happy families that have given up in some way or another. Quirky, unique, eccentric, whatever you want to call us, our families have personalities, too. And I really enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Dashsumearlyjubie and the plot of how they were pulled apart and eventually knit back together through faith and perseverance.

Eliminate the B-Word

What do you do when the kids start singing that good old summer song, “Mom, there’s nothing to do! I’m bored!”

A. Get out the math books.

B. Threaten to find them something to do, and it is a threat. Scrubbing baseboards is not a desirable or treasured substitute for boredom among my urchins.

C. 100 More Things to Do When You’re Bored: Summer Edition.

D. Wash their mouths out with soap–no b-word around here.

Take your pick, but summertime boredom can be a useful educational tool. I told one bored urchin that she should do something for someone else when she’s feeling bored, but this idea didn’t go over too well. So I tried to make this list to be fun and reflect that idea. Maybe some concrete examples will help. I do believe my children spend way too much time worrying about how to entertain themselves, and that goal invites boredom. Joy really is found in service, but it’s a hard lesson to learn. (It’s also a hard lesson for me to model sometimes since I tend to be as self-centered and entertainment-seeking as the next person.)

Ah, well, back to the lazy, lovely days of summer!