Teachers of upper elementary school and middle school children often request that their students read and do a report on a Newbery Award winner or a Newbery Honor book. As a former teacher, I like this idea. The books are often language smart, with intriguing characters and plots, interesting settings, etc. But as a Christian who for some time has been reading children’s and youth books in the general market, I’m concerned. The values expressed in many of the books published in the general market do not hold up against biblical truth. And good story-telling and/or brilliant sentences do not make up for questionable values. At least I don’t think so and I don’t think you do either.

Unhappily, some Newbery books fall into that group. I say unhappily because this is a prestigious award, and so a parent might believe that because a book is award winning, it is automatically worthy of their child’s time.

Another concern of mine in regards to a child reading a Newbery is age appropriateness. The award is given to books whose potential audience are children, but children are defined in this instance as persons up to the age of fourteen. As you know a child who is 8 years old is quite different from one who is thirteen years old. Certain subject matter and the handling of that subject matter may be appropriate for a middle schooler and not appropriate for a younger child. Parents may want to read up on a particular Newbery before encouraging their child to read it.

We have found some Newbery Winners and Newbery Honor books that we think have both good sentences and good values. We will keep reading, and we hope that we will be able to add to the list.

Avion My Uncle Flew, The

Because of Winn-Dixie

Bronze Bow, The

Door in the Wall, The

Hatchet

Misty of Chincoteague

Number the Stars

Sarah, Plain and Tall

Umbrella is a sweet story (or so I’ve been told) for 3- to 5-year-olds. In Umbrella, a little girl discovers that you can brave even a stormy day because . . .

This short story can be found under Nightlights on the Desert Fires Press website. https://www.desertfirespress.com/ Enjoy!

Searching for Normal was written by C.J. Darlington, created by Lissa Halls Johnson, and published by Focus on the Family (2021). Teen girls will like this book. I think they may even learn a few things about being a good friend and about the love of God in the tumultuous world of high school. Set in contemporary middle America, the novel shows us four teenage girls who have formed a friendship in their drama class in the local high school.

But Searching for Normal is not a got-to-get-a-date-for-the-prom novel. Life is deeper, more complicated for these girls. Some might say harsher. We watch as they encourage, defend, support, and even sometimes exasperate each other in person and through texts.  

Tessa, Shay, Izzy, and Amelia are an unlikely quartet; their personalities are so different; their home lives are special to each of them. All four of the girls are Christians, but even there, they are different from each other. The novel follows these girls, and particularly Shay, as their relationships toward each other expand and deepen inside and outside of class.

Shay is a girl with secrets. What those secrets are, how they are revealed, and the repercussions of those revelations make up a lot of the plot.

A late arrival to the school year and new to the town, she lives with her aunt in an apartment over her aunt’s bookstore. As the novel opens, we learn that because of something that Shay has done, her grandparents no longer want her to live with them. It is baffling but intriguing because Shay doesn’t seem like a troublemaker.

Shay tells the story, but though we know her reactions and thoughts, she is almost as closed mouthed with the reader about her mysterious past as she is with her new friends. The author keeps the mystery going almost to the last, deftly doling out moments from Shay’s past like breadcrumbs on a wooded path.

We learn early that she has been for years homeschooled. She says that she has not had friends before, and she admits to not knowing how to be a friend. As more time passes, we learn as her friends do, that her mother died when she was a baby and that her father died in a car crash six months ago. We see that she is still devastated about her father’s death, but we also see that she is holding back and there’s more to tell.

While Shay is pondering how much about herself to share with her new friends, she finds that secrets have been kept from her. A famous horse trainer whom Shay admires, is, her aunt reveals, Shay’s biological father. Shay soon reads that he will be coming to her town for an exhibition. Will she try to meet him? Will she tell him who she is? Is she like him? Answering these questions becomes a big part of the plotline.

We see almost immediately that Shay loves animals. She befriends her aunt’s cat, her aunt’s foster greyhound and later an injured horse. Incidents with them show her friends and readers who Shay is and the plot often turns on Shay’s respect and love for these animal friends.

I like Searching for Normal. It addresses teen life in a realistic way, but unlike many novels for teens, it shows readers that God and His love and care can be present even in the midst of this less than perfect world. I think teen girls will identify with Shay’s feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty about making friends. They will cheer for her as she begins to take risks and finds that some people can be trusted. They will recognize the bullies (the book has two nasty ones) for what they are and hope they get their comeuppance (which they do.) The way the girls pray for each other and that Tessa and Shay share their honest feelings and doubts about God will encourage readers in their own walk with God. I think this is a good read.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13.  

Peter Simple, the classic sea adventure, written by Captain Frederick Marryat was first published in 1834. Marryat (1792-1848) is said to have arrived at a dinner with King William IV and stated proudly, “Tell his Majesty I am Peter Simple.” Marryat’s character was so well known and appreciated, even the king would know the unfamiliar guest being announced.

Marryat’s novels were not only known by the populous, they were admired by contemporary writers of his time such as Dickens, Coleridge, and Irving. The novel’s literary value rivals Dickens. The two were in competition for serial readers who loved rich characters, authentic plots and natural, revealing dialogue.

I can imagine a young man today questioning whether such a long book about Royal Navy life during the Napoleonic War should be worth time away from phone and gaming computer. However, there is plenty in Peter Simple to recommend to them.

A young man will appreciate, as Dean King, who wrote the Foreword for the Henry Holt and Company’s 1983 reprint, points out, [Peter Simple is] full of “courage . . . intensity . . . observation . . . humor . . . opinions . . . nuances of life at sea . . . [and] roaring action.” As long as the book is in length, it was originally serialized and then printed in three volumes. So, it lends itself to reading in easy chunks. Maybe some chunks are just harder to put down.

There are also bad colleagues and worse relatives. Temptations are overcome by a firm moral foundation. Peter can be taken for a ride out of youthful naivete, sometimes in the worst way. Yet he clings to honesty and honor, which is rewarded repeatedly and in the satisfactory ending.

Marvel Comics would make Peter a model superhero without any special powers other than his admirable work ethic, interest in learning, ability to (eventually) recognize good seamen, aptitude for withstanding tribulation, and picking the right friends.

The right friends. Think about that for a minute. Where some lead, Peter recognizes which leaders to follow. Where some follow, Peter learns to lead by following to the point he is ready to lead himself. Isn’t that the way it should be?

The plot will take care of itself. The characters will take care of themselves, at least the ones anyone would want to stand next to in a bare fist and sword attack.

As all good novels, the book offers the full range of emotions that continue to show us human today. (Someone is going to get a good ‘compare and contrast’ paper out of this book.) Yet Marryat provides an excellent history lesson as well, revealing an era of different manners and customs. It will prove a fun challenge to learn the history from this novel.

For example, Peter is at the bottom of the inheritance heap in terms of aristocracy. It was a time when only the oldest male inherited. The brothers and their sons became preachers, maybe teachers, or pursued success in the violent military of the day, on land or sea. Their only advantages were an education and a starting line ahead of commoners. That’s why Peter gets shipped off to the Royal Navy as a Midshipman, the lowest of the low in the real-time, live-or-die officer training program of the day.

For better or worse, he ships out at age twelve, likely four to six years younger than the recommended reader. Right away one learns what naïve means. The present-day high-school-age or college-age reader will easily recognize that most of Peter’s new midshipmen mates are taking gross advantage of him. For some, such incidents might ring true today.

I mention high school age, because that’s probably a good age to begin dealing with the more scurrilous companions encountered by Peter, including thieves, murderers, and ladies of the bar room variety. Also, there are the dangers to life, limb, and infectious contusions that few young men will face today. However, one ready to deal with such evil will be bolstered by how Peter manages and comes out ahead. Many older men will certainly appreciate the book, too, so maybe it can be something to share between father and son.

Amazon offers a kindle only version of Henry Holt and Company’s 1983 reprint of Peter Simple. This reprint has an excellent introduction by Louis J. Parascandola and an excellent foreword by Dean King. Amazon also offers a paperback version of Peter Simple, but without the introduction or the foreword.

Tom Hird is a university professor, retired. For more than ten years he has been a member of a men’s book club, reading and discussing both great fiction and an eclectic range of non-fiction. He believes that regular readers prove to be better students, because reading widely helps one soak up usage, style and knowledge for a variety of situations in life. He is the copy editor for Books 4 Christian Kids.

Sliced Heather on Toast was written by Lissa Halls Johnson and published by Focus on the Family (1994)). China Tate, the main character, is a fifteen-year-old missionary kid whose family works in Guatemala. She comes back to the States to spend the summer with her aunt. The church she attends sends her on scholarship to Camp Crazy Bear.

On the bus, she meets a glamorous girl named Heather and her followers. From the first moment, it’s clear that Heather dislikes her. As camp progresses, Heather becomes meaner and meaner to China. But China is making other friends: the motherly cook in the kitchen where she volunteers and Deedee, the camp director’s daughter. The natural beauty of the campground also feeds her soul. China feels, for the first time, like she’s in a place where she really belongs.

The author portrays a normal teen struggling with her faith in a confusing and troubling world. Camp Crazy Bear is a fun place full of over-the-top pranks, believable characters, an interesting setting, and realistic spiritual growth. There are some good mentors, quirky people, and moments that make you laugh. The language can be very down-to-earth at one moment, philosophical the next. The reader gets a sense that following Jesus is a journey, with all the ups and downs that entails.

This novel from Focus on the Family is recommended for seventh graders to ninth graders (ages 12 to 14 years old). Published in 1994, Sliced Heather on Toast may be purchased online through companies that sell second-hand books. The novel is 180 pages long.

Donna Fujimoto’s children love to read. She is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. Her collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge  is available as an e-book at Amazon.

The start of school is only weeks away. It is exciting to think about and maybe a little scary. School will be different in many places than it has been. But and nevertheless those days are still to come. The challenges will be met then. In the meantime, there is still summer. So let us drink the lemonade days of summer to the bottom of the glass.

We can suggest some books, lovely stories, that will help the kids do just that. We think these stories will feed their souls and nourish their hearts, readying them to better meet the joys and challenges ahead.

Consider offering them Narnia and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or point them to the irrepressible Anne Shirley and Anne of Green Gables. If they are feeling restless for adventure, how about Ireland in the days of the Vikings? Raiders from the Sea might be just what they need. And there’s adventure to be found in the islands off the Maryland coast for your horse-lovers in Misty of Chincoteague. Kids will learn about decision-making in Crossroads in Galilee, a choose “your own journey” that is set in first century Galilee. Pre-teen girls can explore life changes and find God’s presence in those experiences in Melanie on the Move. Boys in particular will enjoy reading about D.J. and the bear cub he rescues in The City Bear’s Adventures, a novel about a boy, his new friend, and a bear who live in a small town in the woods of California’s  Sierra Nevada.

Maybe your child likes to solve mysteries. How about in Botswana?  The Great Cake Mystery is the first one in that series for young readers. Or your child may want to solve a mystery in London with three sisters in London Art Chase. Kids, ages 10-to 13-years can go north to Scotland and solve mysteries with Libby and her friends in Edinburgh: I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue. (But get your umbrellas out of the closet and keep them handy. It rains in Scotland even in the summer. :))

Those are just a few suggestions. We have others. Check out Book Lists. This list is, in part, organized by age. Here you will also find book recommendations for YA and for College Age/Working People. Look for a book that you think is a match for that dear person and suggest it to them or buy it for them. Young people in this age range can feel swamped with schoolwork. They need escapes. They need encouragement. A worthy book is a much better use of their time than a lot of experiences the popular culture offers them.  

And when you are buying new backpacks and new shoes, also consider buying a copy of God Thinks You’re Wonderful! Keep it out where you can find it easily because there are school days–and you know there are–when kids are sure that is not so.

A Most Noble Heir, written by Susan Anne Mason and published by Bethany House Publishers (2018) will help you discover what is really important in life. Many of the characters grow in their faith throughout the story, and others find peace in the salvation of the Lord.

The story takes place in Derbyshire, England, in 1884. Edward Fairchild is the austere Earl of Stainsby Hall, and all of the main characters are in his employ. He is 42 years old and has become a lonely, bitter man living a hermit’s existence and rarely leaving his estate.

His wife Penelope passed away ten years ago, but their marriage, arranged by his father, had been a very distant and difficult one. The marriage resulted in two daughters, Victoria who is unmarried and Evelyn who married a distant cousin, Orville. Orville is Edward’s heir. Unfortunately, Orville is unreliable, indulging in his gambling habit and racking up debt. He also has a taste for expensive horses and brandy.

When Edward was quite young, he had married Mary, a maid. But his father did not approve and there was trouble. She became pregnant and ran away. The next he knew, she had died. He believed the child died as well. 

Mary’s sister, Elizabeth Price, and her son, Nolan, work at the Hall. Elizabeth is the head servant. From the first chapter she is dying of pneumonia. Her son Nolan is at her side, heartbroken. He speaks to Edward about helping her with medical expenses. Edward complies and also visits her.

He is informed that Nolan is the son of his dead wife, Mary. Elizabeth took the child when he was born and has kept the secret until now. Nolan is Edward’s only living son, and therefore his heir.

This is shocking news. When Elizabeth also relays this message to Nolan, he is dismayed. He already has plans to marry Hannah, a kitchen maid who came to Stainsby Hall when she was fourteen. He is preparing to buy a farm from one of the neighbors, so he can bring Hannah to live there. He fears his new status will change everything. Both Hannah and Nolan love the Lord, but they are young in their ability to trust Him completely. 

Nolan and Hannah elope and get married. Two days later they decide to go to Hannah’s mother and Mr. Fielding, her stepfather. Hannah wants to take Molly, her younger sister, back to the Inn for a job. Mr. Fielding intends to marry Molly off to Mr. Elliott, an older man. She is thrilled at the prospect of leaving home.

Edward discovers Nolan and Hannah have married. He is angry and goes after them. He finds them at Hannah’s family home. He tells Nolan that if he will come back and receive the training necessary to become a proper Earl’s son, he will find a position for Molly in the Hall. Nolan has no choice but to comply. Hannah, Nolan, and Molly leave with Edward, who also requires Nolan to keep his marriage a secret for four weeks. He states that Nolan and Hannah are not to see each other during this time. The couple are heartbroken, but know they have no choice but to heed the Earl’s decree. 

Even after the four weeks have passed, Hannah is very insecure about her position as the Earl’s son’s wife.  She had overheard Edward and a servant discussing the fact that Nolan signed some annulment papers without knowing what they were. The news upsets her greatly. Now pregnant, believing that the stress is not good for her and the baby, and knowing that her father-in-law still does not accept her, she decides to leave with Molly and go to their aunt who is a duchess.

Nolan confronts his father about whether his marriage has been annulled or not. Hannah and Nolan are still married, but the Earl does not convey this to his son just yet. Although Nolan is lost without Hannah, he waits patiently for any correspondence from her informing him she has had a change of heart. She is also waiting for news from him that they are still married, and that Edward will accept her. Aunt Iris turns out to be a wonderful mentor and comfort, pointing her in the Lord’s direction. She encourages Hannah and Molly to put their faith and trust in the Lord. 

Many other twists, turns, close calls and fearful moments follow, but in the end, all characters have grown in their faith. Edward finds himself seeking the Lord more than ever. He finally accepts Hannah and is excited about having a grandchild.

Near the end of the novel, Edward and Nolan exchange these words, “The greatest gift I’ve ever received is learning I had a son. Because of you, Nolan, I’ve become a better man.”

Nolan tells his father, “Thank you father. I must admit, I had my doubts that we would ever form a real bond, but I truly believe God has helped us overcome our differences.”

Despite all the trials, all is well, and everyone is happy with their newfound faith and family relationships. I believe you will enjoy this story, as I have. It is best enjoyed by readers 18 and above. 

Patsy Ledbetter has written poetry, short stories, devotionals, and book reviews for many years. She has also been a drama instructor, special needs teacher and substitute teacher. She and Kevin have been married for 41 years. They recently lost their oldest son Craig, age 33. They now have three children, Vanessa, Bethany and David. They also have three grandchildren, Elyse, Aurora, and Hayden. Kevin has been a music pastor most of his life and together they serve the Lord in a local church. Patsy loves to read, pray, and spend time outdoors and with family and friends. Her main desire is to bring glory to God through all the talents He has given her.

In The Adam Quest written by Tim Stafford and published by Thomas Nelson (2013), Stafford profiles eleven scientists who have a faith in God and a position on Genesis. I think this is a book where you begin a journey. Unlike some books, it does not promise you a destination. It invites you to enter a conversation.

It’s an important conversation. In The Adam Quest you will encounter people who are boldly, courageously, and prayerfully trying to reconcile the physical world, that they know and study, with the truth and world that God has laid down in His Book.

Stafford says in his introduction that the scientists he profiles “provide a good sample of the whole spectrum of Christian beliefs about evolution and creation.” These eleven men and women are highly trained, world-class scientists from the fields of biology, biochemistry, paleontology, genetics, and physics. Stafford gives short biographical sketches of their professional and religious journeys. Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, Georgia Purdom, Michael Behe, Fazale Rana, Mary Schweitzer, Darrel Falk, Ard Louis, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, and John Polkinghorne are the scientists he chose to interview.

Stafford doesn’t overload the book with details of theories or scientific data. The non-scientist can read it without feeling overwhelmed. Stafford does mention other important scientists and philosophers, books, and organizations that focus on Genesis and evolution, pointing the reader to materials and places to continue his/her own investigation and study.

The scientists that Stafford profiles fall under three headings: young earth creationists, intelligent design creationists and evolutionary creationists. The scientists within one group do not agree with scientists in the other groups. Stafford gives us glimpses of those disagreements.

I think that is one of the strengths of book. Lay people and students often think of science as an absolute, a discipline of certainty and consensus. Yet, is it? A friend of mine, a biochemist, told me recently that new scientific discoveries are being made all the time. What was thought to be true at one point is overturned or found to be flawed. Serious scientists keep investigating, keep learning.

The scientists that Stafford interviewed are enthralled with the hunt, but they also recognize and speak to the knowledge that science has limits, that life is more than what science can show us. God, for each of them, is real and He is the giver. Science is only the gift. I hope The Adam Quest will help college students and older high school students see science in this light. I think the book will encourage students to see that they can pursue scientific studies despite the arguments still raging around evolution and Genesis.

The profiles make it clear that it will not be an easy pursuit. Each scientist in Stafford’s book has worked hard and experienced setbacks to do what he/she does. Studying science and then working as a scientist is demanding. Pursuing God and letting Him pursue you through your uncertainties takes humility. If you add in that some, if not many, in the scientific community are closed to a Christian’s professions of faith in God, then doing science may seem daunting. Yet these men and women have done it, are doing it. It is inspiring. Readers will be inspired. This book will make you think and pray. It will be an important conversation.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13.  

To our college students and young working adults: Why not get out the biscuits (Brit talk for cookies) and/or the tea cakes and the tea. Take a much-deserved break and listen to a great interview–brain food I call this one. The link below will take you to Online Conversation / Reading Jane Austen: A Novel Approach to Virtue with Karen Swallow Prior.

In this interview Professor Prior talks about Jane Austin, Austin’s perspectives on life and faith, and how her books were strikingly different for their time (and maybe even for our own). If you are an Austin fan, the conversation will deepen your appreciation for and understanding of the novels. And if you are not a fan, it may encourage you to take another look at this amazing writer and her thoughtful, entertaining novels. (The movies, for the most part, Prior says, don’t do enough by them.)

https://www.ttf.org/portfolios/online-conversation-reading-jane-austen/

The Captain’s Daughter (London Beginnings) written by Jennifer Delamere and published by Bethany House Publishers (2017) was definitely a favorite of mine. It combines the life and times of Victorian England and the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. I enjoyed reading it so much. 

Rosalyn Bernay’s father sailed away to the West Indies and disappeared. Soon after, her mother passed away. Rosalyn and her two sisters, Julia and Cara, were brought to George Muller’s orphanage in Bristol, England in 1869.

Now at ages 19, 17 and 13, the sisters will be parted. Julia, who has always been interested in medicine, will perform the duties of a nurse and Rosalyn will be a lady’s maid for Mrs. Williams in another town. Cara will be staying at the orphanage. All three young ladies have been brought up to believe in Jesus and to take their troubles to him. Rosalyn has the watch her father gifted to her mother, which is inscribed, “Oceans can never separate us.”

For five years, Rosalyn is happy at Russet Hall, until her employer Mrs. Williams marries Mr. Huffman and the trouble begins. Mrs. Williams has been blind to Mr. Huffman’s questionable character. He takes some of her jewels and accuses Rosalyn of stealing them. In order to buy his silence, he suggests some things that are improper. Rosalyn flees, planning to travel to London and then on to Bristol, where her sisters are.

But Mr. Huffman tries to follow her and when she arrives in London, she decides remaining there is her best option. Mick, who is assisting a woman named Mrs. Hurdle, supplying her with workers for her house of prostitution, acts like he will help Rosalyn. Mrs. Hurdle comes along pretending to be her Aunt Mollie and offers lodging. Nate Moran, a soldier, encourages Rosalyn not to trust either of these people. He claims his church hosts a shelter for those in need, and that she should consider it. She decides not to trust the men and follows Mrs. Hurdle to her lodgings. 

Later in the evening, when Rosalyn is settled in her room and has slept a while, she arises to overhear a conversation between Mick and Mrs. Hurdle, indicating that they plan to use her in unscrupulous ways. She escapes to the kitchen where Penny, another border, convinces her to leave while she has a window of opportunity. Rosalyn forgets to take her carpet bag, escaping only with her reticule, a purse. About a mile away, she is accosted by a young pickpocket who steals her reticule which contains her only money.

Rosalyn wanders the streets. Penniless and alone, she ends up underneath a four-story building where she hears beautiful singing. She stands listening for a while when the men, Gilbert, who has written the libretto for HMS Pinafore, and Sullivan, who has written the score, notice her. Gilbert suspects her of spying and trying to memorize the lyrics for another opera company. She claims that she is really a huge fan of theirs and is only enjoying the music. Gilbert, Sullivan, Jessie Bond, an actress, and Mrs. Hill who manages the workers all come down to the street to question Rosalyn.

One of the cleaning ladies who is coming for a job has not yet arrived, so the job is offered to Rosalyn. She is given a nice meal and then is put to work by Mrs. Hill. Later when the real cleaning lady arrives, Rosalyn offers to give up her new job.  Another helper, Miss Lenoir, offers Rosalyn a job as a seamstress and dresser. Rosalyn has had experience sewing in the home of Mrs. Williams.

Before the chapter ends, Rosalyn once again runs into Nate Moran, the soldier, she met at Paddington Station. He is thankful she is doing well and has escaped harm from Mrs. Hurdle, knowing her dubious character. He apologizes for any undue forwardness on his part and says he was only looking out for her well-being. They discover they are both believers in the Lord’s providence. 

As the story progresses, Rosalyn becomes Jessie Bond’s roommate until her landlady objects. Nate Moran, who is working at the theater in place of his injured brother, mentions that his mother runs a boarding house where Rosalyn might stay.  

Rosalyn moves into the boarding house. She and Nate get to know one another and find they have much in common. They begin to care for each other, but realize life is taking them separate directions. Nate plans to rejoin his regiment in India when his brother is able to return to work.

After many exciting events and twists in the plot, God’s plans are revealed to both Rosalyn and Nate. They trust in the Lord for his guidance and lean on Him for direction. Nate does return to India but discovers that his heart lies at home in London, with a very special young lady.

This book is well suited to readers 18 and above. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Patsy Ledbetter has written poetry, short stories, devotionals, and book reviews for many years. She has also been a drama instructor, special needs teacher and substitute teacher. She and Kevin have been married for 41 years. They recently lost their oldest son Craig, age 33. They now have three children, Vanessa, Bethany and David. They also have three grandchildren, Elyse, Aurora, and Hayden. Kevin has been a music pastor most of his life and together they serve the Lord in a local church. Patsy loves to read, pray, and spend time outdoors and with family and friends. Her main desire is to bring glory to God through all the talents He has given her.

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