Books & Reading

My Reading Piles: The When & How

I’ve been sharing on Instagram lately, every week or two, the stack of books I’m planning to read. I’ve been getting lots of questions about them, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share about my reading habits, for those of you who were wondering.

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1. Do you really read all those books?

Yes and no.

I’ve been including four books in every picture, because I like the consistency and it’s a manageable size: not overwhelming, but enough to show variety. But because of the way I read, no, I do not always read those exact four books from start to finish that same week.

I’m always reading several books at once, and at several different paces. I may devour two whole novels over a weekend, and take months to get through another book I want to really process as I read. (For example, I am still slowly plodding through Jane Eyre and Emily Dickenson’s poems from the picture above.) So when I post a picture of a book, I may have started it earlier, and am still working on it, I may plan to start it later, I may be planning to finish it that day. I’m a little all over the place.

However, I do strive for the pictures to be as honest as possible: I won’t include a book if I don’t at least plan to pick it up at some point during the week. And though I don’t post pictures every single week, it’s not completely unusual for me to finish three or four books in a week. I do occasionally abandon titles once I’ve started them, but this doesn’t happen often. So in that sense the answer is yes. If I post a book on Instagram, it’s pretty safe to assume that I’m going to read the whole thing at some point.

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2. How do you have time to read so much?

This is probably the question I get the most. There are a few things I do to fit in so much reading. First, reading is my very favorite hobby. I like to bake and I like to sew, but neither of those is nearly so delightful to me as curling up with a good book. It’s my go-to free time activity.

Second, reading isn’t something I only do by myself. I get to read tons of books that I enjoy because I read them aloud to my children (or listen to the audiobooks with them in the car!). Homeschooling has given us even more time for this, of course, but it’s something I made time for before we were a homeschool family.

Last year, we read Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little House in the Big Woods, just to name a few. Those are all books I would have loved to read all by myself anyway, and enjoying them with my family made them that much better. If you need encouragement and suggestions for reading aloud, this podcast is one of my very favorites.

Third, I carve out time for little snippets of reading that add up over time. For example, I am almost always working my way through some sort of devotional or Christian living book in conjunction with my devotional time of a morning. It takes maybe five or ten minutes a day. I don’t read through these books very quickly, but I probably get in an extra ten or twelve books a year that I wouldn’t get to read otherwise by doing this. If you had a book you read consistently in the pick up line at school, in the bathroom, or during your break at work, you’d probably be amazed at how many more books you could read, too.

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3. How do you decide what to read?

This is actually evolving for me, and I’m planning to share soon about how homsechooling is changing the way I read, even for fun. But as far as finding good things to read, I’m never without ideas. I keep a pretty extensive list of what I want to read at Goodreads, and add to it as I get recommendations from people I trust.

For family reading, the Read-Aloud Revival is my go-to resource, but I recently discovered Brightly, and really like it, too. There are also several fantastic books that are full of lists of good kids’ books. A few of my recent favorites are Honey for a Child’s Heart, Give Your Child the World, and Read for the Heart.

For myself, when I was still working at the library, I read reviews of new books in Publisher’s Weekly almost every week. Now that I’m not there anymore, I get my information about new books from Book Riot, Goodreads, and Modern Mrs. Darcy.

If you’re looking for your next book, any of these would be fantastic places to look. Or ask me – I love recommending books to people! (And please note: the book stack pictures on are not meant to be recommendations. I can’t vouch for these books personally until I’ve read them, and some of the books I share in those photos turn out to be duds.)

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4. Where do you get all your books?

I get almost everything I read at the library. I make liberal use of our inter-library loan programs, and have found, at least for our library, that there are very few titles I can’t get that way if it’s something our library doesn’t carry.

I do buy books occasionally, when it’s something I want to mark up or think I will read over and over again. I like to buy used when I can, and am always on the lookout for favorite titles when I’m at garage sales or thrift stores. But when I want a specific title, my default is Amzaon. We’re Prime members, and I can wait two days for almost anything if it means I don’t have to leave the house.

Do you have more questions about my reading habits? Or suggestions of books I should read? Share them in the comments!

Books & Reading · Homeschooling

Voting & Democracy Unit Study (with links!)

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Hey, everyone! Did you think I’d forgotten about this little space on the internet?

It’s been a wild ride the last couple of months. As if job changes and beginning to home school weren’t enough of a change, we are taking a step of faith and moving to Nashville. We close on our house of eight years in twenty-five days, and have begun to find a new rhythm that works for us just in time to have it thrown into complete chaos by moving!

But all the while, I’ve been thinking about what to share here, about what would encourage your heart, point your eyes to Jesus, and help you as you seek to live our your faith and build a strong family. Soon, I hope, I will have much more to share with you. But for today, something fun.

I know you probably have strong feelings about this year’s election. I do, too. But a presidential election is still an exciting time, and getting to participate in choosing our next leader is a privilege I refuse to be anything but grateful for. I’m hoping to shield my kids from the vitriol of this election and just introduce them to the wonder and excitement of big ideas like liberty, democracy, and the electoral process.

I had some trouble finding democracy and voting unit study plans that were both interdisciplinary and appropriate for my pre-K and first grade boys. So, with a lot of time on my library’s card catalog website, and a little bit of flexibility and willingness to take time to answer my boys’ questions, I put together my own. I’m sharing it here in case anyone else is looking for good resources to teach preschoolers and early elementary students about the upcoming election.

Please note: discussions about liberty and voting often touch on a lot of other big issues, issues like racism, war, women’s rights, and political ideology. So I would certainly recommend previewing everything, so that you can decide for yourself what’s right for your class or family before you share it with them.

Our regular curriculum has a strong literature-based slant, so I kept that in mind as I approached this unit study. The books we read aloud together covered several subjects, including language arts, social studies, math, and reading, and then we added some fun projects to work in science, art, and music.

Below, I’ve listed the resources we used by type, then broken it down into what we actually used each day. What made the most sense to me was to give each day its own theme, but you could certainly group things in lots of other ways.  Enjoy!

Resources we used

Books

Naming Liberty // Jane Yolen
Just in Time Abraham Lincoln // Patricia Polacco
When Penny Met POTUS // Rachel Ruiz
American Poetry (From the Poetry for Young People series) // Edited by John Hollander
Duck for President // Doreen Cronin
The Grizzly Gazette // Stuart J. Murphy
Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert // Cindy Neuschwander
Grace for President // Kelly DiPucchio
The Day Gogo Went to Vote // Elinor Batezat Sisulu
Around America to Win the Vote // Mara Rockliff
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble // Doreen Rappaport
We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States // David Catrow
The Buck Stops Here // Alice Provensen
One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote // Bonnie Worth
Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner // Monica Kulling

Videos

National anthem when Maya DiRado received her Olympic gold medal (this one makes me cry every time!)
Lady Gaga sings the National Anthem at the 2016 Super Bowl
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: The Neighborhood Votes/ The Class Votes
Peg + Cat: The Election Problem
PBS Kids You Choose Project

Projects

Copper oxidation science experiement (to understand why the Statue of Liberty is green)
Printable President trading cards
Design your own campaign poster
Printable electoral vote map
Research on learning database PebbleGo.com (see if your library has it!)

Daily lessons

(No lesson plan for Monday because our books and projects that day were all about Halloween.)

Tuesday: Liberty and Democracy

Read-alouds: Naming Liberty, Liberty’s Journey
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Music: Star Spangled Banner & Patriotic Songs
Science: Penny experiment

Wednesday: Presidents

Read-alouds: When Penny Met POTUS, George Washington easy-reader biography, Just in Time Abraham Lincoln, The Buck Stops Here
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Fine-motor activity: cutting and folding presidential trading cards
Social studies: Pebble Go articles

Thursday: Suffrage and Campainging

Read-alouds: Elizabeth Started All the Trouble, Around America to Win the Vote, The Day Gogo Went to Vote, Grace for President
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Math: The Grizzly Gazette
Art: campaign posters

Friday: Voting

Read-alouds: One Vote Two Votes, Duck for President, Grace for President
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Math: Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert
Social Studies: Daniel Tiger and Peg + Cat episodes and discussion

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If you have any suggestions to add, share them in the comments below!

Books & Reading

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of a story.

Jesus often taught in parables, of course, but I’ve also been considering the words of the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan goes, sent by the Lord, to David to confront him about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, Uriah. But instead of simply telling David he sinned, Nathan tells a story. When David is outraged over the rich man who stole the poor man’s sheep, Nathan turns the tables on him and says, “You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).

That is what a good story, true or fiction, can do for us – it can hold up a mirror to our lives and help us see ourselves as we really are. In fact, sometimes, a story can do this better than an outright sermon, because we don’t have our defenses up. When we think we are looking at someone else’s life, and their faults, we are freer to examine our own than when we are bracing for confrontation.

I shared a couple of weeks ago about a book that did exactly that for me, a wonderful story called Hind’s Feet on High Places. But I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of other fantastic stories recently, and I thought I’d share a few with you this morning.

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7 Women, Eric Metaxes

Eric Metaxes is known for, among other things, a couple of very long biographies. I checked out his book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer when it first came out, and had high ambitions to read it, but it was about a thousand pages (not an exaggeration) and after a chapter or two, I knew I just couldn’t do it.

But this little book profiles seven different women in under 300 pages – much more doable. Each chapter is its own little biography, and each stands alone, so if there’s someone you’re not particularly interested in, you can totally skip to the next one.

However, do not skip the introduction. He talks about why he chose the women he wrote about, and why women like Joan of Arc and Rosa Parks were able to accomplish what they did. “There are things men can and should do that women cannot, and there are things women can and should do that men cannot… So when men cease to be such or women deny their uniqueness, they make that complementarity impossible, and the whole, as it were, suffers.”

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First Impressions, by Charlie Lovett

If you love Jane Austen, or mysteries involving old books and used bookshops, this book is definitely for you. It was a fun, easy-to-read story, perfect for a long weekend or rainy day.

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A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

This book – I had no idea how much I would love it. I think I read it once before, in junior high, but this time I read through the entire quintet of books. Each book is very different, but they are all good. I just finished the final book, An Acceptable Time, last night, and have enjoyed the whole series immensely.

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Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist

This was also a reread for me, but a very timely one. In the book, among other things, Shauna talks about her husband’s health struggles, and her struggles to help him as he had to change his diet for his health. Reading about his journey was especially timely for me, and the recipes included throughout were exactly what I needed – wholesome and full of real-food ingredients, but delicious and soul-filling at the same time. Several are gluten-free and dairy-free, too.

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Happiness for Beginners, Katherine Center

I think this is Katherine Center’s best book yet. (I’ve read two others of hers, Everyone is Beautiful and The Lost Husband). I love her writing style and characters in general, but the main setting of this book is a weeks-long hike through the mountains. Jason and I hope to one day take the boys on backpacking trips like the one described in this book, so I loved all the details she included about hiking and camping. And this may have positively influenced my opinion of this book, but I took it with us on our first camp out of the year, and read it by the fire while Jason and the boys were fishing. It was so easy to imagine myself in the book.

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Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Some friends of mine from work just started a book club, and this was what we read for our second meeting. I discovered about halfway through, to my disappointment, that my much-beloved antique copy of this book is abridged, so I have this copy on my Christmas list. Despite having the abridged copy, though, I thoroughly enjoyed rereading this book.

The last time I read it, I was in college, and related most to Jo and Amy, setting off on their adventures. This time, I saw so much more of myself in Meg and Marmee. I love books like this that only get richer with each reading. And I can’t wait to read an unabridged copy and find out what I’ve been missing! (Also, after you read it, watch this movie version, one of my all-time favorite films.)

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After You, Jojo Moyes

(WARNING: major spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read Me Before You, turn back now!)

I was hesitant to read this book, (a sequel) because I disliked the first book, Me Before You, so much. I was in a rough place emotionally when I read it, and we had just put our dog to sleep a couple days earlier. The whole time I was reading, I was just sure the ending would turn out on the side of hope and life, so when Will decides to go ahead with his assisted suicide, I was heartbroken, discouraged, and sorry that I had wasted all my vacation reading time and so much emotional energy on a story that left me so disappointed. But the sequel – it was exactly everything I wished Me Before You had been. And if, unlike me, you liked the first book, you’ll like this one, too, I think.


Those are the books I’ve been loving lately. If you want more book recommendations, I’ve been trying to share more of books I’m excited about on Instagram, and you can always see everything I’m reading on Goodreads.

Happy reading!

Books & Reading · Heart

Please don’t read this

After immersing myself in the words of the Bible for a month, I find my fingers hovering over the keyboard, unsure.

I hesitate, not because I have nothing to say, but because the last thing I want to do is add one more word to all the others out there.

Those noisy words drown out the still, small voice. They are dead, pulling us away from the Living Word, who came and dwelt among us.

I hesitate because I know myself. How even after a month of feasting on God’s truth, it was still easy to go a few days without reading the Bible. How I still skim the familiar phrases as I read, letting my mind wander to laundry and grocery lists and what’s for dinner. How even as a part of me is desperate to know God and learn his voice, there is this whole other part of me that is rebellious and untamed and that the worst of it is my tongue.

I worry that by putting these words on the page, I’m like Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll read something here and turn to God. But so many of us, my own stubborn self included, are as easily deceived as the Israelites.

You know what they did with that snake? They made an idol out of it, and started burning sacrifices to it. I think that’s what has happened to the church. We’ve lifted up the Mark Battersons and the Francis Chans, and the Beth Moores, and we allow our faith to rest in their words instead of in the One who gave them the words to say.

And then I want to be Hezekiah, and tear our books to pieces because they’ve made idolaters out of us. Jason probably ought to put a lock on the office door before I do something rash.

But in all seriousness, I am wary of creating anything that might become an idol. Because if I’ve learned one thing in all my study of the Bible, it’s that God doesn’t take idolatry lightly. Who am I to presume to add one more word, or phrase, or thought that might take away from your time in God’s Word?

And yet, I have to write. It’s what God made me to do, as much as he made you to build or sing or doctor or cook or teach. The words are in my heart and in my hands, and somehow they always find their way out of me onto the page or the computer screen.

I pray that my words will serve only to lead you back to Jesus.

But if you only have five minutes to read, please don’t read this. Read your Bible.

Books & Reading · Heart

Fasting and Feasting

I am a glutton for words.

An addict.

No matter how many things I read, it’s never enough.

I buy into the lie of novelty, even though in my heart I know “there’s nothing new under the sun.” But I bury those words, whispered to the quiet places in my heart, and instead seek out new ones. The ones that promise to deliver me from boredom, organize my kitchen cabinets, potty train my 2-year-old in three easy steps.

All day long my hungry eyes devour words, seeking from them the magic bullet that will solve my problems or make me happy.

It’s not like everything I read is evil. It isn’t. I read a lot of things by Christian authors. Church ministry books. Theology books. Christian parenting books. Allegorical novels. And they’re all terrific.

…except…

They aren’t truth with a capital “T.”

There’s only one book that is.

And lately, I’ve noticed this alarming trend in my life to cast aside the words of The Word, who was with God in the beginning, for the words of someone, anyone, else.

It hit me one day when I was reading some Christian book something-or-other, in which the author quoted a passage of Scripture. That’s not unusual in these types of books, in fact it’s pretty common. To the point that I caught myself skimming the words of the Bible.

Skimming.

In my mind, I thought something along the lines of, “yeah, yeah, I know this, I’ve read it before, let me skip ahead to the good stuff.” (As if what the author had to say could somehow be better than words that can divide soul and spirit.)

I would never have said anything like that out loud, of course, but those were my honest thoughts.

And the moment I had them, I was ashamed. Convicted. Reminded once again how weak my sorry flesh is. And I was worried. How could I change? How could I reverse my dependence on any word but the ones that come from God’s own lips?

So for the month of November, I’ve decided to set aside my stack of books my magazines and my Google Reader blog feed.

I’ve had enough.

It’s time to close all the pages the do not matter and open the ones that will outlast the heavens and the earth.

It’s time for ashes. For sackcloth. For fasting.

Except it’s not a fast at all. Really, it’s a feast.

“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Psalm 119:103

“Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that
comes from the mouth of God.”
Matthew 4:4

“I am the bread of life.”
John 6:48