Category: Books

Review: Lean on Me

Community has been an incredibly important part of my spiritual formation. I believe with all of my heart that no person is an island, and that to be healthy human beings, we have to find people and places where we can both be known and also really know others.

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Perhaps reading Anne Marie Miller‘s newest book, Lean On Me, is a no-brainer for me. Yes, community! Yes, vulnerability! Yes, availability! I wondered at first if I really even should read this book since I’m already convinced of these things, but I’m really glad I gave this book a shot.

Anne shares part of her journey with us. She weaves together an honest story about a community that held her up in the midst and in the aftershocks of divorce, anxiety, kinda depression and just struggling to find herself again after the loss of her marriage.  She reveals the good times and the bad times, and also shares what she has learned about community lived out, even in the not-so-perfect situations in life.

This book is part memoir, part pastoral. I think I expected it to bit heavier on the details of her story (I’m super interested in knowing more about her life), but I bet there’s more of that in her book from a few years ago called Mad Church Disease. I felt like some parts of the book felt really overgeneralized and didn’t offer much depth, but then other sections were really poignant.

Thanks to Anne for sharing part of her story with the world- so brave and so needed!

 

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for providing this book in exchange for an honest review! 

Review: Simplicity Parenting

 

simplicityparentingSimplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids has been on my books to read for well over a year. I’m always drawn to anything with “simple” in the tag line, especially when it comes to parenting, because I’m in constant need of the reminder that less really is more. We as parents can step back, give our kids some breathing room, and that hectic schedules filled with good things typically isn’t the best thing for our kids. Repeat repeat repeat.

Simplicity Parenting, now on my list of must-read books, is written by Kim John Payne who was a school counselor for 18 years and is now a private family counselor in New York. He’s of the Waldorf persuasion, and believes that kids need to play, to be bored, and to be kids (not mini adults) as long as possible. He is convinced that working on simplifying is incredibly important as a first step to this kind of childhood: “By simplifying, we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self” (6).

Payne identifies 4 main areas in which we can work on simplifying for our kids:

1. The environment: We can declutter and get rid of many of our kids’  toys, books, clothes, etc. so that they can actually enjoy what they have in the mountain of “stuff” accumulating in closets, on the shelves and under the bed.

2. Rhythm: “Increasing the rhythm of your home life is one of the most powerful ways of simplifying your children’s lives.” When kids are familiar with what comes next, they are more likely to be at ease and focus more energy on the work of childhood. Rhythms can be made at waking-up, breakfast, going out the door, the window between school and dinner, and bedtime. Think about your day from your child’s point of view. What’s predictable? What’s not?

3. Schedules: I love that he talks about balancing busy days with quiet days. We do try to do this at our house- if we have a busy week, we’ll make sure that Saturday and maybe Sunday has nothing planned so that we can be at home, play, and enjoy the boringness of life. It really helps the kids to unwind emotionally and get some restful time so that they can reenergize for the upcoming school week. He warns that always packing our kids’ schedule with stuff to do can create an addition to busyness in our kids that many of us are desperately trying to deconstruct as adults.

4. Filtering Out the Adult World: Many of us want to have smart, educated kids who are knowledgeable about the world and what’s going on in it. However, what if the adult information we are sharing with them (or that they are overhearing in our dinner conversations, on the phone, on the news or on the radio in the car) is actually causing stress to them? Payne hosts a conversation about the innocence of childhood, and the importance of our kids’ needing to feel safe in their formative years, as they build their sense of self and the world. Too much information too young can cause anxiety and then behavior issues.

I appreciated Payne’s mindfulness and willingness to push back against the culture of go-go-go and “start getting these kids ready for college when they are in 1st grade”. Parenting and childhood has become a competition in our culture, at the expense of our kids. We can turn the tide if we’re willing to be mindful and make thoughtful decisions about the life of our family!

 

Review: Exploring and Engaging Spirituality for Today’s Children

Discipling our kids is easy, in a way. Discipleship happens all day, everyday. Our mini-mes are watching us and picking up on what things are important and valuable to us, as well as discerning what being a follower of Jesus looks like. It’s happening whether we’re trying or not.

Discipling our kids is also really hard. Because we mess up. Or have habitual sins that we can’t shake but are so glaringly ugly. Often we want better for our kids than we do for ourselves. And we are keenly aware that at times, our behaviors, attitudes, words, etc. are certainly not ones that we wish for our children. Do as I say, not as I do.

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Because discipleship is easy and because it is also hard, I am on a constant lookout for resources that will help me be more intentional with them. One such resource I’ve had the pleasure of reading is Exploring and Engaging Spirituality for Today’s Children: A Holistic Approach. This great collection of articles is written by a variety of authors and it is a truly thoughtful, interesting work! The scholars and practiioners who wrote the articles were also presenters at the Children’s Spirituality Conference in 2012 at Concordia University in Chicago.

The book is divided up into 4 sections. The first part explores the historical and theological foundation of ministering to children. The topics have a broad range, but they all fall into the scope of how children’s spirituality and ministry in the church sits in history or in Scripture. One of my favorite articles from this section is an article, “Beyond Sunday School: How Child-Centered Studies of Religion are Transforming Our Understandings of Children and Their Traditions.” In it, author Susan B. Ridgely observes: …”virtually all churches discuss children as ‘the next generation’ of believers. Thus congregations position young people as future, rather than current, practitioners of their traditions even as they actively engage in Sunday school and services, even if it is just to protest their forced presence in these places” (p. 68). Isn’t that the truth? How can we as parents and we as the bigger church view kids and treat kids as young people who are seeking God and an active part of the current church?

In the second section, scholars discuss how churches can equip parents and their congregations to participate in the active discipleship of the children in the church. I learned something from each article in this section, and it took me forever to get through them all because I felt like I had to stop after each article to think on the information and suggestions they shared. From introducing the church calendar into family life to helping kids learn Scripture in a deep way to helping children recognize the experience of God in their daily lives, these articles are filled with important information for parents and churches. How can the church equip parents to disciple their children at all ages and stages? Research has found that most parents know it’s important but don’t know what to do or just don’t do anything. These scholars want to help churches fill that gap.

The third section explores various methods of ministering to children. They write on a variety of subjects: the importance of physical movement in the spiritual development of a child, learning how kids learn and how that affects their spiritual development, even adapting some of the Ignatian spiritual exercises to kids.

The final section zooms in on ministering to justice issues surrounding children and what that means for the church- at-risk youth, child pornography, social justice, sex education, and intercultural contexts. My favorite article in this section was the one on how our culture affects how we help form children spiritually. Do we have them memorize prayers or pray spontaneously? Do they participate in the corporate worship service or are they taught in a different room? What expectations do we bring to the table in a church and how might other families from different cultures expect different things? Sadly I guess most churches in America don’t have this problem because they tend to be monocultural. BUT, when we do (I have hope!) what are some conversations that we’ll need to have?

And last, but not least, I’ve discovered no less than 30 more books that I’d like to read sometime (one of my favorite things about reading scholarly articles- the references at the end of them)! This books makes me wish I would have taken more spiritual development of the family classes as Asbury… :).

 

Thanks to the publisher, Wipf and Stock for providing a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. 

 

 

Is it too Early to Read Christmas Books?

So perhaps these reviews are a bit early. But my guess is that some of you have already added a favorite Christmas album to your iPod and have been sneakily listening to it in the car and on your morning runs. So, let’s just be brave and admit that we’re ready for the season of Christmas, yes?

Perhaps you’ve read these classic Christmas stories, but in case you haven’t, read on, friend!

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The first is the The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg. When a new man moves to town and starts working in an old storefront, Lucy, a curious and brave little lady, decides to approach the man’s shop to find out what he’s doing and asks if she can help. He puts her to work and together they are able to prepare the town for a really fantastic store and deliver the good news with a very special candy. While the illustrations are a teensy bit old-fashioned, the story is absolutely not and keeps kids attention to the very last word.

I have the board book edition, which I surprisingly prefer to the hardback. Perhaps because Little Anaya is such a wrecker, I’ve begun to value things that are indestructible.

_225_350_Book.1359.coverThe other one is The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall. In it, a little boy named Nick, who is obviously a typical kid who wants things for himself more than he wants to give to other, overhears Santa telling the story of St. Nick (which is his real name). We learn that St. Nick is a man who was left a lot of money when his parents died, and decided to use that money to buy others’ gifts to make their material wishes come true.

So anyone who knows us knows that we’re slightly or more than slightly uncomfortable with the connection between Christmas and giving presents. While I appreciate the encouragement for kids to move from the “getting” to the “giving” attitude that this book highlights (and the bit of historical fiction it shares), I’m not a huge fan of reading books like this to the kids as a “feel good” story. Instead, I could maybe see reading it to start a conversation about how the idea of Santa got started, or even to discuss the importance of giving to others around the world who are in true need. But let’s not pretend that St. Nick and present day Santa are anything alike :). However, if you are into the Santa thing and want to go that route, you’ll probably like this book. It’s well written and a good story about focusing on giving instead of receiving.

 

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for these complementary copies in exchange for my honest opinions!

Affiliate links are included in this post.

Review of Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul

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Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul is Bill Hybels’ newest book. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Bill Hybels is the father of Shauna Niequist, husband of Lynne Hybels, and probably most known for his start of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL more than 20 years ago.

We’ve been on a slow transition to simple living over here. We’re reading about slowing down. We’re beginning to say “no” more often. We’re learning that sometimes simple food is better food. We’re learning that we don’t need so much stuff, and that it’s okay to just let go of it. We’re learning that our time is worth a lot, and that it should only be given to things that are truly important and life giving.

We’ve found it’s a fairly straightforward task to unclutter our closets and toy shelves and bookshelves and cabinets. It’s a bit harder to unclutter our souls. What does that even mean, right? And to take it one step further, how DO that?

Hybels enters this conversation with a whole lot of practical advice. This book is an incredibly typical Bill Hybels book- down to earth, pastorally tone, lots of Scripture, and real life illustrations. Bill is a great, thorough communicator, and it’s obvious he worked really hard on thinking about what every single person on the spectrum of life could use to hear when it comes to simplifying (284 pages!).

He talks about external changes, internal changes, and of course how they’re all related. He discusses the need to find a job that fits you, saying “yes” to things you actually like and “no” to the things you don’t, to forgive those whom you haven’t forgiven (takes up lots of soul space) as well as cutting off friendships that aren’t healthy and making ones that are. While this book doesn’t live up to the “groundbreaking” promise that is on its dust cover flap, it does offer some good general advice with some helpful “action steps” for those of us who need some extra help getting from point A to point B. Overall, the information offered is pretty run-of-the-mill in the area of figuring out how to get the most out of life.

One section that I did find particularly helpful, though, was about life seasons. In it, Bill helps the reader to see that each life stage is really just that- a stage. It’s not going to last forever, and each one has it’s own benefits and limitations. To do life well, we must both recognize and understand what season we are in, and then life accordingly. Sure, sometimes those seasons are bound by age, location, age of kids, job, but other times these seasons are something deeper- a season of grieving, a season of doubt or wilderness experience, a season of loss, a season of simplifying, a season of giving– it could be a ton of different things! But, the most important thing is to recognize that, lean into it, and then to move on when it’s obvious the season is over.

So, perhaps this isn’t my favorite book of Bill Hybel’s (I’ve read quite a few), but it’s a good primer for those who are needing something to kick start their season of getting life on track.

 

Thanks to Tyndale for providing this complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Also, please note that some of the links above are affiliate links.

Review: Your Core + Book Giveaway!

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Graham Blanchard Publishers just released an important new books called Your Core. In it, kids learn that PEOPLE have cores, just like apples, balls, and the earth, and that these cores all have a purpose. It is in our core (or soul) that God resides. The soul is a super tricky thing to explain to kids, and I think that this book offers a really simple illustration that will help kids to begin to form an understanding of their “inside life.” It ends with Ephesians 3:16-17:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

The illustrations are super sweet and include diverse characters which I really value in a kid picture book. As always, this book gets a strong recommendation from me!

Learn more about Graham Blanchard at www.grahamblanchard.com.

AND, because I just love these books, I’m giving away a couple on the blog today!

Mud Puddle Hunting Day and Close as a Breath

Enter to win by just leaving a comment below :).

Edit: Congrats to Tracy as the winner of this book set! 

What Nerds Do for Fun: a Bend Your Brain review

What do nerds do for fun?

Well, I guess a lot of things, but one thing we do here at our house is puzzles- jigsaw puzzles, word puzzles, game puzzles, etc. If it’s a puzzle, we’ll try it out!

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Bend Your Brain: 151 Puzzles, Tips, and Tricks to Blow (and Grow) Your Mind is a new book from Marbles: The Brain Store of fun, unusual puzzles that are truly mind-bending. The book is divided up into 5 sections of puzzles with 5 levels of difficulty in each section::

  • visual perception
  • word skills
  • critical thinking
  • coordination
  • memory

Each set of puzzles are designed to exercise and grow your brain in certain ways, which the book explains in a clear, concise way. The puzzles are super fun and mostly unusual. There are a few word searches, sudoku, and mazes but they all have interesting twists, for example one puzzle is a 2 page maze, but on the front/back of a single page- whew, talk about tricky! Another puzzle the kids enjoyed had pictures of objects and they had to create compound words, using each picture once. It was cute to see them all gathered around the book, trying to work together to figure it out.

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This puzzle book would be a great way to spend one-on-one time with an older child OR a fun book to take along on a date night (if you and your spouse are nerds like us!).

 

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing these complementary copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: The Brainy Bunch

I first heard about the Brainy Bunch from the Today Show

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding are the mom and pop of 10 kids who have homeschooled their kids in a way that has them college ready by the age of 12. They seemed surprisingly well-adjusted on the show, so I decided to check out their book to learn more about their story in The Brainy Bunch.

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It turns out that they are a Christian homeschool family, seemingly conservative in all the ways you might imagine. They believe that homeschooling is the absolute best choice and most biblical choice one could make, and also seem to buy into the quiverfull movement. I felt a bit annoyed at times when reading this book- they are the quintessential “Christian” that our media loves to exemplify as the only kind of Christian- but I was also surprisingly impressed with their courage to challenge their kids to dive deep into their area of interests, learn what they want to learn, and to take real risks, facing potentially hard things with courage and a sense of humor.

And their kids are actually doing great things at a young age and not just educated without a real job in their field. One earned a BS in mathematics at the age of 17 and is currently an engineer. Another is a celebrated architect who finished her degree at the age of 18. Another is a Navy physician and another who finished his masters in computer science at 17. Seriously these kids are amazing and obviously have parents who love them and have found a cool way to allow them to fast forward through some needless schooling. At first glance some might imagine this kind of schooling to be really pushy and stressful, but it seems to be the exact opposite. Kip and Mona Lisa cut through all the educational fluff, let the kids study what they want and don’t stress about giving tests or book reports or whatever. In fact, their method reminds me much more of unschooling than it does the ever popular classical learning that many christian homeschoolers do.

At times it does seem that the family is a bit of a closed system– not a ton of outside friends, their playmates are one another, and they like to keep it that way so that the kids stay respectful and the peer culture doesn’t rub off on them. On the other hand, some of the kids were in competitive sports leagues and the parents are pretty brave in letting some of their kids live away from them at a young age to finish up degrees in certain places when the family has to move. This book reminded me that people are really complex. 🙂

The writing of this book was not particularly great, but it was informative. I certainly learned exactly what i was hoping to, and it was a super fast read.

Crazy huh?

Book Review: Berenstain Bears and Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Jake and I memorized the Sermon on the Mount one of the summers we were dating, and it wasn’t until I hid those words in my heart did I realize how rich the words of Matthew 5 are, and how crazy often the Holy Spirit uses those words to instruct my heart many days. When I saw that Berenstain Bears just came out with a new book- The Berenstain Bears Blessed are the Peacemakers , I was super excited. I really like the Berenstain Bears- perhaps because I read so many as a young kid- and have passed this love onto the kids as well (much to the chagrin of Jake, who absolutely does not like to reread them to the kids again and again).

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As soon as the book came in the mail, I handed it to Aly and she cuddled up on the couch and read it, twice. When Aly was done, Asante wandered by, saw it laying there, and decided to give it a read through (see! they can’t resist!). They both really liked it and asked for some of the other books that are pictured on the back (which are other Berenstain Bears books with an obvious Christian message). Wow! I thought. This one is a winner.

After the kids were in bed, I finally got the time to take a look myself. Sadly, I was disappointed with not only the writing but the message as well. The first issue is the message that being a peacemaker is really easy. Brother Bear and Sister Bear step in to mediate an argument between the school’s two groups (the rough kids and the smart kids) and are hailed as peacemakers. All they had to do was tout a Bible verse and the argument stopped, all involved parties humbled. Unfortunately, peacemaking is not so easy. It’s hard. It takes a long time. Most often it takes a lot more than telling someone a verse.

The second issue I have is that the writing is definitely different than the other Berenstain Bears books. It’s important to note that this is by Jan and Stan’s son, Mike. I’m incredibly thankful that he has continued to write after his mom and dad have passed, but it’s important that readers go in knowing that although the characters are the same, the writing is in a different voice, sometimes leaving the characters a bit more flat than in the older books.

I give Mike a thumbs up for trying to bring this incredibly complex reality of peacemaking to a level at which preschoolers and early elementary students can understand. Perhaps this is a starting place, or a book to start a discussion:

  • What would happen if someone was being mean to your friend? What would you do?
  • Do you think your friends would obey a Bible verse? Why or why not?
  • How would you feel if the situation happened again and again? Would you still do the same thing?

Learn more about Mike here, as well as the entire Berenstain Bears here (they have a really fun website!).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Goodnight, Ark

I’m always on the lookout for good children’s picture books that are based on stories from the Bible.  I must admit, though, sometimes I’m a teeny bit nervous to review these kind of books because many of them are not very engaging.

Goodnight, Ark, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jane Chapman is one of the few that has really kept my kids’ attention- it’s really funny! Sassi takes us inside of Noah’s ark… and it’s not a tame picture! The first night on the ark, Noah nestles into this bed, only to have his sleep interrupted by wild animals! How will he ever get them all back into their beds?

Moms and Dads will like this book because we can probably relate to Noah. Who hasn’t had small “wild animals” bound into bed with us in the middle of the night during a bad thunderstorm?! Kids will love it because of the catchy rhythm and rhyme, the top-notch illustrations and because one of the animals is…. a skunk. Ha! It’s pretty funny, especially for kids who think that stinkyness is hilarious (or is it just my kids?!). It ends in a really sweet, cozy way- perfect for bedtime.

Overall, this is a super cute book that is a great way for the story of Noah’s ark to really come alive instead of seeming like a story from the past that is sterile and impersonal. 🙂 I’ve read some reviews that were disappointed because it “played with the Bible”… but my take on this is that if a book gets my kids excited about stories of the Scriptures, I’m all for it!

Enjoy this book trailer; see what you think!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

**Please note that this review was first posted on Play Eat Grow.**