Category: Reading

Reading Together: How Communities of Readers Can Transform the World

reading-togetherBooks are one of the most powerful tools in the world.

Books change the world by offering a new perspective.

Books inspire people to step out and take risks.

Books allow people to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, increasing a reader’s capacity for empathy.

Books explain, they instruct, they motivate.

Books offer another way forward, and get people talking.

Most of my favorite books inspire me towards action. And they are always ones I want to talk about with someone else. (more…)

Best Books on Spiritual Formation, Part 1


Best books about Spiritual Formation-bookmark this for later!


I have a stack of 30 books next to me that I quickly pulled off the shelf for easy access in case I wanted to reference something in this series. I won’t list all of them here, but instead will offer you the best of the best (in my opinion), in case you want to start reading more about spiritual formation.


Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster

Sacred Rhythms – Ruth Haley Barton

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You– John Ortberg (my review)

Invitation to the Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation– Robert Mulholland Jr.

Eugene Peterson’s 5 book series on spiritual formation:

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”– Kathleen Norris

Spiritual Formation- Henri Nouwen (with Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird)

The Life You Always Wanted– John Ortberg

The Spirit of the Disciplines– Dallas Willard

The Divine Conspiracy– Dallas Willard


I’ll be doing another list or two later, with spiritual formation book recommendations that are a bit more tailored to a specific area, but I think these are my favorites in terms of the broad picture of spiritual formation.


What do you think I missed? Is your favorite book on spiritual formation on this list? (Please don’t say the Bible; of course that’s a given :)).





Great Books when Traveling with Young Kids

Our family loves to get lost in books, but sometimes its hard to decide what to do with the non-independent readers of the group when we want to read on our own. We could always read to them, which we do a lot, or they could listen to a story on the iPod, which is also great, but only if you can manage to tune out the noise so that you can enjoy your own.

There are also those times when your readers don’t really FEEL like reading, but you’re all stuck in the car and they just need something to do to distract themselves while having fun.

Interactive books are a great way for kids to read in a different kind of way.

Interactive Books

Flap Books

For the youngest, flap books are the best. Kids have to find the flaps, of course look under each one a million times, and then turn the page again only to find a gazillion more flaps. In my opinion, the more flaps, the merrier.

Our favorites over the years have included Dragons (Usborne), The Seven Continents of the World, Little Pear TreeElmo’s Big Lift-And-look Book, Dora’s Lift and Look Book, and the whole set of Little People Life the Flap books.

Look & Find

A wide variety of these Look and Find books exist: easy, hard, and everywhere in-between. Some tell you what to find specifically, and others allow you to look and find things that are interesting to you! We even use the Mamoko one (below) to tell our own stories.

Our favorites include Littleland and Littleland Around the World, Where’s Waldo?, and The World of Mamoko in the Year 3000.


Magnetic books have hard pages that magnets can stick to. Many books have magnets that kids can use to “fill-in” missing pictures in the book.

Mostly we’ve used the Magnetic Learn and Play Counting book on road trips with all four kids! Their 2 year old selves have gotten the most fun out of it.

Doodle Books

Who says you can’t write in books?! Doodle books come in all kinds of themes. Some books are actually stories where kids can just fill in missing parts of the pictures. Other times, the pages are independent of one another and challenge the reader to use their imagination to make different animals, scenes, foods, etc.

We really like the The Bible Doodle Book, Charlie and Lola’s I Absolutely Must Do Coloring Now or Painting or Drawing , Mega Mash-Ups, Magical Mix-Ups,

You can find most of these in local libraries!

What are your kids’ favorite interactive books?  

20+ Great Audiobooks for Kids

Many people are surprised when they hear how early our kids go to bed. While Asante just got a promotion to 7:30, Aly and Ada are generally in bed no later than 7:00– and sometimes they are even asking to go to bed at 6:45.

While some of you may be a little jealous…. it’s not really what you think. One, our kids get up EARLY (no matter what time they go to bed), so by 7:00p, if they’ve had a nice active day, they are exhausted and are dragging themselves into bed. But, it’s also because they LOVE to listen to stories before falling asleep. While Jake and I used to tell them stories (Adventures of Asante, Aly, and Ada), we mostly rely on audiobooks loaded on our iPod, connected to our iHome so that the kids can all hear it well.

We also listen to audiobooks while in the car, whether it be on the way to our church gathering on Sundays (it is a bit of drive), or on a road trip to grandmas. If the kids are cranky and fighting with each other in the backseat, we’ll sometimes ask them if they’d like to listen to a story and PEACE falls over the car. Thank you Jesus for audiobooks. 🙂

In case you’re interested, here are some of our favorites!


Short Books (Under 15 minutes)

Skippyjon Jones: A funny short story of a Siamese cat who pretends to be a Chihuahua. He goes on some great adventures! 🙂 Every hardback book that we have checked out from the library has a audio cd inside of it, so that’s a great way to listen!

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! Hungry bunnies are trying to get into Mr. McGreely’s yard, and he goes to great lengths to keep them out.

The Uglified Ducky and Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs by Willy Claflin: Super silly retellings of common tales. It takes awhile for me, as an adult, to get used to his voice, but the kids think it’s great. 🙂

medium audiobooks

Middle-sized Books (15-60 minutes)

The Bippolo Seed and other Lost Stories: These are a set of Dr. Suess stories that are read by some really famous people- Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Houston, and Joan Cusack, to name a few. Neil Patrick Harris HITS IT OUT OF THE PARK. It’s a really fun group of stories to listen to.

Mercy Watson: Mercy Watson is a pig who knows how to get into trouble. Each story is about 20 minutes long. These books in general are REALLY good starter chapter books for young readers because they include a lot of colored pictures to go along with the text. As of right now, I think there are 6 books in the series.

Leroy Nicker Saddles Up: This is also by Katie DiCamillo, and it’s a spin-off of the Mercy Watson series. The kids like it less than Mercy Watson, but they still enjoy it every now and then.

Where the Wild Things Are and other stories: We have a set of stories that include Where the Wild Things, In the Night Kitchen, Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, etc. He’s a strange fella, but the kids love his lyrical books.

Magic School Bus: Normally between 20 and 30 minutes, these audio books are great for kids who already love the books and/or cartoons.

A to Z Mysteries– Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose come across a lot of mysteries in their small little town of Green Lawn! The characters are 9 years old, making it a pretty perfect book for a Kindergarten-2nd grader. These mysteries are fun, interesting, and the characters are really good kids. Each book comes in at right under an hour.

Calendar Mysteries– These mysteries star the younger siblings of Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose and are just as fun as the Calendar Mysteries.

Nate the Great: Short detective stories. I TOTALLY DISLIKE these stories. I refuse to listen to them with the kids, but again, the kids love them. 🙂 They are each about 15-20 minutes long, so perfect for a going to bed listen!


Long Books (60+ minutes)

Charlotte’s Web: This childhood classic comes in at about 3.5 hours, so definitely one that will have to be broken up into pieces!

The Tale of Desperaux: Asante read this one last year in school, and he was eager to listen to it afterwards. The tale of a young mouse who is rejected by his family and falls in love with a Princess. This brings up some heavy topics, but it’s a beautifully told story. Asante didn’t have any trouble emotionally with this book, but there are some kids who may have a harder time dealing with some of the scenes.

Fudge series: These Judy Blume classics will be different than you remember them. I loved Judy Blume growing up, and it’s really funny to hear them again as an adult. It’s fun to pick up on the things that you wouldn’t pick up on as a child. Jake doesn’t enjoy these as much as I do, but these are fun ones for the car.

Then Underland Chronicles: This series, written by Suzanne Collins, shares how one boy who falls through a hole in his apt’s laundry room ends up trying to save a whole world underground. This tale is incredible. The whole series is about 37 hours long. We listened to this one last summer: in the evenings after dinner, on lazy rainy afternoons, and in the car traveling to and from the grandparents’ houses. Our kids really enjoyed this series, but it does certainly have some violence. You may want to look it up on commonsense media before deciding to listen to this one if you have young kids.

Magic Tree House: The well-loved books can not only be read, but listened to as well. We originally listened to each book after the kids finished reading it as a celebration, but now it’s fun to just listen anytime. Jack and Annie are fun characters who go on many magical, historically-themed adventures together! Each of these books are really close to being about an hour long.

James and the Giant Peach: Robert Dahl is fantastic, and his books have been capturing kids’ attention for years. This one is around 3 hours long and I found that my kids enjoyed this one more after watching the movie, perhaps because the movie helped them visually create a framework for what’s going on?

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Another good one by Ronald Dahl. You’ll have fun listening to this childhood classic with your kids!






How to Build Your Library on a Few Dollars a Month

I absolutely adore a new book.

Jake and I used to shop for books a lot. We would come away from used bookstores with a big bag full of books, reading the chapter titles of each book to one another on the way back to each others’ apartments (oh we were so young and in love). During one Lent season years ago, we gave up buying books. Our obsession with book-buying never fully rebounded after that. Which is probably a healthy thing.

Fast forward nearly 10 years later and we are now working on not only our own personal library, but also a library for our kids. While we LOVE the public library and utilize it on a weekly basis (it’s not unusual for us to have 75-100 books checked out at any one time), we still like to have certain kinds of books around the house to read or reference on a whim. But, since we’re on a student budget, that means our book budget is very slim. Like, a few dollars a month.

“What are those tin can lids doing on their bookshelf?” Check out my hubby’s blog for the cool project he did with our Ikea bookshelf.


So, if you’re looking for ways to build your physical and/or electronic library but don’t want to spend a lot of money, here are a few things that have worked well for us:

1. Public Library Sales. Twice a month, our nearest public library has a book sale. It takes place off-site and is put on by the Friends of the Library. We have found so many treasures because people who love books are cleaning out their attics/playrooms/basements/personal shelves and donating them to the Friends of the Library so that the library can buy more awesome books. People who love books donate really great books, which means you get to buy really great books at super cheap prices ($.25-$1.00 a book). Everywhere we have lived (several states, several cities) have had such sales. You just need to ask your local library and I’m sure they’d be over the moon to give you the details (in smaller libraries, maybe they’ll have this sale once or twice a year).

2. Consignment Sales. When looking for children’s books, kid consignment sales have also been successful for us. It does take a bit of time to sift through book after book to find the diamonds, but when you do, it’s worth it!

3. Used Book Stores/Thrift Stores. About once a year we trade in a big stack of books for cash at Half-Price Books and that money goes back into our book budget. Many cities have great hidden used bookstores, so be sure to get to know them well! Sometimes store owners will get to know you and offer better than advertised deals :).

4. Garage Sales. Especially retired teacher yard sales or church pastor yard sales :). If you are into yard sales, ALWAYS look through the book box. You never know what you might find and because books are often hard to sell, haggling is in your favor.

5. Start a Blog. You love to read? Want to tell people what you thought of the books? Start a blog and get free books from the publishers in exchange for reviews. Children book publishers are a bit harder to do this with, but for adult books, I review through Booklook Bloggers (Zondervan/Thomas Nelson), Blogging for Books (Crown Publishing), and Tyndale Blog Network. After awhile, you can begin to email publishers and request books off their website without being a part of a certain program. That’s when it gets more fun because you get to read the books you really are dying to read! There are normally always print or ebook options.

6. Subscribe to feeds that let you know of free or discounted ebooks. Some of my favorites:

7. Swap books with other book-loving families. Sometimes I get tired of seeing a book around or just don’t want it anymore (maybe I’ve grown out of it, kids have grown out of it, whatever) and I’ll ask around and see if anyone wants to do a book swap. Meaning, everyone brings their books they no longer want as well as a yummy snack, and you just hang out, talk, eat, and grab a few new books for the road!

Your turn: What are your favorite tips for building your personal library? 

How to Find a Good Book

One of the most frustrating things is having the time to read a book, but not knowing what to read. Although, perhaps the only thing MORE frustrating is having the time to read, only to find out that you don’t really like the book you thought you were going to love.


Of course it’s inevitable for these kinds of things to happen, but I’ve found I can decrease the likelihood of this by using a few key book-finding strategies.

1. Personal Recommendations 

Not all recommendations are created equal. I used to think I needed to be nice and give everyone’s suggestions a chance, but I soon learned that since reading time is precious, I need to be spending it reading books that I’m going to enjoy reading, or that are going to teach me something important. DON’T FEEL BAD when you don’t take someone’s recommendation. It’s kind of them to offer it, graciously thank them for it and just keep on moving on with your life. BUT, if you’re lucky, you’ll find those people who seem to always have a really interesting book on their nightstand. Hold them close :). I’ve found it’s a true gift to have those kinds of people in my life.

2. Who Published the Book?

It helps to “get to know” the publishers.  If you are being observant while reading a variety of books, you’ll begin to get a general feel for kinds of books the different publishing companies put out. You will probably even find yourself gravitating towards certain publishers or imprints (imprints are the different divisions of one publisher). For example, I know that I’m probably going to love anything published by Intervarsity Press. Their books have a trek record of being high-quality, thoughtful books. I also know that they are a not-for-profit, meaning that they can publish books with interesting views because money is not their bottom line. On the other hand, I have a love/hate relationship with Tyndale books (sorry, I know lots of people love them, i don’t know, it’s just a thing), so because I know this about myself, I can be extra cautious when choosing a book published by them. I’m signed up on several publishers’ email lists, and they send me newsletters about upcoming books. I quickly scan and add it to my amazon wishlist (which is more like a “to-read” list than a “to-buy” list) or my Books I Want to Read pinterest board.

3. Blogs

I have a few go-to blogs that keep my book lists full :).

Modern Mrs. Darcy: I just started following her blog a month or so ago, but I already look forward to her updates. This lady loves to read a variety of books and she seems to always have a book ready to recommend.

Englewood Review of Books: A weekly review of books put out by Englewood Church in Indianapolis, this site has been HUGE for me in connecting with interesting, kingdom of God, “another world is possible” kind of books. They have a weekly newsletter where book reviews are sent right to my inbox, as well as a quarterly print magazine with its own set of book reviews. Weird, right? Well, not so weird, really. They have a really good algorithm going on that shows me books I’m pretty much going to like. If you click on a book, scroll to the bottom, and you’ll see a list of what other customers also viewed. I love scrolling through these to find books I haven’t heard about. About 50% of the time, I’ll add a book to my list.

Her.menuetics: A blog of Christianity Today, the women who contribute are thinkers, which I love. The blog continually updates their side widget (see: “What We’re Reading” –good stuff) and I also like to look up the contributors to see if THEY have written any books. Many of them have.

4. Endorsers

If you’re on the fence about a book, check out the inside cover and see who endorsed it. Do you know any of the people? Are there many people who you have heard of but don’t really agree with their outlook on life? Or do you enjoy reading those who are endorsing the book? I always think that I’m going to like a book, even if I don’t really enjoy the endorsers (“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be great. How could this book NOT be good?”). That decision has been a bad choice every. single. time.

I currently have 37 books on my amazon wishlist, 20 library books on my desk shelf, and a big board on Pinterst that I want to get to and I’m pretty sure I’m going to like most of them. Hopefully these tiny tips will help your next book be one you can’t put down! 🙂


How to Find Time to Read

We all have the same amount of time in a day, but that doesn’t mean we can all use our time in the same way. I’m continually amazed at women like Modern Mrs. Darcy and Money Saving Momma who reads TONS of books in the midst of having children and managing a successful blog. For me, tackling ONE a week was a true challenge. Nevertheless, the question I most often get concerning my love for reading is-

“But when do you have time to read?!” 


1. After kids to get bed

This is where 80% of my reading happens. Kids go to bed between 7:00 and 8:00 and I go to bed around 11:00 (well, that’s my goal, often it ends up pushing midnight). That leaves a lot to time to do whatever my little heart desires! I have some general guidelines for my evenings:

  • No chores. We try to make sure that the necessary chores (dishes, sweeping, tidying) are done right after dinner with everyone helping out. The day-to-day chores happen during the day, sometimes with kids helping me, sometimes not. Chores are not for nighttime. Rejuvenation and personal hobbies/writing is for nighttime.
  • I have a plan BEFORE the night begins. This is huge. I can’t take 30 minutes figuring out what I want to do. Time is too short for that. Instead, I know what I want to do as soon as I turn on the music and shut the kids’ bedroom door. Ready, Set, Go.
  • I try to read at least 30 minutes before falling asleep. But sometimes my whole night will be earmarked as “reading” and that’s 3 hours logged!

2. During naptime/rest time.

From 1:00-2:30 I can almost guarantee time to read, if I so choose. At 1:00 Anaya goes down for her nap, and Ada has a quiet time in her room. She’s a rockstar quiet-timer, so I can generally count on her being in her room for almost that whole time. Admittingly, I mostly use this section of the day for emails, blog writing, planning kid activities for the week, household management stuff, or even a nap, but occasionally I’ll read too. So, I’d say I fit 10% in here.

3. With my kids

Somewhere along the way, our family started listening to books, and it’s a favorite pastime of ours. We will often listen to books that are for kids (A to Z Mysteries, Calendar Mysteries, Mercy Watson, Fudge series, and Nate the Great are some of our families’ “go-to”), but we’ve started venturing out into books that Jake and I actually really like too. We’re on the 5th book of the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins (it’s FANTASTIC), and so those are books I would read even if the kids weren’t around. I look forward to doing this more with the kids as they get older– just think about all the good stuff we’ll be able to listen to and discuss!

4. Listening by Myself

This past year I listened to a couple books (from the library) and this was pretty great for me! I would download the books on my phone and then listen while I was folding laundry, doing dishes, taking a walk, and grocery shopping (with headphones, of course).

5. In the Midst of Everyday Life

I’ve just begun to read in the midst of the chaos of life. I read somewhere that it’s important for kids to see their parents read and love books in order to keep their love for reading strong, and this made total sense to me. Do my kids know I like to read since they never see me do it? Do my kids know how much I LOVE to read? Or do they think that I LOVE to clean/Facebook/etc.? I’m sure there is no question in my kids’ minds (books are littered all over our house), but I decided to use this excuse to read a chapter here and there while my kids are reading their books, or even during a time when the kids are playing kindly with each other. I just plop myself on the couch or in the playroom and read while they play around me. I’ve discovered they often really desire my presence with them in the room, but they don’t necessarily need me interacting with them the whole time.

A few more “tips” that I find useful:

  • Always have a book with you. Even if you think you won’t have time to read it, bring it anyway.
  • Have a stack of books ready. Use your local library. Borrow all kinds of books that you think you might like. Don’t be afraid to have 5, 10, 20, 100 books checked out at one time (or whatever your library’s limit is). I typically read about 25% of what I check out and return the rest unread. I like to have a variety of books available, depending on what mood I’m in (fiction, christian living, comedy, memoir, biography, parenting, etc.).
  • Have a pen and paper ready at all times for recommendations. Or your phone (or both). I love getting book recommendations from people. Sure, I might not actually read them, but I can at least check them out online to see if it’s something I’d be interested in.

If reading is something you love and want to make more time for it, I’m convinced there is a way!

52 Books in a Year…. barely.

Nearly 365 days ago, the kids and I came up with a plan to read 52 books in a year. And while Asante and Aly finished up back in October, I spent much of the last week reading :). BUT, I’m so EXCITED (and grateful) that I can say I did it, and I’m also resolved to not do that again for awhile. While I do love that I was able to read so many books on “my list”, I felt like I had to move too quickly through them and couldn’t really absorb and think about the implications of what I was reading. So, 2015 will be less books, but closer readings. Lesson learned. 🙂


In case you’re interested, here are the lucky 52 (in the order I read them), and I’ve provided links to reviews where applicable.

  1. Free by Mark Scandrette
  2. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey*
  3. Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford
  4. The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul
  5. Miss Brenda and the Loveladies by Brenda Spahn and Irene Zutell
  6. Restless by Jennie Allen
  7. Wonder Women by Kate Harris*
  8. The Air I Breathe by Louie Giglio
  9. Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel*
  10. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider
  11. Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons*
  12. 20 and Something by David H. Kim
  13. Hyperlinked Life by Jun Young and David Kinnamen
  14. Fighting for Peace by Carol Howard Merritt
  15. Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown*
  16. Greater Expectations by Claire Diaz-Ortiz
  17. Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther
  18. Faith Forward, edited by David Csinos and Melvin Bray
  19. Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker*
  20. The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith*
  21. When We Were On Fire by Addie Zimmerman
  22. A Child’s Work by Vivian Gussin Paley
  23. Hand in Hand by Jenny Doh
  24. Tinkerlab by Rachelle Doorley*
  25. Soul Keeping by John Ortberg*
  26. Slow Family Living by Bernadette Noll
  27. Sacred Roots by Jon Tyson
  28. A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves
  29. The Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding
  30. Found by Micha Boyett
  31. 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha
  32. Simplify by Bill Hybels
  33. Talking Taboo, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro
  34. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
  35. Lean on Me by Anne Marie Miller
  36. Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic
  37. Who Stole the Wizard of Oz? by Avi
  38. Faith shift by Kathy Escobar*
  39. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigon*
  40. Still by Lauren Winner
  41. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins* (LOVE THIS SERIES!)
  42. Not Yet Christmas by J.D. Walt
  43. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
  44. A Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker
  45. Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker
  46. Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen
  47. Exploring and Engaging Spirituality in Today’s Children, edited by La Verne Tolbert
  48. Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel
  49. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
  50. Love Does by Bob Goff
  51. The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting by Brene Brown*
  52. The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible by Eugene Peterson

The ones with a little star behind them were my favorites! There were a few that I struggled to finish but in all, it was a good reading year.

What was your favorite book of 2014? What are you looking forward to reading in 2015?