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Review: The Rainey List of Best Books for Children

Our family loves books.  By reading we learn about God, ourselves, and the world.  We learn wisdom:  how to live well in this world, and what ‘live’ and ‘well’ and ‘world’ mean.  We go places we could never go on our own and learn from other people’s hard work and hard-won experience.  And we have fun.

However, if we read the wrong books we learn only foolishness that wastes our time and, potentially, encourages us to waste our entire lives.

So it is vital that we choose our reading material wisely.

David Rainey, a Christian homeschooler and a librarian, sees his List of Best Books for Children as his family’s legacy to share with booklovers everywhere.  David and his daughter Anna recommend over 500 out of thousands of books that their family has read, discussing each one in a chatty and informative way.  They share toddler books worth reading over and over (like Good Night Moon), as well as funny books, inspiring books, read-alouds, and children’s novels.  These books will provide hours of enjoyment and learning.  I am convinced that children exposed to these books will become accustomed to what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)

Although more and more modern authors are building negative influences into their books, the Raineys focus on ‘good books that are also clean and free from controversial issues, profane language, romantic plot elements, inappropriate humor, and undesirable role models.’ (p 133)  If these restrictions sound extreme, remember, the age range is 0-12; of course controversial issues and romance need to be addressed with older children.  As for the other restrictions, sin for sin’s sake is never appropriate, no matter one’s age.

David presents his family’s favorites arranged according to age and type of book, from board books (remember Spot?) and picture books for all ages to poetry, chapter books (Alexander McCall Smith has written mysteries for children!), and children’s novels (from Homer Price and 21 Balloons to Detectives in Togas).  Obviously he includes older books, but he also has many newer ones that I am eager to discover.

I am fairly fussy about what books young children should read, and when I look at booklists I check how closely the author shares my values.  The Rainey List of Best Books for Children resonated with me in almost all aspects.  In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone else point out that the first 19 books about the Boxcar Children are much better than the later volumes.  The only objection I have to Rainey’s recommendations (but do recall that I have not read many of the newer children’s books) is The Secret Garden, a lovely story with strong elements of pantheism.

Not only does The Rainey List of Best Books for Children bring back wonderful memories, but it also sent me to the library website to request a few of the most intriguing newer titles.  I was startled to see Eats, Shoots, and Leaves:  Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!  in the list, but it turns out this is a funny children’s version of the adult grammar book with a similar title.  There’s also The Girl’s Like Spaghetti:  Why, You Can’t Manage without Apostrophes!  Of course, I requested both.  Also the Alexandar McCall Smith books about young Precious Ramotswe, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Celenza, and Click, Clack, Moo, a hilarious picture book about cows that type.  In fact, our family of teens and adults has already started enjoying the new books.  Thank you, David and Anna!

The Raineys also present some useful lists that will enhance trips to libraries and bookstores:  gift books for various ages, books that teach life lessons, princess books, dinosaur books, truck books, fairy tales, and award-winning books.

Of the various tips scattered throughout the book, this is the most important:  get your children to read aloud to you even if they can read well.  First of all, it’s fun and builds relationships.  Furthermore, all sorts of problems can be noticed if you do.  For example, your eager and proficient young reader may not really be reading at all but may have come up with an impressive array of other skills including memorization, guessing, and picture-reading.  When young, my husband ‘read’ like that until his father noticed him keep on ‘reading’ when he turned two pages at once by mistake; one of Rainey’s children did something similar.

If you have children, I highly recommend The Rainey List of Best Books for Children.  Written by a librarian who is a homeschooling father, it is full of excellent book recommendations for ages 0-12.  It would make great gift—I gave a copy to a mom of newborn twins named after Louisa May Alcott and Beatrix Potter and am giving one to my sister as well—and it is becoming my new favorite baby gift.  This book would be valuable for homeschool, church, and public libraries as well.

For more information, see the website.

Note:  There are other great book lists, but many of them, like Honey for a Child’s Heart, Honey for a Teen’s Heart, and Books Children Love, are dated; The Rainey List of Best Books for Children includes very recent books as well .

Somewhat related:  Older readers and their parents would benefit from Reading with Purpose, a guide to discernment in reading written by Nancy Wilson.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

DisclosureI received a review copy of The Rainey List of Best Books for Children from David Rainey and have shared my honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

Teaching Geography in the Homeschool

Over at the Curriculum Choice this week, some homeschooling moms are discussing how they teach geography in their homeschools

Among other things, Heather, mom of 4 kids aged 12 and up, shares how her family combines Earth Science and Google Earth with geography.  She also presents a Narnian atlas as a free download.    

Heidi, mom of three, has many practical suggestions and links to freebies and shows how her high schooler made his own atlas.

And Tricia shares her artistic houseful’s hands on projects, including a link to an intriguing free high school geography program

Here is my contribution:

When my father reads books, he often has an atlas open.  That has been a wonderful example, and we occasionally do it as well.  More than that, we have absorbed his attitude and most of our geography has been learned by reading.  After all, many of the best books involve elements of geography.

Here are some read alouds we loved:  Northern Magic, Kon Tiki, We Never Meant to Go to Sea, Carry On Mr. Bowditch, Two Years Before the Mast (very interesting, but not good as a read aloud—we actually gave up on it), The Swiss Family Robinson, Hudson’s Bay:  Everyday Life in the Wilds of North America (required some editing of gruesome events while reading aloud to young children, available online here).

There are also The Brendan Voyage (and anything else by Tim Severin), many of the books by G. A. Henty (often not politically correct but a great source of history and usually also full of interesting geography, available online here), and Henty’s biography.  Your library will likely be full of travel stories, some of which make the best geography resources.

And, although I don’t entirely like it, my girls have learned an enormous amount of geography by watching the Grand Tour travel episodes with their brother. (Note that the language and values are not ideal, but apparently no worse than in other modern media.)

My children have always enjoyed atlases, wall maps (we even had a world map on the kitchen table under a plastic sheet until my longsuffering husband finally protested and we switched to map placemats), and online maps.

Finally, we enjoy the competitive computer game Seterra, easily the best resource for memorizing countries, cities and more, as well as Flags (simply awesome, my girls think), Name that Country, and geography puzzles. When the children were young, we loved Geography Songs; it was almost like a secret code to identify other homeschoolers.

If you are looking for geography ideas, do visit the Curriculum Choice to enjoy the entire article, Teaching Geography in the Homeschool.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers.

Review: Embodied Hope by Kelly Kapic

Pain and suffering require good theology because often, during intense pain of any kind, the whole question of how God’s sovereignty and goodness relate becomes intensely personal.  Often Psalm 92:15—The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him—becomes a very difficult confession.  Is God really good?  Sometimes it’s an arrogant question, but when there’s suffering it is often something entirely different.

In Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, Reformed theologian Kelly Kapic considers physical pain and discusses ‘how a Christian might live in the midst of suffering.’  That is, ultimately, what those in pain need, far more than abstract theories of the problem of suffering.

Kapic, a professor with a wife who suffers severe chronic pain, insists that to help others with pain we need both pastoral sensitivity and theological insight.  Without careful study of who God is (theology) we often head into psychology and moralism. Conversely, without loving and knowing the sufferer, we may end up with harsh principles.

With a deep understanding of the gospel, of pain, and of the writings of godly men like Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Bonhoeffer, Kapic explores how hope and lament are intertwined.  He discusses how we can deal with the fact that God’s good creation has been compromised, how we experience that as we suffer, how to lament that biblically, and how God’s faithfulness ultimately shapes biblical lament.

Vigorously rejecting the ancient and still common idea that the body and its pain are not important, Kapic points out that God created our bodies as well as our souls.  Our bodies are essential to our identity as individuals, to our relationships, and to our worship. And all of that is tied to Jesus Christ, who is hope embodied, hope made physical.  Jesus is the answer to the sufferer’s questions and he is God’s solution to the brokenness of the universe.  Because of him our sufferings are not the final word, nor are pain, aging, forgotten memories, or death.

However, it is not only our individual relationship to Jesus Christ that counts; our relationships in the body of Christ are also vital.  In fact, suffering shows how essential the body of Christ is to each member.  Kapic states that we are in essence ‘members of a larger body, and thus also inherently unstable when isolated.’

If this is true in general, it is even more important when someone is suffering.  Being is pain is not a safe place to be alone.  Lonely pain opens up temptations to despair, to dwelling on already-forgiven sins, and to questioning God’s care.  A Christian who suffers chronic pain alone is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, but a Christian who suffers in the body of Christ is, ideally, carried and encouraged by the faith, hope, and love of other believers.  For example, when Luther was ill, he begged prayers from his friends that he would be saved ‘from blasphemy, doubt and distrust of his loving God.’ (126)

Even so, sufferers must not ultimately look to other believers but to God’s revelation in Christ, since all faith, hope, and love ‘must ultimately point to and come from the triune God, and not merely from the communion of saints.’

Of course, believers need to learn how to come along side those in pain.  We often just want to help and, while this can be very important, our goal should not be to ‘fix’ the other person.  Rather we must learn to accept that pain is real and that the suffering person often just needs someone to be there.  It can be very hard to watch someone suffer, and many people feel helpless and want to run away.  Instead, we need to learn to share God’s love, perhaps with a glass of cold water, or a card, or a smile, or perhaps with endless hours of simply being there, suffering faithfully together, listening, honestly accepting the pain, and pointing to Christ, together.

Just as the suffering person needs other believers, so other believers need sufferers.  And, as Kapic points out, sufferers, too, have a responsibility.  They can encourage and serve those who are well by loving them and being grateful and compassionate.  They ‘need to beware of abusing others’.  ‘Those dealing with a great deal of pain often have to work hard to avoid self-absorption and cultivate neighbor love.  It takes intentionality.  It takes a missional focus.  But it can be life-giving.’ (160)

In Embodied Hope Kapic, as the husband of a wife with chronic pain, shares many practical insights.  Yet he always comes around to this:

Beloved, amid the trials and tribulations of life, let us have confidence not in ourselves, not in our own efforts, but in God.  This God has come in Christ, and he has overcome sin, death, and the devil.  While we may currently be walking through the shadow of death, may our God’s love, grace, and compassion become ever more real to us.  And may we, as the church, participate in the ongoing divine motions and movements of grace as God meets people in their need. (164)

This book has helped me come to terms with the fact that chronic suffering exists and has given me insight for supporting my daughter.  I think it will be a blessing to every Christian who suffers physical pain or who loves someone who does, and I strongly recommend it. Embodied Hope would be a great addition to a church library, as well.

Related resources (book links are to my reviews):

Supporting others

Understanding and Managing Pain

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I (eventually) share what I read. 

This is yet another book in the in the 2017 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, Raising Homemakers, and The Book Nook

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from IVP Academic.

Watching the Sun Come Up

We are all busy with all sorts of important and meaningful activities.  I have been ill, unable to be busy in the usual ways, so one morning I watched the sun come up.

It was amazing, much more amazing than the photos show.

Colors glowing, slowly fading, and then shifting to echoes of themselves on distant clouds.

After a while of appreciating God’s greatness on display outside my living room window, I got impatient.  I wanted the sun to come up.  The colors were fading, the contrast between night and day was smudging away and, even though I am ill, there were things I wanted to do.

Eventually—and yet it was really just such a short time—the sun did come up, a glowing miracle of orange.  And, of course, it was so bright I could no longer look at it even when it was only half way up.  It was just too much, too great, too overwhelming.

Once again I realized that, despite all our technology and ability, we humans are so small compared to the world God has put us in!

Yet it pleases God when we puny people acknowledge what he has made and thank him for it.  Some say that we were created to glorify him, and likely they are right.  So perhaps, resting on my couch immediately after getting up yesterday morning, perhaps I was doing something very important just by watching the sun come up.

And, you know something?  In watching God’s artistry, realizing that my Father is making that all and that I get to watch him at work, I was finding joy.  Those who say we were created to glorify him tie that in with enjoying him—there is joy in doing what we were designed to do.

And my petty impatience with God’s timetable, even for the sun rising but also for difficult matters, is something to repent of and change.  My Father, who continually designs new sunrises as the earth turns, certainly is able to manage all the hard things in my life, and he will, too, because he loves me.

May you, too, be able to thank God and delight in the beautiful world he has given us.  May you, too, find comfort in his greatness and goodness.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers.

Review: The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief

People who go to the Mayo Clinic Pain Center are often at their wits’ end.  Nothing else has worked, they are in great pain, and their lives have narrowed down to focus mostly on pain and health issues.  Yet, with treatment, guidance, and pain management plans, many of them are able to feel better, reduce or eliminate their medications, and ‘get their lives back’, although what they can do is often different than before the disease or injury.

Accessing pain clinics often involves long waiting times and/or considerable expense, although pain clinics that cater to teens are more accessible, in our area at least.  The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief, an online course from The Great Courses Plus, can help.

In this video course Dr. Barbara Bruce, together with other Mayo Clinic experts, first explains pain and discusses medication’s pros and cons.  Then she moves on to things that sufferers can do to address their pain as she:

  • discusses healing sensitized nerves and spinal cords,
  • encourages movement that increases general health, reduces disability, and reduces secondary pain,
  • explains stress and gives tools to reduce it,
  • encourages social interaction, explains its value, and provides care for caregivers,
  • explores the relationship between pain and sleep with practical advice for better sleep,
  • demonstrates how chronic pain can lead to grief,  anxiety, and depression and  gives tips on how to manage these,
  • explains how to build your own pain management team by showing how pain rehabilitation centers work to help sufferers and their families,
  • teaches how to create a personalized pain management plan with SMART goals and ways to keep track of them; how to make time available for this;  and how to plan for bad days.

The course finishes with

  • a set of simple range of motion exercises, strength training (upper body, core), and aerobics options, all with detailed instructions for how and when to progress and how to record progression, and
  • a sample guided meditation practice to help calm the autonomic nervous system (i.e. reduce pain, sensitization, and so on).

Throughout the course the emphasis is on empowering people with chronic pain, and the goal is to help them ‘get their lives back’ both by reducing the pain they feel and by increasing their strength and resiliency.  Anyone who takes the course and follows the instructions will have the beginnings of a pain management plan by the end of it, and will have learned enough to be able to begin to feel better.

Is this course for you?  The answer is ‘yes’

  • if you suffer from chronic pain
  • if pain has become or is becoming a major focus of your life,
  • if pain is interfering with everyday activities—work, school, relationships,
  • if you wish to reduce or eliminate your pain medication,
  • if you care for a person with chronic pain, or
  • if a family member experiences chronic pain.

With respect to the last two points, the Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief can be very helpful for caregivers, especially when the person who suffers is unwilling or unable to take it.  It helps caregivers and families understand pain, know what to encourage (e.g. socialization) and what to minimize (e.g. overdoing it), and gives them tools to thrive while supporting the person with pain.

Although I personally do not suffer pain (as long as I do what my doctor says), I do experience severe physical limitations due to very low exercise tolerance, and this course is proving helpful in dealing with that as well.  However, I took it because one of my favorite people is in constant pain and I wanted to learn to help her.  I think this pain course has given me both knowledge and tools to do a better job.  If you or a loved one experience chronic pain, I highly recommend it.

Note that nowhere in the Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief are faith, trust, prayer, sin, guilt, repentance, forgiveness, grace, comfort, or Christian hope spoken of.  That is, of course, a huge gap in addressing the experience of a Christian undergoing pain.  Soon I will post a review of Embodied Hope:  A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, a wise and powerful guide to understanding physical pain biblically.  Kelly Kapic, a pastor whose wife suffers chronic pain, reminds us that it is vital to remember that God is powerful, wise, caring, and good, and that he has given us other believers to encourage us.  Kapic sensitively addresses the issue of how to live as a Christian in the midst of pain, your own or that of a loved one.

The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief, composed of 12 half hour sessions, is available from The Great Courses Plus (currently they are offering a free month) and can also be bought from Amazon.  Because the video aspect of the course contains relevant diagrams and notes, I do not recommend using an audio version.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I (eventually) share what I read.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers.

Disclosure: I took this course using a free trial from The Great Courses Plus and am not compensated for sharing my honest opinion.

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