The Influence of Stories
Stories shape culture. I have been influenced by stories my whole life so I know this is true. As I started having children and reading to them, I discovered that I loved finding good books that would influence the way they saw the world. My goal is that they will grow a heart of compassion, gratitude, contentment, and wisdom – all of the good things that make up a good life. I was asked to share some of these books with you, and it is my pleasure to pass on a few of the treasures I’ve come across over the years. Since Christmas has just passed, these special books have been on my mind!
Everyday Acts of Kindness
Papa Panov’s Special Day is a classic folk tale adapted by Leo Tolstoy. The version I love is retold by Mig Holder with illustrations by Julie Downing.
This book was gifted to me by my big sister, she remembered it being read to us kids and wanted this classic to be passed on to our children. I don’t know if I’ve ever read this story out loud and not had tears streaming down my face at the end.
It’s a story of an old shoemaker in a small Russian village who was alone during the holidays that year, and while reading his Bible he thought about how if baby Jesus were to come to his place he wouldn’t have anything to give him. Then he remembered a tiny pair of red baby shoes, the best shoes he’d ever made. He thought he could give him those. As he dozed off reading the nativity story, He heard a voice, it was Jesus telling him “ you wished that you had seen Me, that I had come to your little shop and that you could give me a gift. Look out into the street from dawn to dusk tomorrow and I will come. Be sure to recognize me, for I shall not say who I am.”
The next day which was Christmas Day, he spends the day looking for Jesus. In the process, he sees many needs and helps people through small acts of kindness. In anticipation of missing his visitation from Jesus, he tells the story to each of the recipients of his kindness. They thought he was strange for expecting a visit from Jesus but wished him well for being so kind to them.
Over and over, he was worried that while visiting with the others that he had possibly missed the One he was hoping to meet. At the end of the day, His heart was heavy and he wondered if it was only a dream after all. “ I wanted to believe it so much. I wanted Him to come” And at once it seemed like someone was in the room, through his tears he saw a long line of people passing across the little shop, all the people he had seen and spoken to that day. As they passed, they whispered one by one, “Didn’t you see me? Didn’t you see me Papa Panov?”.
“Who are you?” he asked. And he heard the same voice as the night before…” I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was cold and you took me in. These people you have helped today-all the time you were helping them, you were helping me!”… So He came after all. I’ll remember that whenever I read the Christmas story. The gospel story is so beautiful. I cry almost every time.
An Extraordinary Gift
Ordinary Baby, Extraordinary Gift by Gloria Gather and illustrated by Barbara Hranilovich is a simple summary of the whole gospel story; from the promise God made to fix the mess we made in the garden through the promise that he would come to us. This book focuses on our relationship with God and His plan to redeem what was lost. My favorite quote from this book is: “ who would have ever guessed it! God thought of the best way to have his friends back. He would be an ordinary baby. That’s the way He planned it, maybe, so that we would come to him and not be afraid.”
The first part of the book is that summary and the last part of the book is a poem, which is actually a song. The book originally came with a CD, but we lost it before actually listening to it and we don’t have a CD player anyway. It’s worth typing out- I think it’s beautiful!
He was just an ordinary baby. That’s the way he planned it, maybe, anything but common would have kept him apart from the children that he came to rescue. Limited to some elite few, when he was the only child who asked to be born, And now he came to us with eyes wide open, knowing how we’re hurt and broken, choosing to partake of all our joy and pain,
He was just an ordinary baby: that’s the way he planned it, maybe, so that we would come to him and not be afraid.
He was ordinary with the exception of miraculous conception; Both His birth and death he planned from the start.
But between his entrance and his exit was a life that has affected everyone who’s walked the earth to this very day.
With no airs of condescension, He became God’s pure extension.
Giving you and me the chance to be remade. He was just an ordinary baby; that’s the way he planned it, maybe, so that we could come to him.
So that we would come to him and not be afraid.
Song of the Stars
My newest Christmas book addition is a board book called Song of the Stars-a Christmas Story written by Sally Lloyd-Jones with paintings by Alison Jay.
I love this book! I’m especially fond of good board books both because they are a rare find, and because small children won’t rip the pages. And I love reading to toddlers. This is quick enough for some toddlers but moving enough for any age to appreciate.
The beginning says, “ the world was about to change forever. And it almost went by unnoticed…”
The back of the book has a wonderful summary of this beautiful rendition:
The entire universe is breathless with anticipation… the joyous news spreads out across fields, deserts, oceans—from stars, to trees, to robins, to flowers. Sheep tell their young. Angels sing to shepherds. And together they all join in nature’s great chorus of praise to the newborn King. The long-awaited child has come.
Towards the end of the book after sweet anticipation is built up for the grand finale, “the animals stood around his bed. And the whole earth and all the stars and sky held its breath…the One who made us has come to live with us!…and they gazed in wonder at God’s great gift. Lying on a bed of straw wrapped in rags— a tiny little baby. Heaven’s Son sleeping under the stars that he made.”
A Good Foundation
I’m pretty sure there is no greater task than to share what we know of God to our children, and hopefully, they will build their lives on the foundation that we give them. These types of books are a great start!
I love to share the story of Jesus! To communicate the meaning of the nativity and shape the culture and atmosphere in our home is a joy to me. I encourage you to drop the focus on material things that is typical of the Christmas season and the stress of starting a New Year and pick up a few good books that bring us back to the greatest story of all time: the precious story of Jesus and His plan to redeem the world unto Himself.
If your New Year’s resolutions include adding more reading or more read alouds to your homeschool, I hope you will add one or more of my beloved books to your wishlist. Include them and their joyful message in your holiday celebrations and everyday reading! And remember that we are what we read – stories can shape our culture and our hearts!
Are you looking for a great book for your tween or teen? Check out these book recommendations from the students in the True North Homeschool Academy Writing Club!
Fantasy Book Recommendations
The Map to Everywhere series (four books), by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis; Two children along with their magical friends go on adventures together to find the pieces to the Map to Everywhere so they can save people they love. Fantasy. Four stars (the third book has a less than satisfying ending in my opinion).
The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson; Chronicles of Narnia/Lord of the Rings genre. Five Stars. It is a wonderfully whimsical adventure with spectacular characters and some deep underlying themes.
“The Moffats.”, by Eleanor Estes; Four stars. An older book, this hilarious story is a laugh a minute, following the lives of the unforgettable Moffat family. I would recommend this for a younger audience (ages 7-12).
All the wrong questions Lemony Snicket, five stars,
The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, by Christopher Paolini; Fantasy. 4.5 stars. A wonderful addition to the Inheritance Cycle! It follows the further adventures of a dragon rider named Eragon, as he and Saphira work to establish a new home for dragons and riders alike.
Story Thieves, by James Riley, five stars
The Wings of Fire series, by Tui T. Sutherland. You will laugh and cry! Five stars.
Fiction Book Recommendations
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life, by James Patterson. Five stars.
Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World. A look at the world of mission work and cross-cultural experiences.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; Not great fiction, Three stars. I have often wondered why people liked this movie/book series, especially after my brother praised it rather highly (he has since repented of his blunders) and so in a quest to become educated in the world of literature, I began my quest by reading The first hunger games. I was rather disappointed, and half way through the second book, I was forced to put the book down. The main reason was it was rather gruesome, and gory, (not to mention multiple nude references) not only that but I felt rather ‘bummed’ after reading it because there doesn’t seem to be any authoritative hope, or redemption at the end. (plus it was just plain SAD!) The first book was tolerable, but I did not like the second one at all.
Beauty, by Robin McKinley, five stars. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Excellent vocabulary and unique storytelling.The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley, five stars. This is a retelling of Robin Hood. Good character development and suspense.
Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff. This is a relatively short book about a girl in foster care, trying to find a family. It’s very picturesque and descriptive, and Giff has a unique way of getting into her character’s personalities. Fictional. Five stars.
Winnie the Horse Gentler, by Dandi Daley Mackall A fun story about horses and a young girl who must learn to live without her Mom. 5 Stars
The Imagination Station Series by Focus on the Family. For fans of FoF Imagination station and want more than just the radio drama. 5 Stars
Mystery Book Recommendations
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series (three books in the series), by Chris Grabenstein; Kids get placed in a library and have to solve riddles and puzzles to escape. Five stars.
Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett; Fun and thought-provoking. Two kids go on an adventure to save a missing painting. In the illustrations, there is a puzzle that’s really fun to solve.
The Prisoner of the Pyrenees by C. R. Hegecock in her amazing Baker Family Adventures series. This book is part of my very favorite series. This series is a wonderful group of books, full of excitement, wonderful truths, and awesome mystery. Not to mention the great characters, settings, and plots. You could tear up on this one!
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart; Mystery/fiction. 5 stars.
Historical Fiction Book Recommendations
Listen to the Moon, by Michael Morpurgo; A boy and his father find a young girl who cannot speak on an island near their home. They try to figure out where she came from and what happened to her. Historical fiction (set in 1915). Four stars (it’s kinda sad).
Projekt 1065, by Alan Gratz; Historical Fiction. 5+ stars. This is a fantastic book! It follows the story of an Irish teen who joins the Hitler Youth- as a spy.
The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy, Self-published. Five stars. If you’re looking for a good historical fiction series, this series is the place to go to. The characters are amazing, and the plots keep you wanting to read on.
Amos Fortune Free Man, by Elin Yates, five stars
Little Britches, by Ralph Moody. Autobiography. 5 stars! We read this one out loud, and everyone was next to, (if not in the midst of) tears at the end! It’s a biography about a boy, (Ralph Moody himself) as he grows from a boy, into a young man. It also portrays, in a very, very beautiful, realistic, touching, and even humorous aspects of family, and everything that goes with it; including love, joy, sorrow, and pain. One of the best books I have ever read! (it is actually apart of a series, but I haven’t read any of the other ones.) It also portrays the times very well, and is a great family read aloud!
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak; historical fiction. Will make you cry (a LOT!) and laugh . . but not as much as you will cry. 5 stars! Another one of the greats! A very, very creative, thoughtful, and interesting perspective on not only WWII, but also on regular life. It is for sure one of the best books I have ever read. Though, just a heads up, I wouldn’t allow anyone below the age of 12, maybe even 13 to read it, due to some swearing, and rather complicated concepts. Told from a unique perspective you follow the interesting life of Liesel Meminger. WARNING! You will probably cry at the end . . . HARD!
Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen; 4 stars. Simple, and sweet. A story about family, and the beautiful countryside, plus all of the awesome miracles that come with both! (though, I gotta disagree with the author that winter is a nice time of year. Where I live, it’s the blue-fingered time of year).
Operation morning star by Dorothy LIlja Harrison. A brother and sister must travel across war-torn Germany to reach their father before he sails for America. 5 stars.
Gothic Fiction Book Recommendations
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë; Gothic Fiction. An excellent read- grab your tissues! 4 stars. Made her cry.
Thriller Book Recommendations
The Cooper Kids Adventure series, by Frank E. Peretti. Mystery/adventure/action. Five stars. A great book series for children and teens alike who are looking for thrilling reads that are clean.
Non-Fiction Book Recommendations
He’s Making Diamonds, by S. G. Willoughby. Non-fiction. Five stars. A non-fiction that is applicable to many in their life. It’s super encouraging with very very good truths and illustrations.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk; Four stars. Writing\grammar. A great start to the confusing world of writing style. It covers everything from punctuation to format.
Romance Book Recommendations
The Thief, the Damsel and the Dragon by Angela R Watts; Self-published. Romance/contemporary fiction. five stars. A unique romance with a very intriguing plot.
This booklist was compiled by our Writing Club for AWesome People! We meet bi-monthly and have a blast talking good books and great writing! Next year we’ll also be offering Jr. High Writing Club!