Devotional books for kids

gods namesI’m always looking around for good books to use for Biblestudy with the kids. God’s Names by Sally Michael (it was recommended in Tapestry of Grace) turned out to be an excellent choice for my elementary aged kids.

The book devotes one section to each of 26 different names of God. The lesson includes Scripture passages (written out in the text, but it also works to ask the kids to find the passages and read them from their own Bibles) that use that name to describe God, explanations of why that name was important in context, and application of how we can think about God and respond to Him based on our new understanding of who He is.

I really liked this approach. In the course of learning the names of God, kids (and adults!) develop a more complete understanding of God’s character–who He is and what He values. It was easy to make strong applications, and the lessons also built on each other, referencing names we had already learned about, so the way that different things work together was simpler to understand.

God’s Names worked well to do together with my group of kids, but you could also use it as an individual study if you have a kid who is ready for an independent approach.  I’d recommend it.

salvationI expected to love Starr Meade’s God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation–after all, we really enjoy her daily study based on the catechism (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds) and continue to use that each morning.

The information in the book is good, but I think the layout didn’t click with our family. Each day gives a passage to read from Galatians, and then has a short, loosely related story or series of thoughts based on one of the themes from the passage.  There are also application questions at the end. I think there were a couple of reasons why this set-up didn’t work for us. First, it didn’t seem like we were studying the passage–I was hoping for more explanation that shed light on the verses, or a structure that helped the kids learn about salvation in general–and the little readings were ok but not fantastic.  I guess overall the book seemed like something we were just reading to get through it, rather than really learning from. It could have been a case of the right book at the wrong time, or just a style preference.  We do still recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, though!

What devotional books have you tried and liked with your family?


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Yet another take on Richard III

Should you find yourself in the mood for more speculation about Richard III and the princes in the tower (if The Princes in the Tower, A Dangerous Inheritance, Elizabeth of York, and The Sunne in Splendor–to say nothing of Shakespeare–weren’t enough for you), and particularly if you enjoy mystery stories, you might like Josephine Tey’s much lauded book The Daughter of Time.

I enjoyed the book, although for those who have read Alison Weir on the subject you might find the facts presented too simplistically. Tey’s account paints the whole confusing jumble of the Wars of the Roses-Richard III-Bosworth Field-Plantagenets to Tudors progression as if it was really quite cut-and-dried, in spite of centuries of speculation.

In fact, one of Tey’s main themes is the idea that our common understanding of history is often wrong. She cites several examples, including an impassioned declaration that the Scottish Covenanters were in fact terrorists, and much worse than the IRA. That took me somewhat aback as it runs quite counter to what I’ve heard on the subject. Perhaps it really is an example of mistaken understanding of history, but given that I couldn’t entirely come over to Tey’s side for Richard III, I’d much rather see what historians have to say. (To that end, if you have recommendations for good–readable, available–Scottish history, I’d love to hear them!)

All in all, The Daughter of Time is quite readable and enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of the time period and open to reading different perspectives on history.

What do you think of Richard III? Is he guilty of murdering the princes or just massively maligned? 


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Raising Grateful Kids

Raising-Grateful-KidsRaising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World contains lots of helpful advice about how to accomplish the task named in the title, but I also found wisdom on several seemingly unrelated topics that the author skillfully tied to her main premise.

Kristen Welch does a good job of diagnosing the problem of ungratefulness and establishing some of the cultural circumstances that foster it in kids. Some of her solutions are what you would expect–don’t spoil kids, give them boundaries, expand their perspective, teach them to be thankful for the pancakes–while others were surprisingly and helpfully different.

  • “Compassionate parents raise their children to be prepared for an uncertain future.” Welch writes about not assuming that our children will be in a better financial situation than we are, but this idea extends to making sure your kids can choose a vocation or location regardless of whether it can sustain their habits of consumption.
  • Kids need to be taught how to use social media carefully. Since platforms change all the time, it’s better to establish general guidelines to help kids be wise online, especially since the online world tends to present unrealistic pictures and foster discontent.
  • “The most important thing we can teach our kids is self-control.” Welch does a fantastic job of outlining why the habit of self-control is foundational for so many aspects of gratefulness. This section gave me a lot to think about.

Although most people would probably say that gratitude is important, actually living in gratefulness is countercultural in ways you may not have thought about before. If you’re interested in raising kids who are characterized by gratitude rather than entitlement, I’d recommend Raising Grateful Kids as a strong resource.


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Smarter Faster Better

smatter faster better-500x500Smarter Faster Better looks at productivity and how really effective people actually achieve more. The author looks beyond the busy churn to identify powerful habits for being effective, regardless of your sphere of life.

Duhigg makes an important distinction between looking productive and actually being productive.  He writes:

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self marketing.

And there’s so much of modern online life in a nutshell, hm?

So we have to be sure that we aren’t using our To Do list as “mood repair” but rather that we are doing the right things in the first place.

How do we do this? Duhigg identifies several important habits for being truly productive:

  • Paying attention. Duhigg suggests managing your focus and attention by narrating your life as you go. Can he have been reading Charlotte Mason, or is that just a coincidence? :)
  • Self-motivation. People who realize that they have agency and can make choices are more effective than people who let life happen to them.
  • Wisely allocating energy. Effectiveness isn’t about doing something with every second of every day. It’s about doing the right things at the right time with the right energy.
  • Performing scenario analysis. In my pre-kids job, I did a lot of this sort of exercise: given what we know, what might happen in the future? Considering a worst case, best case, and middle ground possibility helps people make better choices and be more mindful of subtle changes to the status quo. Rather than making the false binary choices that our brains naturally like (you can have this OR this), envisioning alternate outcomes allows you to see situations more clearly.

I thought this book was helpful and a good reminder, although it used examples and conclusions that I have–for the most part–read elsewhere. It’s good to read information from different angles. So I’d recommend Smarter Faster Better if you like the habits/goals/life purpose genre, although I wouldn’t say it was life-changing on its own.

If you read the book–or if you have thoughts on productivity outside Duhigg’s examples–I’d be interested to know which habits you think characterize truly effective people?


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Another great series for your summer reading

all-of-a-kind familyI’ve posted about All-of-a-Kind Family and how much we enjoyed it, and stated our intention to read everything else the author wrote. Well, so we did. And we can now whole-heartedly recommend this series to you for your summer (or anytime) reading list.

We read aloud or listened to audio versions of More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, and then we read A Papa Like Everyone Else, which isn’t about the same family, but sort of could be about the Mama as a little girl, perhaps, in terms of time period and coming from the old country to America.

These books are great fun and full of siblings getting into and out of various scrapes, the family being a center for love and growth, hospitality, and how the family comes through the immigrant experience and still retains a strong family character and culture. These are great books for the early 1900s setting, but the themes and ideas are timeless and the adventures are good, clean fun.

I will say that there is some romancey stuff in Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, as in that volume Ella is an adult deciding who to marry and everything. My elementary kids responded with choruses of “EWWWWW” when there was lovey-dovey stuff, but it wasn’t inappropriate so much as not their speed.  In hindsight we wouldn’t have missed anything by skipping it, except for the fact that at the end Mama is pregnant again and WE DON’T FIND OUT IF THE BABY IS A BOY OR A GIRL!!!!! And then Sydney Taylor died and never wrote any more books.  We were completely aghast.  I was sort of tempted to challenge the kids to write fan fiction sequels with one kid taking the stance “and the baby was yet another girl” and the other taking “and it was a brother!”

Anyway, these are great books and really, really solid for reading aloud.  We recommend them heartily.  If you do read the series, please let us know what you think!


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A birthday tea party

Me: What will you have for your birthday cake this year, Eliza?

Eliza: A purple cake! With purple teacups and purple flowers on them!

Me: So will it be a tea party?

Eliza: No, it will be an EATING PARTY!DSC_0229

Eliza turned three yesterday so we went all out with a party featuring tea AND eating.  :) We had homemade scones, cookies, vegetables, fruit, cucumber sandwiches, and cake. Plus tea with lots of cream and sugar. And purple tulips in a teapot.


This year has been one of re-examining life and not just saying “these are my priorities” while doing lots of other things too. I am not perfect at this, or even close to it. But when I think about Eliza’s birthday tea, I’m glad I’ve cut things–even neutral or good things–to give me enough margin for just living real life together. I’m reading some good things about this lately–home atmosphere and prioritizing relationships and making room for what’s important and the philosophy of making wise choices. I’m also getting inspiration for living deliberately and authentically from Upstream Field Guide (forget the rest, I literally bought this just for the UFG).DSC_0234Eliza at three is very funny, determined, and conscientious. She dances wildly, loves books, and thinks she can write her name in cursive (sorry, people who collect the attendance sheets at church each week–those are her long lines of scrolly “e”s).

Eliza: Once I was a baby, but now I’m Eliza.

Me: So we can’t call you “Babe-ums” anymore?

Eliza: Mogget [Margaret] is a tiny Babe-ums. I’m a big Babe-ums. Because I’m a big girl. I’m THREE.

We love you, Eliza!  I hope your third year is full of big smiles and great books and lots and lots of tea parties.


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Diastasis Recti: A Whole Body Solution

DRI find the post-partum season a little bewildering this time around.  For one thing, thanks to a major emergency surgery after I delivered Margaret, I have a really ugly scar that bothers me a lot. I suspect that people who have c-sections might not mind their scars, because they are probably smaller and also associated with the birth of the baby. Since Margaret was born before my surgery, I don’t have that mental association. Then an added surprise was when about half of my hair fell out. Apparently that’s common after a traumatic surgery with extensive blood loss, and it might grow back at some point, but meanwhile I can blow dry my hair in LESS than two minutes flat when it used to take at least ten minutes, so that’s the bright side!

But the whole thing about having a couple of surgeries immediately following a birth is that it has made me very tentative about my abs. In earlier pregnancies I at least somewhat got the ab separation back together, but this time, after so much craziness, it has been tougher to know where to start.

All that to say, I was interested to read Katy Bowman’s book on Diastasis Recti, which is the official name for how your abs can separate–often during pregnancy but also for other reasons. Basically, this book is about your core and how it works and how to protect and use it well. I generally find books full of exercises difficult to implement, but this one helped me in that it gave me a better understanding of core function as a whole, and made suggestions for how to alter regular activities to make them more supportive. I won’t say that my stomach is back to normal, and honestly I suspect it never will be, but at least I can move toward more health in that area thanks to Bowman’s book.

Overall health is pretty much my goal for now–I am exercising (30 Day Shred for life!) and trying to eat well, and the scale does not budge, so weight loss can’t be my motivator! It’s amazing to me that six months after going through so much I am even able to exercise, nurse my baby, and handle managing life with five kids. It’s all grace and a constant reminder to thankfulness!

If you’re interested in core health or have had babies, I’d recommend Diastasis Recti. I’ve also found Lose Your Mummy Tummy and Maternal Fitness helpful in the past, and for some reason Jillian’s Six Week Six Pack helped a lot after one of my kids, although I wouldn’t recommend it until you get your core back into pretty good shape post-partum.

And as one final note for those who don’t have DR but are interested in biomechanics generally (and it’s really interesting!), I noticed that Bowman has several other books and might check them out. If you’ve read any, let me know your thoughts!


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Some fairy tales for your summer reading list

If you’re starting to compile a summer reading list–either for read-alouds, audio books for car trips, or chapter books to keep your kids racking up points for prizes–you might want to consider some fairy tale-type stories.

Edith Nesbit is one of our favorite authors, and although she doesn’t write strictly fairy tale narratives, she does often weave in magic or fairy tale aspects.  We recently listened to two more of her books on audio–The Enchanted Castle and The Magic World–and were not disappointed.

castleThe Enchanted Castle involves and enchanted castle, naturally, and the adventures of a group of siblings bored on summer holiday plus a friend who is the niece of the housekeeper at the aforementioned castle.  The reader for the audio book was superb, and it’s always delightful to learn new (to us) old-fashioned British slang terms.  We’ve added “look slippy about it!” and “don’t be a GOAT!” to our repertoire thanks to this volume.


magicThe Magic World is actually a series of short stories, and it turns out that many of them were inspirational to other famous authors.  You’ll find, for example, a little girl who goes into a wardrobe in a spare room and has adventures. Sound familiar?

Shannon Hale is a modern writer who specializes somewhat in retellings of old and possibly less common fairy tales. Hannah enjoyed reading a number of these and asked me to read two to discuss with her.

princess-academyPrincess Academy  is a well-told tale of mountain girls being trained for potential princess-hood, then working together to bring the best of their village culture to bear in problem solving.  I enjoyed the book–especially the well-written setting–and Hannah and I had a good discussion about whether the ends ever justify the means (the book implies that they do).



Hannah really liked Book of a Thousand Days since she is partial to diaries and this book uses that frame. Neither of us felt it was quite as strong as Princess Academy, but it was still a good story. The setting, somewhere in Asia, was interesting. After reading these two books, Hannah read a few more, but I didn’t decide to keep going.



While not technically a fairy tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is fantasy and thus belongs to this post as much as do Nesbit’s books. Plus, after reading the abovementioned Nesbit tale you might be inspired to look up other wardrobe stories too!  We remembered it had been a while since we read of Narnia, so we got the audio book to listen to in the car. It was quite well done and we all loved listening to the story (again). We might go through the series this summer as our library has the audio books available on Overdrive (by far the cheapest and easiest way to get audio books–ask if your library has it!). That said, we do recommend the actual books as well.  This is one of those series where each child in the family needs his or her own set!

And of course, if you are thinking about your own Summer Reading, or have a teen, the Lunar Chronicles are great reconceptions of fairy tale elements.


What’s on your list for this summer?


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A Town Like Alice

aliceI keep saying I’m done reading about World War II, but this month one of my book clubs chose A Town Like Alice and although I missed the meeting (I’m turning into That Person Who Always Misses Book Club…) I really enjoyed the book.

The book follows a remarkably resilient girl through an amazing (and based on a true story) survival in World War II Malaya, to her attempt at a post-war life in England, and finally her likewise amazing adulthood as a pioneer of sorts in the Australian bush. The author did a great job with the settings, so that I wished I could visit each of them, especially Australia, cat-eating-spiders notwithstanding.

The only issue I had with the book was a sort of shaky narrator–I wish Shute had settled on a slightly different frame and/or had been more consistent with the point of view. However, the book is still great and I’d recommend it, whether or not you like World War II stories or tales about Australia.


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The Island of the World

islandThe Island of the World is like a fantastic book combined with a so-so book, resulting in a four-star book that is about 300 pages too long.

Allow me to explain.

I am not against books that top out over 900 pages, but you have to earn that length. At points, this book is exceptional.  As a piece of historical fiction about the Balkans, and as a lyrically written story of how a boy’s life is irrevocably impacted by the circumstance of his birth in that region in the 1900s. I thought the story was amazing, with exceptional attention to detail that never felt overwhelming.


The book also contains vast passages of didactic conversations that don’t advance the plot, minor characters that don’t really go anywhere, and meandering subplots that don’t serve the story. The book would have been much, much better without those sections.

That said, I really did enjoy The Island of the World, and would recommend it if you don’t mind plodding through or skimming the unnecessary portions. I especially recommend it if you are interested in the Balkans or don’t know much about that part of the world. This book greatly expanded my understanding of that region.


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