For almost a year now I’ve been listening to Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud Revival podcast. Unsurprisingly, the focus on her podcast is about reading aloud to your children. She has insights and tips, as well as interviews with a variety of authors. Although reading to the girls comes fairly naturally to my husband and me, it’s inspired me to think about reading aloud as something we’ll do for the rest of our lives rather than just while the girls are little.
So when Sarah (she’s so perky and lovable on her podcast that I feel like we’re on a first-name basis) announced that she was releasing a book entitled The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections With Your Kids, I actually preordered it. Long story short: It was money well spent.
We all know that reading to our babies, toddlers, and young children is important. Even doctors remind us to read to them at well-child checks. But how important is it really? And why is it important? And do we really need to keep reading to children once they are able to read to themselves? Sarah tackles these questions in her book. She states,
Reading aloud with our kids is indeed the best use of our time and energy as parents. It’s more important than just about anything else we can do (28).
Throughout her book, she lauds the power of story to build our children’s character and expose them to the world around them. Likewise, she discusses how stories can create a bond between family members, creating references for inside jokes and experiences.
Additionally, Sarah advocates that reading aloud isn’t just so we can eventually teach our children how to read. Instead,
Even more important than teaching our kids the actual skill of reading is to cultivate a deep love of stories. After all, a child must love reading if he is to do it of his own volition throughout his life (70).
Her belief is that if you create a love a stories in children, a child will eventually learn how to read. That means that the struggling reader should be read to just as much–if not more–as a child who is reading at an “average” level.
The first part of the book emphasizes that reading aloud is important and that our duty as parents is to instill the love of reading into our children. Thankfully, Sarah doesn’t just beat us over the head with this goal without providing guidance on how to achieve it. The second half of the book gives tips and strategies on how to make read-aloud time meaningful. Likewise, she includes read-aloud book recommendations for all ages, even teenagers.
Many of her tips are very practical and she encourages us to make our goals small, because even small goals can bring about the love of reading. For example, she starts our read-aloud goal to be just 10 minutes a day because,
If I read for ten minutes every day, I’ll have read with my kids for sixty hours over the course of a year (109-110).
10 minutes seems too small to be a “real” goal, but sixty hours sure is an impressive amount of time. She goes on to explain that even if we read to our kids for 10 minutes every other day, that’s still 30 hours of read-aloud time. Sometimes it just takes someone to do the math to see how these small goals can make a big difference. Some of her additional insights include:
- How to create a book club culture at home
- What read aloud time will actually look like (and it’s not your children sitting quietly at your feet while you read).
- How to choose books for your kids
- How to ask questions that will create a bookish conversation with your kids
- Why audiobooks count as reading
After reading The Read-Aloud Family, I feel more motivated than ever to read to Babykins and Sweet Pea. Heck, I feel more motivated to read for my own personal pleasure! And now I have a book to back my belief that reading is more than just a skill, it’s a way of life.
A stormy afternoon yesterday gave us the perfect opportunity to make thunder cake. What is thunder cake? It’s the cake that a grandma and her granddaughter make as a storm rolls in in Patricia Polacco’s book Thunder Cake. The book tells a lovely story of a grandmother-granddaughter bond and what bravery actually is, a perfect read for Babykins since storms now make her nervous.
After the girls and I read Thunder Cake, I pulled out the ingredients for the cake and we set to work. The full recipe can be found at the back of the book, but I’ll share the “secret” ingredient now: Tomatoes (specifically, pureed tomatoes)!
I was skeptical about how a cake with tomatoes would taste. I like tomatoes well enough, but in a cake? Really? Oh my goodness, the cake is delicious (even despite the fact that I didn’t add and cream the ingredients one at a time. It’s hard trying new recipes when you have little helpers). My issue with homemade cake is that it’s usually dry but this cake was wonderfully moist. My husband said that the cake was birthday-cake worthy–high praise from a guy who would prefer an ice cream cake.
The only problem is that I fear I have set a precedence for making cake every time it storms. Although maybe that isn’t such a bad idea!
This year I committed myself to completing the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. In early January, I listed my book choices. Some of my undecided categories remain empty (for now), but I’ve decided to either read The Joy Luck Club or The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan for a book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own. My mom recommended this author since her book themes often focus on mother and daughters. I’ve read a book or 2 by Amy Tan before, but not since high school.
Anyway, I checked 2 books off my list in January: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection) and The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stuart (A book you can read in a day).
I wasn’t overly impressed by The Cursed Child, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt that it might be better received as a play. The characters just didn’t have the same depth that they had in the original series. Likewise, the plot seemed very rushed to me since the play moved through several years at Hogwarts. I am very curious why Rowling opted to make this a play rather than a book.
The Mysterious Benedict Society receives an “okay” rating from me. Frankly, I was a little bored going through the story. The premise of the story seemed interesting enough, but I found myself often looking at how much I had left to read before I was done.
I didn’t complete any books for the challenge in February (I know I have 4 more days, but it ain’t happening). This doesn’t mean there has been lack of progress! I’ve been plugging away through The Pillars of the Earth (A book that’s more than 500 pages) and I’m now over halfway through. I have a couple of my reading challenge books reserved on my Kindle, so I’m hoping I can check off a few more categories in March!
I used to not be into New Year’s resolutions. It made much more sense for me to try to make improvements either when the fancy struck me or at the beginning of the school year. However, it’s now been several years since my life has followed a school year schedule. Consequently, I finally get why people choose January to make resolutions. You might as well try to make a change while everyone else is excited about self improvement!
One of my goals this year is to read more. In this season of life, it’s easy to go days or weeks without reading anything more substantial than a picture book (don’t get me wrong–picture books can be awesome, but I’m trying to aim a little higher here). Consequently, I’ve opted to participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. The goal is to read 12 books–1 for each category–to motivate readers to read amazing books. Here is what I’ve planned to read thus far:
-A classic you’ve been meaning to read: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (I was supposed to read it for a Facebook book club this past summer and never did)
-A book recommended by someone with great taste: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds (Recommended by my literature teacher-friend from vicarage)
-A book in translation: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
-A book nominated for an award in 2018: TBD
-A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne
-A book you can read in a day: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stuart (I’m not even sure how long this book is, I just picked a children’s chapter book that I’ve been meaning to read)
-A book that’s more than 500 pages: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (I technically started this book in 2017, but I was less than 150 pages in and it’s almost 1,000 pages)
-A book by a favorite author: TBD (Can you believe I have a hard time deciding who is my favorite author? Maybe I’ll reread something by Austen or perhaps find something by Jasper Fforde or Neil Gaiman)
-A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller: TBD (I hate talking to people)
-A banned book: Fahrenheit 451
-A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
-A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own: TBD
Additionally, you are given several different printables to help track reading when you sign up for the challenge. This year I’m focusing on trying to read a hard copy of a book every day (I’ve already missed some days, but that just means there’s room for improvement!). I really upped my reading in 2017 by actually figuring out how to checkout books on my Kindle and reading while nursing Sweet Pea, but I can only read certain types of books on a screen–nothing too dense. By taking the time to read hard copies, that will allow me to tackle some “harder” reads.
I’m so excited to participate in this challenge! I’ve been plugging away at Pillars of the Earth and I just checked out The Mysterious Benedict Society on my Kindle.
Do you have any reading goals for 2018?
I’ve recently finished reading Katie Schuermann’s new book, The Harvest Raise. I enjoy Schuermann’s Anthems of Zion books because they aptly reflect the life of a Lutheran congregation in a small, Midwestern town (although seeing how Bradbury has a college, it would be much bigger than our little town here in Iowa). The books are good for a quick read with some clean laughs along the way (with sound theology!).
What I wasn’t expecting in The Harvest Raise was a peek into my parsonage life–but there it was. Several times I felt shock as Pastor and Emily Fletcher struggled to balance church and family in the same ways I struggle. Those were my struggles, my emotions, my sins. But clearly I am not alone in those thoughts and actions if they were in a book.
For example, Schuermann succinctly described the unique stress of a pastor’s job by explaining,
“Church Stress was [Emily’s] nemesis. It stole her husband’s thoughts and robbed her of his time and attention. It was an invisible thief, and she felt so helpless against its advances. Other than offering up prayers to God for mercy, all she could do was watch from the sidelines as it paralyzed her husband and ate him alive from the inside out,” (91).
Speak to almost any pastor’s wife about the difficulties of life in the ministry and one of the first thing she will mention is how hard it is to watch her husband struggle with things he cannot discuss with her. I know that pastor’s wives struggle with Church Stress but it’s refreshing to be clearly reminded of that.
Likewise, Schuermann has her characters tackle the balance of one man being a pastor and husband. When Emily comes home crying after an altar guild meeting, Pastor quickly tries to figure out the best way to comfort her because,
“He also knew better than to say anything too pastoral in the first inning of the game. Nope, an early swing would most definitely result in a foul ball and an irreversible call made from his ump of a bride: ‘I need you to be my husband, not my pastor!'” (147).
I have certainly shouted at my husband before to stop “pastoring” me because I needed him to be my husband.
One of the biggest surprises I learned from the Fletchers is that pastors and pastors’ wives having fights on Saturdays is actually a “thing”. Schuermann writes,
“The spiritual battle in the parsonage was real. It often was on Saturday nights. Whether it was the devil and his minions sabotaging the upcoming Sabbath with attacks against Pastor’s peace of mind or simply the sinful humans in the house indulging their nefarious natures, there was no doubt that powers and principalities and even people–small and tall–were opposed to God’s servant of the Word having a good night’s sleep before preaching in the pulpit,” (318).
I am not a patient woman. Far too often I lose my cool as church work eats away at our Saturday and my anger flares up while making dinner (apparently the witching hour isn’t just for children). I honestly thought I was just the Worst Wife Ever for letting my temper loose on the one evening a week I know my husband is preoccupied with fine tuning his sermon and Bible study. Nobody ever mentioned that this is a common struggle, yet here it is in print proving that I’m not the Worst Wife Ever but just your average sinful pastor’s wife.
These are just a few examples from the inside of the Fletchers’ parsonage that are oh-so-common for pastors’ families. I am so thankful that Katie Schuermann wrote The Harvest Raise–I desperately needed the reminder that my parsonage life isn’t so unique after all.
Looking for a great baptism gift for a little one? Have I a book for you!
God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It illustrated by Jonathan Mayer shows the lifelong gift that baptism provides through the text of the hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It.” The book journeys through a boy’s life, from the baptismal font as an infant to the end of his earthly life and start of his eternal life in Heaven. The illustrations are beautiful and engaging and the hymn text is the same that is found in the Lutheran Service Book.
We got this book for Sweet Pea for Christmas. She’s rather indifferent towards it (as she is to most things since she’s only 2 months old), but 2-year-old Babykins loves it. She asks me to sing it 3 or 4 times whenever she pulls out the book. A good bonus to this book is that I’m in the process of memorizing the hymn just from sheer repetition (I find this much more useful to me than memorizing Chicka Chicka Boom Boom). Likewise, my husband used the book while teaching about baptism to his confirmation students. He said that they actually enjoyed having the hymn illustrated so clearly despite them being in 6th and 7th grade and past the age of picture books.
God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It: Buy it, sing it, enjoy it!
Babykins’s favorite Thanksgiving book is Over the River and Through the Woods. She loves hearing Lydia Maria Child’s poem sung and observing woodcut illustrations by Christopher Mason. My parents bought her the book last year for her first Thanksgiving. At 2 months old, she didn’t care one bit about it then, but this year she pulls it off the shelf and has me read through it a couple of times per reading session. I highly recommend this book!
I’m a little late to the game with this book, but last week I read Boob Hell by Rebekah Curtis. The book is the true story of a Mrs. Curtis’s breastfeeding journey with her firstborn. As the title indicates, feeding her daughter wan’t a joyfully magical time that books like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding portray a breastfeeding relationship to be (to be fair, I did read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding before Babykins was born and it is a knowledgeable resource. I just had to separate myself from their romantic notions about breastfeeding).
Boob Hell is a quick read. While sometimes the character names are difficult to follow (she refers to her husband as “Dad”, her mom as “Grandma”, and so on) and the conclusion could have been longer, I found myself laughing at many of her humorous descriptions of the difficult aspects of breastfeeding. I also found myself almost in tears in some parts as she aptly described similar situations Babykins and I have dealt with. From the difficultly of dragging your postpartum self to your newborn’s baptism to utilizing equipment that you didn’t know existed before becoming a mother (*cough* breast shells *cough*), her story relates to my own (although I think I’m going through what she labels “Boob Purgatory”–I haven’t had anywhere near the amount of pain she has described, mostly because a lactation consultant gave me a nipple shield on my second day of breastfeeding). Most of all, I found myself relating to her anger about how unprepared new mothers often are for the physical and emotional toil to feed our children.
One of her last comments about breastfeeding shows how widely women’s experiences can vary:
Some people have nursing easy and some people don’t. Some people quit and some people don’t even start. Some people love nursing and some people hate it. Some people get skinny nursing and some can’t. Some babies get huge nursing and some are tiny. Most people without any personal experience of breastfeeding don’t get how it completely takes over your life, and you just have to be nice to them about it. Those are the things everybody should know. (pg. 137)
So who should read this book? Aside from anyone who wants to, women who have experience breastfeeding would probably enjoy it the most–Be that someone who only breastfed for a few weeks or months, are currently breasfeeding, or have breastfeed numerous children. It would not be helpful for an expectant mother because it may terrify her. Rather, give her a book like The Womanly Art of Breasfeeding, help her build some sort of breastfeeding support system, and be ready to sympathize with her once the baby arrives and breastfeeding isn’t going perfectly.
I recently read Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wonder why I haven’t read the book before now. At any rate, Anne is a vivacious character who has no problem stating her opinions on any topic. In chapter 21, she meets the new minister and his wife. Upon coming home, she told her guardian, Marilla, this:
“And besides, we met the new minister and his wife coming from the station. . . His wife is very pretty. Not exactly regally lovely, of course–it wouldn’t do, I suppose, for a minister to have a regally lovely wife, because it might set a bad example. Mrs. Lynde says the minister’s wife over at Newbridge sets a very bad example because she dresses so fashionably. Our new minister’s wife was dressed in blue muslin with lovely puffed sleeves and a hat trimmed with roses. Jane Andrews said she though puffed sleeves were too worldly for a minister’s wife, but I didn’t make any such uncharitable remark, Marilla, because I know what it is to long for puffed sleeves. Besides, she’s only been a minister’s wife for a little while, so one should make allowances, shouldn’t they?”
The good news for me: I wouldn’t describe myself as “regally lovely”, nor do I wear puffed sleeves. At least I’ve got that going for me!