Wednesday, July 30, 2014

His Dark Materials Review: Summer Reading Series

After I finished The Golden Compass I published that I liked Philip Pullman book and couldn't wait to continue reading. It didn't take me long into the second book to realize that I was wrong about Pullman. Though he understands the beautiful triad of fantasy fiction (1. There is more to life than what you see. 2. There is a great battle or journey. 3. We have a big part to play in that battle or journey.) he does not understand that mixing up good and evil ultimately cheapens and destroys the beauty of his books. I was very disturbed by the fact that this writer with the true gift to create beauty used that gift to push an ugly anti-God agenda.
In The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass Pullman sets forth a series of worlds where there are legions of fallen angels who care for men. The god figure is an angel who decided to fool the worlds into thinking that he had created them. He is now ancient and is all too glad to die when the heroin opens his glass bed. The ultimate hero of the books sacrifices the heroin's best friend in order to get to a world where he will build an army to fight the non-fallen angels and establish the "Republic of Heaven." A good part of the books confirms that the heroin greatly mourns her dead friend: she goes to the land of the dead to find him and apologize for leading him to danger and subsequently opens a way for all the dead souls to come into a world where they can become one with the trees and the wind. But the heroin never questions the right of the hero to sacrifice her friend.
It all sounds dark and depressing, does it not? But Pullman is an excellent writer, and you long for the children of the book to find their way to goodness and happiness. In the end, their goodness and happiness is in finding love for each other (not a bad theme) and then separating to tell their own worlds about the fact that the way out of the land of the dead is to have a good story of one's life to tell the guardians of that land. See what I mean? Good and evil have been confused and at the journey's end, the only benefit of all the fight and all the sacrifice is to have a good story to tell.
So my recommendation is to stay away from the His Dark Materials series. There are so many better books for your pre-teens to read or for you to read with your children. Because the Pullman series disturbed me so much, I have been revisiting some of my fantasy favorites. Here are a few:
1. Anything by C.S. Lewis: The Narnia series, The Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces 2. All the E. Nesbit books like the Psammead SeriesFive Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet
3. The Artemis Fowl Books

4. Anything by Robin McKinley
5. The Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini
6. OF COURSE The Lord of the Rings and anything else by Tolkien
7. Books by Avi like The Book Without Words and Midnight Magic
8. Inkspell and the ensuing series from Cornelia Funke
9. All of Madeline L'Engle's books
10. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Map: Summer Reading Series

The Map by David Murrow is an interesting mix of fact and fiction. I have nothing but respect for an author who realizes that important truths can be well conveyed through fiction. What if Madeline L’Engle had just written a nonfiction book about the timelessness of God and His Word? What if Tolkien had written a nonfiction book about how the righteous remnant will conquer the evil horde? There would be huge gap not only in literature but in our understanding of these subjects.
I definitely admire Murrow for whetting a reader’s appetite for truth by couching it in a fast paced adventure novel. The first part of the book is the novel, and it’s worth a read for sure. The second part of the book delves into the truth of “The Map” which is actually an outline of Christ’s work on earth as told by Matthew—a map to manhood. (If you end up skimming the second half, be sure to read Epilogue which adds to the novel part of the book!)
I have to admit I skimmed the how-to-be-a-man part. (Insert wry smile here.) But I did read enough to know that I agree with the author’s overall premise, though I have some doctrinal differences with him. The overall premise is that “feminine qualities” (which is just a broad term that Murrow uses to mean things like submission, communication, family, nurturing, and harmony) are a part of a man’s spiritual journey, but only a part. The other part is to emulate Christ’s strength—His ability to get in a Pharisee’s face when the moment called for it or overturn tables when His anger was righteous. These strong spiritual men, Murrow argues, are lacking from the Christian church.
Murrow seems to be pointing to that idea that I have spoken of several times on this blog—that we modern Christians do everything we can to make Christianity seem safe, harmless, and harmonious. I have argued that this leads to disinterested and rebellious teenagers. Murrow argues that it leads to disinterested and feminized Christian men. We must as a culture admit that sacrifice, discomfort, and all-out war on sin are a definite part of the true Christian life. We must teach that surrender and love and relationships are a necessary part of the Christian’s spiritual journey, but they are not the end! They are the fuel that leads us and spurs us on to building the Kingdom with all the muscle that the Holy Spirit can supply.
So yes, I recommend it--mostly for the men and husbands out there. Read it through the lens of Scripture, read it with an open heart, and then go and use the strength of the Holy Spirit in your own lives!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Abridge or Unabridge? Summer Reading Series

When I was teaching middle school in the public school system, I got irritated at the very mention of "abridged." I was frustrated that anyone would cut to pieces wonderful novels that were friends to whom I wanted to introduce my students.
Recently I've had a change of heart. My daughter has been reading her way through this stack of abridged novels and loving every word. She is meeting my friends early and in a way that she can understand, and I'm very thankful! We read through most of them together in the past few years, but the excitement and pride in her face when she finishes another novel--a Little Women or an Anne of Green Gables--is definitely worth what these inexpensive abridged novels cost. (This particular set were from Hobby Lobby--$2 a piece.) I think it was my mom who said that abridged novels are a good thing when they introduce one to the book at an early age, so that when my daughter picks up the unabridged Little Women or Anne of Green Gables a little bit later in life, she'll see them as old and cherished friends.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Faerie Gold: Summer Reading Series

Faerie Gold

Recently the kids and I checked out this book from our church library. What a wonderful find! It is a collection of stories about fairies from names like George MacDonald, Louisa May Alcott, Christina Rosetti, E. Nesbit, and Hans Christian Anderson. There are over 20 stories!
One of the best parts of this book is the afterward "A Message to Parents and Teachers." It explains the rationale of the need for all things "faerie" for children. Fairy stories teach us that "We make...because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker." (J.R.R. Tolkien). Fairy stories give us a vision of what it's like to transcend time and space; they stretch our imaginations up toward heaven! They awaken higher ideals and show us how the little people can triumph if they persevere with patience. "A child may be too young for fairy tales," say the editors of this book, "but he can never be too old for them."
This is one of my very own soapboxes, so you can imagine how overjoyed I was to see an entire afterward devoted to it. Fiction is definitely a very spiritual thing in my book (pardon the pun : ). I love the ideas that come from Waking the Dead by John Eldredge. 1. Fiction shows us that there is more to life than what we see; 2. Fiction show us that there is a great battle or journey taking place; and 3. Fiction shows us that we have a valuable part to play in this battle or journey.
The books that I have read (devoured, really) have shaped my life. Would I have ever started journaling if it had not been for Emily of New Moon (L.M. Montgomery)? Would I have ever wanted to be a teacher had it not been for Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) and Christie (Catherine Marshall)? Where would I get the motivation to fight the evils of fatigue and despair in parenting if not for books likeThe Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)? How would I even understand the tiniest bit of the timelessness of God without A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L'Engle)?
I could go on, but you get the picture, I am sure! I love fiction, and like the editors of Faerie Gold I believe that fiction is very important part of raising children. So read it, devour it, and live it! And if you're in my neighborhood, check this book out from our church's library!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Deceptively Delicious: Summer Reading Series

Several weeks ago I blogged arecipe for pancakes that our family enjoys often. I suggested adding 1/4 cup cooked and blended beets to the pancakes for added nutrition (that you really can't taste!). I wish I could claim this idea as my own, but it's not. It came from a great book by Jessica Seinfeld calledDeceptively Delicious.
In this book, the famous Seinfeld's wife explains how to cook different vegetables in order to add them to all different kinds of food. She gives lots of great recipes in her book (including brownies with spinach and carrots) but the basic principle can be used with anything--from my home-made pancakes to a box mix of macaroni and cheese. Cook the vegetable, blend it up, and add a little bit of it to whatever you're cooking. I used this method to create my own baby food, and while my little one was eating blended food, the other members of my family (sometimes unbeknownst to them) ate it too!
My favorite easy added vegetable is cauliflower. It doesn't have all that much taste, and it's super easy to buy, wash, steam, and puree. According to Jessica Seinfeld it "is another member of the important cruciferous family of veggies that may help our bodies fight off certain types of cancers. [And it] may help kids resist infections (it's a good source of vitamin C)."
Of course our kids need to learn to eat veggies, but this book gives some good tips on adding MORE veggies in unexpected places. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cheaper By the Dozen: July Reading Series

"I seen eleven of them, not counting the man and the woman," someone would shout from the sidewalk.
"You missed the second baby up front here, Mister," Dad would call over his shoulder.
Mother would make believe she hadn't heard anything, and look straight ahead...
"How do you feed all those kids, Mister?"
Dad would ponder for a minute. Then, rearing back so those on the outskirts could hear, he'd say as if he had just thought it up:
"Well, they come cheaper by the dozen, you know."
This was designed to bring down the house, and usually it did. Dad had a good sense of theater and he'd try to time this apparent ad lib so that it would coincide with the change in traffic. While the peasantry was chuckling, the Pierce Arrow would buck away in clouds of gray smoke, while the professor up front rendered a few bars of Honk Honk Kadookah.
Last week I reread Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. I must have read this book in a tender part of my teen years, because the time-motion study part of it made such an impression on my psyche. I am forever thinking about how to trim seconds off my normal daily routines!
What impressed me most this second time through was how the author portrayed the love in his family. He saw his dad's faults and knew his shortcomings, but he still felt loved and enjoyed his childhood. This is such a good thing for us parents to remember! We may try so hard to teach our children well, to impress upon them scripture and the love of God, to feed them well, and spend quality and quantity time with them, (all good things of course!) but what they will really remember is whether or not they felt loved. Someone recently told me that a study was conducted among families to see whether or not children of Christian parents eventually professed to be believers. The only common factor among all of those that did profess Christ was that they felt loved as a child!
So I recommend reading Cheaper by the Dozen if you haven't read it recently. It's funny and refreshingly real (but beware it may leave you wanting to have more kids!)

Monday, July 14, 2014

More Summer Reading! Picture Books

Today I snagged a few of my favorite books from the kids' bookshelf to share with you. I know they are the kids' favorites because as I was leaving the room, I heard, "Mom, don't take that one, I want to look at it!"
The first is The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop, illustrated by Preston McDaniels. This is a pretty typical type of analogy about saving your kiss for the man you marry. (The kiss=your love, your whole heart, your purity) I love the fact that my oldest gets whisked away into romance with the art on each page and the idea that the princess does indeed find her true love (a humble farmer).
The next book is The Armor of God by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Jenny B. Harris. Mackall gives us a very simple retelling of Ephesians 6:10-18 putting it in situations that any young child will understand. The beauty of this book comes with the fact that my son has the (dress up) armor of God. The colorful pictures along with a sword and shield that my son can actually touch cement the verses into his memory. This reaches
almost every one of his ways of learning: he hears the story read, he sees the pictures, and he can actually play with his armor.
Book number three gets an A+ for creativity! (I really wish I had thought of this idea!) On one side of My Two Hands, My Two Feet by Rick Walton (illustrated by Julia Gorton) you read a poem about

hands with pictures of the older sister. Flip the book, and you get another poem about feet with pictures of the younger sister. Each
poem ends on the middle page: a picture of the two sisters lying in

the grass, asleep.
The next book illustrates a favorite idea of mine: using fiction to teach fact. Berry Best Gardening Book by

Megan E. Bryant is of course capitalizing on an old character that many of us moms enjoyed as little girls. It is more of a "factory model" book, but it does a great job at using big, bright pictures
to show the process of gardening--from seeds to what to plant to harvesting. And, as an added bonus, there is a fictional story about Strawberry Shortcake and her friends at the bottom of the page!
Last comes another illustrative book; this time showing us how to introduce our favorite stories to the very young. A wonderful story is always appropriate for every age. My oldest loves the pictures in this shortened form an old favorite of mine, Anne of Green Gables. The story is the same, just less of the rambling Anne-style of writing. This is a great way to encourage young ones to read: whet their appetite with a small portion of a bigger feast. This version was adapted by M.C. Helldorfer and illustrated by Ellen Beier.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Reading

So we do other things around here besides reading (LOTS of other things) but during the summer months, books are gobbled up almost as much as popsicles. For your viewing and reading pleasure, I'm going to revisit all the books I've read and reviewed over the years on this blog this month, beginning with the fact that you can get free books...

Did you know that through an organization called The Ferst Foundation children in the state of Georgia receive free books every month?The Ferst Foundation (the link for the actual site is not working today, but this link will take you to a brochure for the program) followed in the footsteps of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which was started by its namesake in her home county and has spread to many other communities. Through these programs children can receive one age-appropriate book a month from birth to age 5. The first book is always The Little Engine That Could and the last book is usually Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come. If your community does not offer a program similar to these, check out the link for the Imagination Library for details on how to get one started where you live.
My kids have been receiving these books for years, and since my little ones are like many in their love of reading the same books over and over, the new books are a welcome addition to our library! Our favorite so far is the one pictured above: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, pictures by Axel Scheffler. It has rhyme and repetition. It has suspense and humor. It has a cute little mouse and a great big silly monster. What more could you ask for from a picture book? This is one my husband and I don't really mind reading once a week. (We still don't want to read it once a day, mind you, but once a week is alright.) If you're not on a free-book-a-month program,The Gruffalo is definitely worth buying!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Eating!

Can you believe June is over? It truly flew by. If you perused my June Food recipes, you'll know that I haven't been having to put all that much effort into cooking meals. Yes, I am a lazy bum. You can find me most days on the patio soaking up some rays and reading The Count of Monte Cristo
What have we been eating? Well, like I planned, a lot of cold salads, grilled foods and crock pot meals.
But we also went blueberry picking (hooray!!), so I've made a few blueberry dishes: 
like this amazing and easy blueberry crisp from allrecipes:
And this blueberry baked oatmeal via pinterest:
It's funny how, even though my blueberries were incredibly affordable at $8 for a 2-gallon bucket (See the Blueberry Farm), I still have a hard time putting two whole cups into a recipe. I still have the scratches on my arms and the sore neck from spending two hours picking them from tree-like bushes, so they are very dear! But yes, I've sacrificed a few of them to 2-cup recipes and it has been well worth it. I love fresh blueberries!
For lunch, and yes, sometimes for dinner, we have quesadillas. Ok and yes, we sometimes have them for breakfast too! Melted mozzarella has to be one of my all time favorite foods. Add the grilled butter that makes the tortillas so yummy and you really have a perfect food. These quesadillas are quick and easy and go really well with fresh salsa.
The oldest has been trying her hand at breakfast. To make this beginning easy for her, I've stocked up a bit on some canned breakfast breads. One of my favorite things to make with these easy breads is Monkey Bread (you know, cut the canned biscuits in fourths, roll those fourths into tiny balls, dip these balls into melted butter and cinnamon and sugar then place in pan and bake--oh, and sprinkle the top with brown sugar and more cinnamon. Yum!) 
So we've been having some fun treats for breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast (or any time of day really) I have discovered that I do like Carrot Cake after all. I think my hang up with it all these years is that it tastes more like a muffin than a cake. So I made mine like muffins (and tweaked the recipe a bit so that they actually are not so bad for you for breakfast). So here's the 

Carrot Cake Muffin Recipe
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 cup AP flour
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup flax seed
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix sugar and wet ingredients. Add carrots. Mix dry ingredients separately and then add to carrot mixture. Mix sparingly. Pour into muffin cups or prepared muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until muffins are set. 

The original icing recipe calls for
1/2 cup butter
1 8oz package cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar
but for breakfast, I thought I'd try a bit less sugar--more like a sweetened cream cheese spread. So I mixed
1/4 cup butter
1 8oz package cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
and it worked. But the first recipe is definitely sweeter--so you choose.
Blend icing ingredients and spread over cooled muffins.

This is my second food post in a row--and that's pretty unusual for Of Such is the Kingdom. Don't worry, I'm not going exclusively recipes on you, it's just that in the summer, it seems like our world revolves quite a bit around food: packing picnics, making breakfasts, making snacks, putting together cold salads. Something about being off our regular schedule makes us eat more, I guess.
Happy cooking
Happy eating!