What Once Was Lost, written by Kim Vogel Sawyer and published by WaterBrook Press (2013) will inspire you, and uplift your spirit.

It takes place in Brambleville, Kansas, in 1890, and introduces us to Christina Willems, a woman in her late twenties, who runs the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor. This small farm outside of town is home to twelve displaced individuals–children and adults. Under a mission board, the farm was previously managed by Christina’s parents who have passed away. Christina has lived at the asylum since she was a child, helping her parents with the ministry.

The novel opens with the residents gathered for a hearty meal. Christina is thinking about Hamilton Dresden, who used to live with them. He had been a good shot and provided them with game. But in other respects Dresden had been a ne’er-do-well and trouble. She had insisted he leave and she was glad of it.

In the middle of the night, fire breaks out in the kitchen . Tommy Kilgore, an eleven-year-old blind boy, accidentally comes upon the fire and wakens Christina and the residents, getting them out of the house. The damaged house cannot be lived in.

Christina sets about finding new homes for the residents and herself until she can get the mission board to provide funds for repairs. She and seventeen-year-old Cora move into Mrs. Beasley’s Boardinghouse. In exchange for room and board, they have to cook all the meals, along with putting up with a very cranky, demanding woman.

The last person to be placed is Tommy Kilgore. None of the town’s residents want him because of his blindness. Christina takes him to a recluse miner a few miles out of town named Levi Jonnson. Levi avoids others and shuns the faith in Jesus he held as a child, because people were unkind to his father when he was growing up. Initially, Levi also refuses to take Tommy in, but Christina finally persuades him. However, Levi insists she find another arrangement as soon as possible.

Christina meets with the director of the mission board, who seems reluctant to rebuild the kitchen at the asylum or even keep the home open at all. He feels it is too far from town and from other neighbors who could be of help. He talks of relocating it in another town. Also, Hamilton Dresden has complained to the board about Christina’s leadership. She tries to defend herself. The meeting ends unresolved–no concrete decision is made.

Christina is discouraged; the asylum is the only life she has ever known. Also, she has no money from her parents, as they always gave all they had to those in need. She does possess her father’s watch, which reminds her of him and his strong passion to help others. She clings to this watch, until she has to sell it so she can travel and check on two children who have been moved to an orphanage in another town.

During this time, Christina seeks the Lord, asking for His guidance, yet she still views the ministry as hers, and struggles with handing it back over to Him. Meanwhile, Levi Jonnson is also learning and growing, finding himself getting attached to Tommy. Since Levi is a also craftsman like his father, he teaches Tommy to cane chairs, .

Many other events happen and some very close calls. Christina is realizing that the entire ministry of the asylum belongs to the Lord and He will do with it as He sees fit. It is a heartbreaking time for her, as many of the residents of the asylum are finding other situations, places to live, and some of the children are adopted.

Seventeen-year-old Cora is pregnant and has not revealed it yet. She is sure she will be disowned when she does. The Lord is merciful and graciously opens up a home and job with the store owners in town. Mr. and Mrs. Creeger, a wonderful Christian couple, take her in. They show her the love of Christ and she becomes a follower of Jesus.

Levi is realizing that the way he is living, filled with bitterness towards God, is only making him miserable. He comes back to the Lord and begins to greatly admire Christina and her selfless heart. She realizes the ministry belongs to the Lord, and hands it back over to Him.

After some suspenseful events, all ends happily. God’s amazing plan for the Brambleville Asylum is revealed and you come away from this read believing once again that God’s ways are perfect. When we entrust our lives and futures to Him, He reveals his love and plans for our lives.

I think that anyone would enjoy reading this book, but particularly women eighteen and above. I found it to be delightful, suspenseful, and encouraging. It has inspired me to pray about more that I can do for those in need.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

Awesome! I recently received an email from Focus on the Family full of good news. They are going to be publishing Brio again, a magazine for girls, ages 12 to 17.  It will be published 10 times a year.  The advert said they will do inspiring stories, profiles, practical helps, fashion, etc. The first issue will be out in May. Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty and Dancing With the Stars fame is on the cover. If you subscribe before March 31, you can get a year’s subscription for $10.

OK, I am being a little shameless in promoting this magazine, but I love Christian magazines for kids. And I think Focus on the Family does a terrific job with the ones they produce.

Magazines for kids are, I think, good value for  your money. The stories and articles are short, timely and age-appropriate. They appeal to kids, even those kids who struggle with reading.

While I’m on the subject of magazines for teens, I want to remind you about  Girlz 4 Christ.  Several of us at Books 4 Christian Kids looked at it last year and liked it. You can find out more about this quarterly online magazine at http://www.girlz4christmagazine.org

Teen girls today are bombarded with voices that promote destructive values. The stories and articles in Christian teen magazines point girls toward godly values, helping them to grow  into God’s women. So I’m celebrating that Focus on the Family is again going to be publishing a magazine for teens. It’s great news.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

A Love Like Ours, written by Becky Wade, and published by Bethany House Publishers (2015) will educate and inspire you. I learned so much by reading it and enjoyed its depth and humor.

This book in the Porter Family Novels series centers around Lyndie and Jake, both in their early thirties, who were the best of childhood friends. When Jake was twelve and Lyndie was ten, they spent much of their waking hours together, enjoying animals and having outdoor adventures.

About that time, Lyndie’s father obtained a job that would take him and his family away from Holley, Texas, to Altadena, California. The family particularly needed him to accept this job because Lyndie’s younger sister had severe cerebral palsy, was blind and non-verbal, and required many medical treatments for lung problems. Lyndie was a wonderful, caring, helpful big sister.

Twenty years pass and Lyndie’s father is transfered back to Texas. The family settles in the same area as before. Lyndie’s and Jake’s mothers waste no time getting the families together for dinners. However, Jake does not attend the dinners and Lyndie is concerned.

She learns that eight years before while Jake was a Marine, three of his friends died under his watch. His Humvee hit a hidden Improvised Explosive Device. Jake now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, leaving him with anxiety and frightening flashbacks. He finds comfort in training horses at Whispering Creek Ranch, his family’s Thoroughbred horse farm.

Jake’s brother knows that Lyndie is skilled as a horse trainer and urges her to apply for a position with Jake. Lyndie gets the job, but  Jake’s brooding disposition concerns her. She begins praying for him. He had been close to the Lord once, but he has wandered away, feeling the Lord has abandoned him.

Lyndie had also trained as a jockey, and she is very interested in helping Jake’s horse, Silver Leaf, learn to race. The horse seems talented, but won’t run when out on the track. Lyndie begins building a relationship with the horse and his owner.

Jake falls in love with Lyndie, but he is experiencing disturbing nightmares. As a child, he had always wanted to protect Lyndie, and when it is decided that Silver Leaf would race again with Lyndie as his jockey, Jake is filled with anxiety for her safety. The horse races, and Silver Leaf and Lyndie come in first place.

Lyndie as well, is falling for Jake. She knows to be cautious, because he isn’t yet on track with the Lord, and he is still struggling with a lot of anxiety. The plot thickens, and some difficult things happen. God begins to transform all the characters in the story and bring them into alignment with His will.

A Love Like Ours ends quite happily with Jake transformed by God’s peace and healing power. This is a great story for readers eighteen and above.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

Nancy — Patsy, as you will read, really appreciates this non-fiction book.  And while it is not written for children, (though its principles can certainly be used to help children), I thought it appropriate for a new year and perhaps our common longing for a new beginning. Lord, I Feel So Small might be just what you need for your journey.

 

Lord, I Feel So Small, written by Jon Drury and published by Wine Press Publishing (2010), will speak to anyone who has ever felt unworthy, small and insignificant. Pastor and writer Jon Drury shares candidly about times in his life when he struggled to feel accepted and worthy.

Drury tells much of his life story, explaining how he has struggled with fear and rejection. Even though he became a Christian at a young age, his parents often fought and it would frighten him. But as the Lord continued to pour His unconditional love and healing over Jon, things improved. He learned to resist listening to any voice but God’s. God’s voice brings peace and encourages us. On the other hand, Satan will use our unworthiness to slander and discourage us. He will also use our failures.

The book explores twenty battlegrounds of significance. Sharing his own experiences and those of others, Jon exposes the world’s false yardsticks that demean us. He also looks at Biblical characters who overcame great weaknesses. Drury directs his readers to many scriptures and points of action to help them resist the voice of The Enemy.

Some of the chapter titles include, Feelings that Immobilize Us, The Flesh that Hinders Us, Externals that Frustrate Us, and Experiences that Hamper Us. Drury states that God releases the oppressed, and that the Cross is the basis for victory. Near the end of the book, there is a chapter on “Exchanging Daily Misery for Joy.”

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Jon says, “The most potent antidote for rejection is acceptance by God. When we come to faith in Him, we are embraced by the Lord God Himself.  ‘Ephesians 1:6, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.'”

Everyone can learn something from this book  It is extremely helpful and practical. I was inspired and uplifted by it, and I know you will be as well.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

Nancy– I’m re-running Donna’s post on helping your teen smile. Maybe–I sure hope so–your teen has a little down time from school work and other demands. Donna has some suggestions for R & R. (Don’t forget about your college student home on break. I bet he/she could use a smile.) Donna’s suggestions are helpful for when your teen goes back to school.

Donna– I love teenagers. I write for them. They are living through a transformative phase in their lives where they move from cute child to responsible adult. It is much like the growth of a monarch from fuzzy caterpillar to graceful butterfly. But in between, the butterfly must build a chrysalis and writhe out of it before emerging to spread its wings toward the sun. For both butterflies and people, it is a time of rapid change and immense struggle. To support a teen through such a time is fascinating. Although small children require our help in obvious ways, the needs of a teen are more subtle and varied.

There has been some debate in the news lately about how much homework is good or bad for high school students. My personal opinion is that they are overworked. They have so much formative growth going on inside and socially that they need more time to recuperate between due dates for assignments. Schools vary in rigor and philosophy on this, and once your teen is registered at a school, he or she must work within that system.

So what can a parent, aunt or uncle, family friend or grandparent do? I think we are all in a position to boost morale. Take a teen out for a bite to eat. Listen to them talk about what’s happening in their life. Share some uplifting music in their favorite style (I know teens who like rap, classical, pop, jazz and more). Go on a fun outing together.

Or—of course—give them a book. Much of the reading they are doing at this point is heavy. They are examining the foibles of human nature and the mistakes of world governments. They are doing presentations, writing essays and taking exams on this material. They are learning complex math, science and language. Some teens are competing really hard for top grades. Others are struggling to pass. Kids in both positions can feel overwhelmed. So what kind of book can reverse that feeling and not just give them more work to do?

Find a picture-loaded book that is light on text, featuring one of their hobbies or interests, for example: horses, robotics, airplanes, cats, dogs, seashells, friendship bracelets, outer space, cooking, rocks & minerals, drawing, gardening, photography—you know (or can learn) what transports them from a stress-loaded environment to the world of hope and imagination.

Bring a smile to a teen’s face. Put a dreamy look in those eyes. Help this person you love disconnect from what’s weighing them down. Buy a teen a book!

Nancy again– Check out this post for more YA book suggestions or use the drop down menu on the left and search the YA category. If you are new to us, you might not know that we also recommend books for the college/working person. You may locate those recommendations using the drop down menu on the left.

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 Shining Orb of Volney, a science-fiction novel, is her latest title. 

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

 

The Christmas I was twelve was not turning out to be a thrill. Gone was my usual excitement. Vanished was my sense of wonder. And their absence troubled me a lot. I’m not talking about being sad that I no longer believed in Santa. I had figured that out a couple of years before and I was fine with it. No, I’m talking about awe–an expectancy that anything could happen, that miracles still walked the earth.

“God,” I prayed the week before Christmas, “do something. You don’t have to do anything big. I’ll settle for something small. Just make it special so that I believe again that you’re still here.”

All that week I watched. But nothing special happened–no rushing sound of angel wings, no brighter than usual star in the sky, no baby crying in a manager. Nothing. (OK, I agree. The twelve-year-old me had a totally strange sense of small.)

Then Christmas Eve came and I was in a funk. I had given up expecting anything. God was only for the long ago and faraway. My life was unimportant, ordinary–too ordinary to attract His interest or attention. I flopped into the big chair in our living room and sulked.

This wallowing must have really disturbed my mother because before I could mount a good argument for staying home, I was out the door into the cold, dark night and taking my kid brother to Christmas Eve services at our neighborhood church.

My brother didn’t seem to mind my less-than-cheerful spirit. All day he had been talking about going to the candlelight service and he was just happy that he was. It made me feel a little guilty. I decided I should try to make the best of it.

But when we arrived at church, it was packed. Now, I was annoyed, really annoyed—my brother and I would have to sit together. That wasn’t the usual. Most Sundays he sat two rows ahead of me with other little kids while I sat with my friends two rows behind. But that night those rows were already filled with families. Grumpily, I took the two small candles the usher offered me, handed one to my brother, and headed for two seats together. Scooting into the row, I noticed something else—only one of the chairs had a hymnal on it. My brother and I would have to share. Life was definitely hard.

The organ began. My brother handed me the hymnal–which had been on his chair–and together we rose with everyone else to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” I knew all the words, but I wasn’t sure my brother did. Ignoring the thought that he probably couldn’t read them, I quickly paged through the hymnal until I found the song. As I held the hymnal so he could see it, he smiled up at me. I noticed his pudgy hand holding one side of the hymnal and my slim­mer hand holding the other, and something began to happen in me. It was only a quiet feeling, but warm and satisfying.

I enjoyed that service. My brother and I sang the old carols at the top of our lungs and giggled as we flipped pages searching for the next song. As he carefully lit my candle, I realized God had answered my prayer. Something special had happened.

Walking home in the icy December air, my brother and I watched our breath before us, sang snatches of the carols again, and wondered out loud about our presents. That night we didn’t tease or squabble or try to outrun each other. There was no bossy older sister and no pesky younger brother. There were only two kids enjoying themselves and each other.

I don’t remember what presents I received that year. I’m sure they were great and I enjoyed them, but I don’t remember them. I only remember being with my brother. And that God answered my prayer. He still does answer prayers. May we have the eyes this Christmas to see that He has come and that He is still here.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

Hanukkah begins at sundown Saturday, December 24, 2016, and ends at sundown on January 1, 2017. John 10:22 mentions Jesus celebrating this Jewish holiday where it is called the Feast of Dedication.

Walking with Y’shua Through the Jewish Year offers a bit of history, a bit of reflection on how we might respond to the holiday and some suggestions for family fun. Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, another resource, is a picture book for school-age children that tells the story in an exciting, inspiring way.

But before I tell you about the book, I thought you might like to hear a little about the holiday beyond candles and potato latkes. It’s really fascinating.

This Jewish celebration is known as the Festival of Lights because of the candles or oil lamps that are lit in Jewish homes for eight nights beginning on 25th day of Kislev. The festival was a celebration of the rededication, in about 165 BC, of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Temple had been misused. When the Jews rededicated it, they had only enough holy oil for one night, but miraculously that oil burned for eight nights, enough time for new holy oil to be prepared.

The Temple had to be rededicated. A Greek ruler, Antiochus IV, had set up worship to other gods in it and even had pigs sacrificed on the altar. Disgusting! It was part of his plan to Hellenize the Jews–get them to blend in and stop being Jews. He also outlawed circumcision, keeping the Sabbath and adhering to dietary laws.

What he was doing from a Christian perspective–though I’m sure Antiochus didn’t know he was doing it–was trying to put his plans between God and God’s promises to the Jews both to preserve them as a people and to send them Messiah. Antiochus IV failed. God was faithful. He would not be overruled. The Messiah who would crush the head of the Evil One and who was to come from the seed of Abraham, through Isaac, through Jacob, and from the tribe of Judah, came just as God had promised. Jesus was born.

Christian kids will benefit from knowing the story behind the celebration of Hanukkah. It reminds us again that God keeps His promises and that He is stronger than the plans of human beings. It is thought-provoking that Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication. (John 10:22-23)

I’ve read Hanukkah books which emphasize the customs: lighting candles, giving gifts, spinning the dreidel and eating traditional dishes such as latkes, but  Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah tells the story of those long ago events leading up to the miracle and the rededication of the Temple. Written by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by David Harrington, published by Kar-Ben Publishing (2010), Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah does a good job of showing in text and pictures why the Jews were fighting, their eventual victory and their awe at the miracle that God gives them. Balsley tells it with passion and in rhyme. A refrain at strategic places in the story, “Sometimes it only takes a few, who know what’s right and do it too.” is good for a child to consider and remember.

This soft cover picture book is suitable for school-age children. Balsley tells them plainly that there were battles, but neither she nor the illustrator emphasizes the bloodshed. The illustrator has done film work and has a degree in animation. His illustrations are full of color, action and emotion. Small touches of humor keep a very serious subject from seeming grim.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

Some days–some hours for me–Christmas becomes a lot about trees, lights, gifts and food. Not that these things aren’t fun, but then sometimes in the midst of it all I begin to sense that something is off. God Gave Us Christmas written by Lisa Tawn Bergren, illustrated by David Hohn and published by Waterbrook Press (2006) shifts the emphasis from Santa, etc. and points little ones (and the adult reader) to the reason for the season—Jesus.

In this warm, I hesitate to say fuzzy book because the main characters are polar bears, Mama and Little Cub go on a journey. Mama wants to show God to Little Cub and help her know that Christmas was given to us by God and not invented by Santa. (Don’t worry; Bergren doesn’t bad-mouth Santa. Mama explains that Santa reminds us about being generous and caring.)

Taking Little Cub to see the dancing Northern Lights, Mama explains that the lights are God’s work and that God sent Jesus so that “we would know light from dark.” Jesus is the light of the world. Using other natural wonders, Mama continues to teach Little Cub about God’s greatest gift—Jesus.

While Mama’s examples do not nail down Jesus in the way one might nail boards, they remind me of mini-parables. Mama’s examples help children and adults relate with their imaginations and their hearts to what is essentially a mystery—God’s Son born as a baby who will grow into the man who will save us.

The text reads well. Mama’s examples of the Northern Lights, a glacier, a bright star, a flower poking up through the snow are appropriate to a snowy environment. The exchanges between Mama and Little Cub are full of affection and there is a sense of wonder and play in the telling of their adventure. David Hohn’s colorful paintings are active and kid-friendly.

God Gave us Christmas is for ages 3 to 7. (But don’t be surprised if it touches the 3 to 7-years-old in you.) This book is part of a series. Carol wrote about and suggested God Gave Us Easter, God Gave Us Angels, and God Gave Us the World.

I also want to suggest A Night of Great Joy. Written and illustrated by the well-known illustrator Mary Engelbreit and published by Zonderkidz (2016), this book will delight you and the kids with its presentation of a Christmas pageant. The book is suggested for children ages 4 to 8.

The story is the Christmas story, but it’s told from a kid’s perspective and in kid-language (for example, “’Hello, Jesus,’ Mary whispered.”). Children will see themselves and their friends reflected in the different races of the children in the pageant. The colorful and often humorous illustrations (one of the lambs is a pull toy, etc.) help children put themselves on stage and from there in the story. (And it’s good for all of us to put ourselves in the story. What would it have been like to have been a shepherd in the fields? Would we have left our daily work and play to go and seek the gift from God? We would. How happy we are when we do!)

I’ve had an idea too that I want to share with you. At this time of year we often give donations to Christian charitable groups. If an organization is asking for donations of toys, why not ask if they would consider receiving children’s books about the child born in Bethlehem?

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

 

 

 

Reading holiday books with a child or children can be such a rich, rich experience for everyone. Children feel important because you are spending time with them; and the simple, beautiful message of a good children’s book may just touch you with its clarity and anchor you with its truth. If you are looking for Christmas books that you and the kids might read and enjoy together, here are some suggestions to get you started. (I have more, but I’m still tweaking my reviews. I promise you will see them soon.):

It’s a Wonderful Life for Kids!

Jotham’s Journey

The Legend of the Candy Cane

Lucille Nadine Alexander’s Birthday

Read and Play Christmas

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story
(Carol Green also suggests at the end of this recommendation that you consider Santa’s Favorite Story, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, The Story of Christmas (Carry Me) and My March to the Manger.)

Sparkle Box

 

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

May your day be blessed with the warmth of God’s heart whatever the weather is outside.

Book Reviews

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 85 other followers

Search Posts by Categories