In a gallery I recently saw the work of Hilda Robinson. Her vibrant, impressionistic oil pastels totally captivated me. Her paintings are collected into the picture book, Didn’t We Have Fun!  The book is published by Crickhollow Books (2012) with text written by Jeff Kunkel.

The book invites you into the world of Robinson’s childhood. The place is Philadelphia, probably during the late 1940’s. It is a time before television and computers. Family life, reading, radio, movies, picnics and church are the sources of Robinson’s pleasure and delight.

Her world is that of a large African-American family and a tight-knit urban community. In this world there is love, respect, self-worth, fun, and beauty. There is hard work too and the picture of her mother asleep after a long day is unforgettably touching. At the end, Robinson says of her childhood (by way of Kunkel’s text) that they didn’t have a car or much money, but “we had parents who loved us, a good home, plenty to eat, . . . . Best of all, we had each other.” Her colorful, lively paintings beautifully illustrate and celebrate this life.

Each of the paintings is accompanied by a page or two of text. The text is direct, with short paragraphs, and easy to read aloud. It describes the activity shown in the picture and often expands on it, filling in the reader on such things as the games children played, listening to the radio when Joe Louis boxed, going to the park and church life. Some of the sections are: The Six of Us, Home in Philly, All Dressed Up, Homework, Cuddling, The Park, Church, Rollerskating.

Didn’t We Have Fun! is appropriate for children 4 to 8. I think you and your children will enjoy spending time in this lovely book. Saying that it is educational is an obvious reason for reading the book; it depicts a different time and perhaps a different culture than what your children now experience. But I think it is the energy and joy in the pictures that will keep you and your child wanting to look at and read the story again and again. Who knows, but Didn’t We Have Fun! might provoke a conversation with your child about your childhood and the kind of fun you had.

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. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.



Because I know you value reading and because I know you want your kids to enjoy good books, I thought you would want to hear about a recent article in Practical Homeschooling. Written by the editor, Mary Pride, More Books in Your Home = Higher Education Level for Your Kids appeared in the November/December, 2017, issue.

In the article she summarizes and quotes from a study, “Family scholarly culture and education success” that appeared in a 2010 issue of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. According to Ms. Pride the study included 70,000 cases from 27 nations and defined “scholarly culture” as “the way of life in homes where books are numerous, esteemed, read, and enjoyed.” (It sounds like your home, doesn’t it?)

She begins by stating that “a number of studies have shown children with books in their homes have a serious advantage when it comes to learning to read.” She continues, “It turns out books in the home have an even more powerful effect on educational achievement—one that works independently of a country a child lives in, its governmental system, the parents’ income level, or whether they went to college or not.”

Quoting from the abstract of the 2010 study, she explains, “Children growing up in homes with books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.”

She goes on to say “what the authors [of the study] call a ‘book-oriented home environment’ can make a difference in ‘vocabulary, information, comprehension skills, imagination, broad horizons of history and geography, familiarity with good writing, the importance of evidence in argument’ and more.”

So did you and your child read today? I bet you did. Give yourself a smile.

BTW: Practical Homeschooling which is published five times per year has many more helpful ideas for parents, even if you are not homeschooling.

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. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

Christy, written by Catherine Marshall and published by Evergreen Farm, will certainly keep you under its spell of adventure, suspense and delight until the very last page. First released in 1967 and based on a true story of the life of Leonora Haseltine Whitaker Wood, the author’s mother, the story is compelling in many ways. Full of joy, imagination and deeply spiritual insights, this story is best suited to anyone aged 18 and above.

In 1912 nineteen-year-old Christy Huddleston, leaves her home in Asheville, North Carolina, to teach in a mission school in the Smokey Mountains community of Cutter Gap, Tennessee. The school at Cutter Gap is fairly new. It and two other schools in the area were established by Miss Alice Henderson, a Quaker from Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

From the very start, this new adventure is a challenge. The man who is supposed to meet Christy at the train station has an accident while he is out cutting trees, so Christy must walk the seven miles with the mailman. The trip is not at all easy, but they finally arrive. This poverty-stricken place, filled with many Appalachian highlanders whose ancestors came from Scotland, is a different world to Christy.

Life is very hard in Cutter Gap. The people do everything themselves with no electricity or running water. The woman grow their food, make the clothes for their family and wash them by the river. They have no formal education.

The first day of school for Christy is in late October when the children have finished helping their families with the crops. Many of the children have no shoes and must walk miles to the school. She has about sixty students in a one-room schoolhouse. Several of her students are young men in their late teens with bad attitudes.

Christy is encouraged in her work through the amazing spiritual insights of Miss Alice, who has immovable faith in Christ. Christy is a Christian, but her faith will soon be tested and she will mature in many areas through the course of the story.

The novel is rich with interesting characters. David Grantland is the minister of the church in Cutter Gap. Single and in his mid-twenties, he helps Christy with the older boys. His spinster sister, Ida, assists at the mission with the cooking and housework. Another influential character in Christy’s life in Cutter Gap is Dr. Neil MacNeill. He grew up in the area but attended college elsewhere. He has a true understanding of the people. His wife passed away three years earlier, and he is bitter toward God because of this.

Christy become friends with David, whom she greatly admires. After living and teaching in Cutter Gap, Christy leaves for the summer to visit her parents. Before she goes, David proposes marriage to her. She is flattered but knows she will need to spend much time praying about this. While she has a love for him, she doesn’t yet know if the Lord is leading her to marry him.

Although the people are often steeped in ignorance and superstition, Christy’s teaching is breaking through and many of the children are learning at an amazing rate. Christy becomes close friends with one of the mothers, Fairlight Spencer, who has a tremendous thirst for learning to read. Once Christy teaches her, she reads everything in sight.

This particular story only covers eleven months in the life of Christy, and it was over too soon. I find myself missing the characters and wishing a sequel had been written, but since it is based on a true story and real people’s lives, I can do some extra research on my own. Without giving away the ending, I will say that all the main characters discovered a much deeper and closer relationship with God through their experiences. They found Him to be as loving, faithful and powerful as His word says He is. I believe this story will be an excellent tool in guiding young people to find the path He has for their lives.  It encouraged me greatly and I pray it will do the same for you.

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.”

Valentine’s Day is coming–funny and sweet cards, flowers, chocolate, a good meal. It’s one of the biggest nights of the year for restaurants. It can be a lot of fun.

But as sweet and as powerful as love is for couples, love doesn’t just belong to couples. Neither does Valentine’s Day. It’s a good thing to remember. When we don’t, we can put way too much pressure on the couple-relationship. We need more kinds of love in our lives. Patsy took a look at a book of short stories a couple of years ago that show love in many aspects. I thought it was worth a re-posting. — Nancy

21 Days of Love, compiled by Kathy Ide and published by Broadstreet (2016) is a must-read for Valentine’s Day. It is creative, heartwarming and insightful. Not your ordinary collection of flowers and romance, this book shares true-to-life tales of all different types of love, focusing on God’s love as the primary and most important of all. Women, ages 18 and above, will find this a good read.

There are twenty-one amazing stories with a wide range of relationships–sweethearts, spouses, parents and children, grandparents, friends, pets, caregivers and couples from other countries. I enjoyed reading each story and learned something from each one. The main theme of the book is that God should be the center of all relationships. With His guiding hand, all love relationships will be greatly enhanced. I would like to highlight a few of my favorite stories.

The story I could relate to the most, A Finger and a Big Toe, by Nancy Ellen Hird, is about a young mother who is troubled because no matter how hard she tries, the woman she wants to have a significant relationship with, isn’t responding with equal interest. I think this is a common issue in the friendships among women. We often seek a friendship with someone and are disappointed when it doesn’t work out the way we had planned.

Becky and Carla are good friends, but Becky also is seeking the friendship of Jennifer, a woman she works with in a volunteer organization and whom she admires greatly. She tries unsuccessfully to reach out to Jennifer and make time for them to get to know each other. When Jennifer doesn’t respond, Becky is upset.

While at a church event with Carla, Becky sees Jennifer and learns that Jennifer and her family are planning to move in the near future. Becky is stunned. On the way home, she tells Carla about her disappointment.

Carla gives encouraging advice and shows Becky that perhaps God had a reason for preventing the friendship to blossom. Becky realizes how blessed she is with a friend like Carla, and learns an age-old lesson of trust and obedience to God’s plan. I believe this story can encourage others to place God at the center of their relationships.

Another story I particularly liked is Desert Crossing, by Dona Watson. It is the story of Lori, the mother of a nineteen year-old son named Josh. Her husband David is away with the military, deployed in the Middle East. As the story begins, Josh has gotten into some trouble with drugs and has had to spend a night in jail. Lori is hoping and praying for his safe return home. She settles into bed, praying and crying out to God for both her husband and son.

Soon she hears a door open. She believes Josh has come home. It turns out to be her husband David. Lori is thrilled he has returned and thankful they can face the challenges with their son together. After a happy greeting, she takes him to the kitchen to make him a meal and explain about their son.

Shortly after that, Josh returns and is overjoyed to see his father. He admits he was wrong and agrees to get help for his problem. The family is reunited with a sense of hope for the future.

Every story in this little book is encouraging and well-written. I loved the variety of characters. There is even a story about a little dog. This book would be a great one to read, and also would make a wonderful gift.

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.”



Pray this Way, written by Dr. Larry A. Vold and Rick Chavez, and published by Create Space Independent Publishing Platform (2016), will enlighten and deepen your prayer life. The book looks into “The Lord’s Prayer,” or as some call it The Model Prayer. After reading Pray this Way, I found myself praying differently.

A small, 180 pages, but mighty book, it has eight chapters on the prayer. Some of the chapter titles are “Proclaim His Glory,” “Desire His Reign,” “Do His Will,” and “Trust His Provision.” At the end of each of the chapters, there are helpful, thought-provoking questions for discussion. This is a great book to read and study on your own or to use with a study group.

Each chapter explains part of the prayer and how we can come to desire to pray more in the manner in which Jesus taught us. Pastor Larry gives examples of situations where “The Lord’s Prayer” has helped and strengthened others. He also gives examples of situations where people he has worked with failed to understand certain truths about what the prayer is really saying.

Pastor Larry also points out some difficult areas in our Christian walk. One of them is when the Lord asks us to forgive others. The prayer states, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” Matthew 6:12. Larry says that we are expected to forgive others if we want the Lord’s forgiveness. That is the only part of “The Lord’s Prayer” that has a condition. Forgiving is not always easy, and we need the Lord’s help to fulfill His request.

One of my favorite parts of the book is this quote, “When we make God’s holiness our focus in prayer, we are, in fact, worshiping. Do you consider prayer as an expression of worship? It is! When God is our focus in prayer, our prayers become beautiful worship. We open up and tell God what he is worth to us. That’s what worship is, extolling His worth in our lives.”

Pray this Way is a difficult book to put down. The points are so interesting and helpful, and the writing style is beautiful and meaningful. This book helped me to consider things about prayer I hadn’t really thought much about before. It has helped me to pray more for God’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be done in my life, family, friends and church. I understand this more than I had before. The book greatly encouraged me, and I am sure you will be encouraged as well. Men and women, 18 and above, would benefit most from this book.

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.”



The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story was written by Diane Ackerman and published by W. W. Norton & Company (2008). It has 349 pages and tells the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Christian zookeepers in Warsaw, Poland, prior to and during World War II.

In 1929, Jan was given the position of director at the Warsaw Zoo.  Jan and Antonina were married in 1931 and began their work together at the zoo.

It is worth noting that prior to this time many zoos were private. Poland dreamed of having a zoo that rivaled that of Germany. The Warsaw Zoo, as part of its innovations, was one of the first to have enclosures similar to a modern zoo where animals are not kept in cages but rather are free to move about in enclosures.

In 1932, Jan and Antonina had a son whom they named Ryszard (Rys). He grew up in the villa on the zoo property where he learned to love and care for the animals, even walking a pig and a badger. Both Jan and Antonina took great pride in the animals and in caring for them.

Just before dawn on September 1, 1939, Antonina was awakened by the sound of engines. She and Jan soon learned of the German invasion. They fled Warsaw, leaving behind their animals. When they returned a few days later, they found most of the animals were dead or gone. On September 7,  42-year-old Jan was selected as an able-bodied man to join the Polish army at the northwestern front. All civilians were ordered to vacate the zoo immediately. Once again Antonina and Rys left the zoo, not to return until after the surrender of the Polish troops.

By March of 1940, Poland now under full Nazi occupation, Jan began a pig farm on the zoo grounds. Despite the rationing, Antonia was able to bake bread from the grain she purchased from her sister-in-law. By the end of spring piglets were born. Jan also became part of the Polish Resistance and Underground, smuggling weapons, people, and some Jews.

The Warsaw Zoo was near Old Town. Just beyond that was the Jewish Quarter where about 300,000 Jews lived in the thriving, then modern city of Warsaw.

During the 20th century antisemitism had grown in Poland and with the occupation a Department of Racial Purity was established. The persecution of Jews began with calorie counts, (Germans 2,613, Poles 669, and Jews 184). Jews were also forbidden to be in restaurants, public parks, or use public toilets and city benches. Each Jew was given a Star of David to wear on the their outer clothing; Jews in civil service were fired; Jewish lawyers disbarred; and, Jewish doctors were forced to stop practicing. Finally the Jews were ordered to the north section of the city and into the Ghetto.

In the summer of 1940, Jan began to accept Jews to stay at the zoo.  Some stayed only temporarily and some stayed for years. The old animal enclosures provided a place to hide the Jews. In addition other “guests” stayed at the zoo including Jan’s mother, friends, and Irene Sendler.

As the war pressed on, Jan and Antonina did what they could to save their family, preserve the spirit of the zoo, and show respect for animals and for people of all races. The book tells of the challenges they faced and overcame living under the fearsome German occupation.

This book is written by a naturalist who has a different writing style and perspective than a historian. However, as a historian, I think this book is well written and a good story about life at the Warsaw Zoo before, during and after World War II. The Zookeeper’s Wife does have some details that might need to be discussed with an adult. I would recommend this book for upper level high school students interested in World War II history and adults interested in World War II. In the back of the version I read are discussion questions which could be used by a reading group or by a parent and teen reading the book together.

Kristina O’Brien is a mother, an avid reader and a credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history.


Merry Christmas to you all! God bless these days and all your days to come.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s is a lovely time for the kids to unwind and savor the goodness of God. Here are some book suggestions that might just be the right thing.

For your YA:

The Boys in the Boat— the true, inspiring story of the young men, who to everyone’s surprise, won Olympic gold in rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

A Christmas Gift for Rose–an uplifting story about God’s provision and care. A young Amish woman discovers the story of her parentage.

First Date–a contemporary novel with small nods to the story of Esther from the Old Testament. Teenage American girls in a  beauty pageant compete for a first date with the President’s son.

Found in Translation–a humorous and heart-warming novel of a young woman’s adventures and misadventures on her first short-term mission trip.

God’s Smuggler–a true and thrilling story of Brother Andrew, who smuggled Bibles into countries closed to Christianity.

Oxygen–science fiction, a space crew traveling to Mars suspect that one of them is a saboteur.

Thunder Dog— the story of  Roselle, the guide dog who helped the blind Michael Hingson and those who were with him escape the plane-struck Tower 1 on 9/11.

For middle schoolers:

Anne of Green Gables–classic for girls, with a number of books in the series

Callie–a book for emerging independent readers about a finding a home for a cat

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–the thrilling first book of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia

Full Metal Trench Coat–first novel in a series for elementary school children, especially boys

Nick Newton Is Not a Genius–fun, wacky characters in a steampunk setting. An average kid with a lot of grit finds adventure when he tries to put together a clockwork bird.

The Pilgrim’s Progress–Christian classic, an allegory on the Christian life that comes in several versions

The Prince Warriors–a Christian allegory for boys and girls based on using the armor of God

Sarah, Plain and Tall–historical fiction about life on the American prairie of the 19th century

Scout— a boy’s adventures with a lost dog

The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed–historical fiction, a sea adventure for boys and girls set aboard a 19th century whaling ship

We All Get a Clue–a contemporary mystery/adventure, second book in the two-book series about pre-teen detectives in Edinburgh, Scotland


I love Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes the pressure of gift-getting and food-planning and activity-attending overwhelm me. I need a break. Maybe you do too.

Some years ago in midst of everything I suddenly realized with a start that Christmas would come whether I did something or whether I did nothing. Christmas was not about what I did. Christmas was the gift that God had given and was giving to the world and to me.

Of course, I have to revisit that truth again and again. Today is one of those “again” times. This song, Love Has Come, sung by Amy Grant helps me. Maybe it will help you. So take a breath, get a cup of cocoa and a cookie, listen to the song and be of good cheer. – Nancy


Working in youth ministries, my heart squeezes with sorrow and fills with compassion as I see all of the things our youth face today. They are surrounded by the world’s standards and expectations, and put into highly stressful situations. I try to encourage the young ladies in our youth group, but there is only so much I can do because of their busy schedules and limited time.

ADORED: 365 Devotions for Young Women is a quick devotional which provides sound biblical doctrine, and is relatable to today’s young women. Geared toward teen girls, it emphasizes how they can strengthen their relationship with God through reading and studying God’s Word. It also shows them how they are adored daughters of God, how important and valued they are. The author illustrates to the reader that God made them with special gifts and talents and how they can contribute to the heavenly kingdom.

The devotional speaks in a gentle and conversational manner without being preachy. It challenges the reader to think about what it means to be a child of God and to be adored and loved by Him. It encourages young women to make wise, godly choices. Topics include modesty, self-esteem, idols, serving in the church, being yourself and not following the crowd, working hard, following through with commitments, friendship with the world and many more.

I was so excited that it touched on so many problems and issues our teens go through. I would have loved to have read this devotional when I was their age, but I enjoyed reading it as an adult and learned some things myself.

Each daily devotional takes about a minute to read. Beginning with a verse, it leads into the subject which is covered in a few paragraphs. The author makes a statement or asks a question, gives the reader the biblical answer, and then shows them how to apply it to their lives. It also includes space for journaling and has many Scripture references. The cover art and page edging is charming and attractive with a blue and gold design.

Adored: 365 Devotions for Young Women would make a lovely gift for the teen girl or even the college-age young woman in your life. It is written by Lindsay A. Franklin and published by Zondervan (2017).

J. D.  Rempel , is a graduate of Simpson College. She is endeavoring to pen a YA science fiction novel and an adult fantasy series. Currently, she is seeking a publisher for her middle grade fiction novel. J. D. loves to read, work with her husband in youth ministry, and play peekaboo with her turtle, Applesauce. 



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