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“God is our shelter and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken
and the mountains fall into the ocean depths;
even if the seas roar and rage,
and the hills are shaken by violence.” Psalm 46:1-3

Don’t you just love it that these verses say that God is always ready to help in times of trouble? He wants to walk beside us and help us. It doesn’t say that there aren’t going to be troubles. It says there can be horrendous troubles–life happenings way beyond our control, but even then we need not dwell in fear. Even then. He is with us.

I don’t think it says that we will not have moments of fear. We just don’t have to live there. Like Psalm 91 says, we can dwell in His fortress.

I think some of the ways we dwell in His fortress are to fill our minds with His loving word and live in obedience to His laws; rely on His strength and the certainty of His power to protect and provide; and, to enjoy media and other activities that speak of His presence and His care.

The last is the reason for this blog. We want you to hear about books that will uplift you and and the kids. We want to help you tell your beloved children that God is, that He is good, and that He can and does save.

Book Lists in the menu at the top will take you to titles we recommend. Books are divided by the age of the expected reader and whether the books are non-fiction or fiction.

You will notice that I have not started with our long list of picture books recommendations. You might wonder what I did with it. It’s still there. I moved it to below the list of books we recommend for college/working people. I thought, at this time, you might need recommendations for elementary, middle school, high school, college and young working people more. Also books for those age groups are more often available as e-books.

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.

Love, Lexi: Letters to God by Sherry Kyle, published by Tyndale (2016) is a story told in the form of a journal with interactive sections for the reader. It is suitable for upper elementary and middle school girls. Lexi (Alexis) tells her story to God with all the passion and angst typical of the seventh grader that she is.

In her first letter, Lexi declares this day the worst day ever. Her reasons include a stolen note involving her “crush” and being partnered for a class assignment with the school’s queen bee. Bianca, the queen bee, has tagged Lexi, “Lexi the Loser.” In her journal Lexi compares herself to Bianca and comes up very much less than.

After Lexi’s letter, God responds with thoughts from Romans 8:38-39 and Jeremiah 31:3. What follows is a paragraph speaking to the problem of comparing ourselves to others and reminding the reader that she is made in God’s image and is designed exactly how He wanted. The reader is then given an opportunity to a write some sentences on why she sometimes feels like a loser. The next prompt is “But when I think about how much You love me, I feel. . .” A short prayer follows these prompts and then a verse from Ephesians reminds the reader again how deeply she is loved.

The next letter to God introduces the plot. A contest at school has been announced. Students who wish to may sell orders for cookie dough to raise money for the school computer lab. The student who sells the most will win a pizza party and a ride in a limo with three friends. Lexi is determined to win.

In later letters the reader learns that Lexi has come up with the idea of a dance team that will perform at the assembly where the winner of the contest is announced. She thinks this will solve her popularity problem or lack thereof. Lexi then holds try-outs. A few girls show up, but they leave quickly, intimidated by the best dancers in the school—Bianca and her crew.

Love, Lexi is girl world. There’s lots of drama–drama with parents, drama with siblings, and drama with friends. Lexi’s problems and obstacles are not world-changing or life threatening. They may even seem superficial to adults, but they will resonate with girls of that age. Lexi’s desire and struggle to find her place and accept herself are very much on a middle school girl’s agenda.

The book is printed in red ink. There are small drawings on the pages of the kind that a young woman might make in her journal. These add to the fun of the book.

What makes this book truly special, and I think very worthy of a middle school girl’s time, is its devotional aspect. Each of Lexi’s entries ends with God’s response to Lexi’s present difficulty, plus a short paragraph that gives insight and perspective to the difficulty, prompts for the reader to share about a similar situation in her life, a simple prayer and a scripture.

If a girl takes advantage of these sections, I believe her relationship with God will grow into a beautiful and vibrant one. She will find that God is her friend and that she can be His.

(I’ve inserted the book cover in case you should go to look at the book on Amazon. If you do, you might be taken aback by some of the company Amazon has it keeping. But do not be misled. This is a good, good book.)

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.

I don’t want to put you on overload as far as suggestions of books to read, but we’re celebrating Black History Month here in the States and I think you’ll want to know about these books. We heartily recommend each of them.

The Adventures of Pearley Monroe–Middle Grade Fiction

Didn’t We have Fun! — Picture book for young children and for those in the lower grades of elementary school

George Washington Carver: From Slave to Scientist–biography for YA

Hidden Figures, Young Readers’ Edition–elementary school age

Why We Can’t Wait–YA, College Age/Working Person

 

School can be serious business. Maybe a little science fiction reading or fantasy would be just the refreshing break you or your young person needs. Here are some titles that we can recommend.

(MG: Middle Grade;   YA: Young Adult;     CW: College Age/Working Person)

Sci-Fi

Dragon and Thief  – MG
Escape to Witch Mountain  – YA
Nick Newton Is Not a Genius  – MG
9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge  – YA, CW

 

Fantasy

Babe, the Gallant Pig – Elementary School Age
Brush of Wings – YA, CW
Fairy Realm Series – Early Chapter Books
Forgotten Door – MG
Full Metal Trench Coat – MG
Lightbearer: The Lorica Prophecies – YA, CW
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – MG, YA
Magic Attic Club Series – MG
Prince Warriors – MG
Raiders from the Sea – MG
Tomo: I was an Eighth Grade Ninja – MG
Trumpet of the Swan – MG

Books can be “mirrors, windows, stepping stones,
anchors, escape hatches, quiet corners, spring boards,
warm blankets.”
A Chinese proverb says,
“A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket.”

Books make super wonderful stocking stuffers. I chose a few titles that we have liked from Book Lists to get you started, but there are many more titles on Book Lists.

For Young Independent Readers:
The Great Cake Mystery
West Meadows Detectives
A Windy Spring Day

For Middle Graders:
Anne of Green Gables
Dragon and Thief
Full Metal Trench Coat
Hello Stars
I Get a Clue
Nick Newton Is Not a Genius
Raiders from the Sea

For YA:
The Boys in the Boat
Dawn at Emberwilde
First Date
God’s Smuggler
The Maid of Fairbourne Hall
A Whisper and a Wish
Young Pioneers

For College Person/Working Person:
Christy
The Lost Castle
Love Finds You in Lahaina, Hawaii
Oxygen
7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness
Sushi for One?
With Every Letter

 

Raiders from the Sea, (Viking Quest series, book 1) was written by Lois Walfrid Johnson and published by Moody Publishers: New Edition (2003). It is advertised for children 10 and above.

Brianna, an Irish girl turning thirteen, is out for a walk in the green hills when she sees a young man fall into a stream. Thinking it’s a friend, Bree jumps in to save him. But he turns out to be a stranger named Mikkel, who will soon change her life forever.

Viking Quest Series follows the adventures of a sister and brother, Brianna and Devin during a time when Vikings raided the shores of Ireland.

We meet their parents, grandmother, and younger siblings, and then see Bree and Devin wrenched from the safety of home, thrown into a longboat and taken far away. The family are Christians, and close friends with Brother Cronan at the nearby monastery. Both children have learned to read the scriptures there. When Mikkel and his Viking crew steal them away as slaves, the only thing that sustains the sister and brother is their faith in God and their concern for one another.

Lois Walfrid Johnson did extensive research on the time period and culture, making the setting seem real. Her historical depictions of Vikings lean toward the gentler side.

She integrates internal faith with external actions and dialogue in a realistic way. I love how she weaves scripture and prayer into her characters’ thoughts as they seek to cope with this terrible upheaval, as they grapple with anger, fear, and loss.

Johnson’s writing is easy to read, with believable voices for the characters’ ages. Each chapter begins with a beautiful shaded line drawing of a scene from that part of the story.

I have read only the first in the series of five books, but if the other four follow along the lines of the first, they will be entertaining and intriguing. Raiders from the Sea is 208 pages long and available at Christianbook.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores.

 

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. 

Looking for Home, Beyond the Orphan Train Series, Book 1, was written by Arleta Richardson and published by David C. Cook (1993). According to the “About the Author” page at the back of the novel orphan trains operated between 1854 to 1929 in the United States. These trains helped to relocate about 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children. Arleta Richardson based her series on a boy, Ethan Cooper, who rode the orphan train in 1908.

The novel begins in 1907. Ethan Cooper’s mother has just died after a long illness and his father is away at sea. His four older siblings decide that Ethan and his four younger siblings cannot stay at home. There is no money and there is no one to care for them. A neighbor takes the baby girl and Ethan, who is eight, and the three other children must go to live in a nearby orphanage, Briarlane Christian Children’s Home. Ethan is put in charge of five-year-old Alice, three-year-old Simon and two-year-old Will on the journey to the orphanage. His older siblings also tell him to look out for the little ones while they are at Briarlane. Ethan accepts this big responsibility.

The children are treated well at the home. They receive lots of good food; they have chores, but they also have time to play. There are rules, but the adults, though firm, treat the children with kindness. Ethan and Alice know that in the fall they will have the chance to go to school which they are excited about. The Cooper children are happy at the Briarlane. Ethan’s greatest concern is that they will, or he will, do something wrong and they, or he, will be sent away.

One day Matron calls Ethan aside because he has not been making his bed before going out to play. During this time of correction, Matron tells Ethan that God is interested in him. When Will goes missing and Ethan is frantic, Matron tells Ethan that God is the Good Shepherd. She encourages Ethan to pray and ask God to take care of Will and then trust that He will somehow bring the little boy back. This comforts Ethan.

Before Will went missing, Bert, a good friend of Ethan’s, overheard a lady tell the home’s director that she was determined to adopt Will. When, after a thorough search of the farm, Will is not found, Bert and Ethan go to the lady’s home. But neither she nor Will are there. The boys go to town and wander into her husband’s office. He begins to piece together that his wife probably has Will at their summer home. He goes there immediately which results in his wife returning the child and apologizing to the director.

Ethan tells Bert that Matron is right. “It is a good idea to pray about stuff.” Will’s return is not the end of Ethan’s troubles, but he will begin to see and believe that there is a Good Shepherd who is watching over him.

The reading level for Looking for Home is about third grade and Ethan, the main character is eight years old, but I think the book would be more appropriate for fifth graders. Fifth grade social studies curriculum covers US history, so the book would have more meaning for these readers. I also think that developmentally fifth graders and/or fourth graders in the latter half of the school year are better able to handle, psychologically and emotionally, the loss, hardships and uncertainties that Ethan and his siblings experience. The readers of this age would still have compassion for the Cooper kids, but their growing maturity would shield these young readers from feeling personally threatened.

This is an interesting story. Children will want to read what happens next. I think it will also help young readers grow in their faith in God and help them consider that He is looking out for them even when they experience hardship and troubles.

 

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.

 

Thanksgving is coming. And so . . .

Thank you, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving

Though these are picture books, the stories will thrill and fascinate people of any age.

Here are some more suggestions of books with a Thanksgiving theme. We think they are lovely as well and will add to your celebration of the day and the days following.

What is Thanksgiving?  – a board book that takes the listener to the heart of the holiday

Thanksgiving Graces – a picture book about extending ourselves to family, friends and strangers

Molly’s Pilgrim – a first chapter book with illustrations for children in lower elementary grades that may help children consider modern day pilgrims.

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving – a gentle story about family life at Thanksgiving from 19th century author Louisa May Alcott.  This short book with illustrations would be enjoyed by children ages five to twelve.

 

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.

 

 

 

Hello Stars by young actress Alena Pitts and her writer mother Wynter Pitts will intrigue and delight preteen girls. This is the first novel in the Lena in the Spotlight series from Zonderkidz (2017).

Fifth-grader Lena Daniels enters a contest to be in a movie with her favorite Christian singer. And she wins! She wins despite a small problem in her video–she had a gummy goo between her front teeth the whole time. In her excitement to get the video sent, she sent it without first viewing it. Lena is completely mortified when she does see it.

This will not be the last time in novel when Lena feels completely embarrassed or inept. Preteens will cringe (and maybe laugh a little). And with Lena, they will be so relieved when they find out  that her mishap is not the end of the world–life happens. It happens even when you are making a Christian movie in California. God can still take care of it.

Lena’s mishaps become God-opportunities. She practices being thankful to God in less than perfect circumstances. Her family remind her that she is loved no matter what. As the story unfolds Lena learns more about God having a good plan for her life and how He is working it out. And she also gains a bigger understanding of how her choices can impact other people’s lives.

Making a movie is a heady experience, but it is also serious business. The reader gets a behind-the-scenes look at the time, effort and skill that goes into a film. I think preteens will be fascinated.

They will also learn that movie making requires sacrifices. Even though Lena is a kid she has to give up some normal kid activities—like leaving school before the end of term, getting up early during her summer vacation, not going away with her friend on a vacation. Spoiler Alert: Lena does make a selfish choice regarding her time with her friends, but she learns a lot from it. It will give pre-teens some food for thought.

The Daniels family is a Christian family and they talk the talk and walk the walk. The parents and the four daughters read from the Bible and pray each morning before they leave the house. The parents, in particular, pray about decisions. They encourage Lena and her sister to also seek God and His wisdom and comfort. As I wrote, Lena is not mishap-free and her parents counsel and comfort her, often pointing her to God.

I think preteens will enjoy this book. The story is fun and well-told. I think they also will come away from it with a greater respect for and pleasure in their own God-given talents and abilities.

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.

The Mystery Thief by Paul Hutchens is #10 in the 36-book series of the Sugar Creek Gang. This book, according to the copyright page, was first published in 1946 and times have definitely changed.

Bill Collins, the narrator, makes references to giving “lickin’s” to other boys in the past (perhaps in earlier books). In the first pages of The Mystery Thief he says that he and his father had spent some time in the woodshed. (I don’t think they were re-stacking the wood.) Later in The Mystery Thief, the boys get into a scuffle with an adult they believe is poaching and still later in the story their new teacher threatens the boys with a switching. These behaviors could—and should—disturb a contemporary reader. But they also make it a worthwhile read. As the story unfolds, you experience Bill’s unvarnished feelings and attitudes, then watch them change under the influence of his father, a wiser boy from the gang, and a godly older man.

Bill takes steps toward becoming a wise and godly man in the course of the story. He reconsiders the merits of fighting and giving vent to his emotions. He watches others show respect even when they don’t like the person and learns the value of it. He experiences the consequences of jumping to conclusions and begins to question that behavior. I want to underscore that Bill’s learning does not feel like the author preaching. The learning comes honestly. It feels like a real kid growing up and growing wise. OK, enough about why young readers should read it. Here’s why I think they will want to read it and keep reading.

The book starts fast. Bill Collins sees a mysterious man sneak out of the woods and shove a letter into his family’s mailbox. The unsigned letter is addressed to Bill’s father. The writer threatens Bill and calls him the worst “ruffneck” in a gang of “ruffnecks.”

On the way up the lane to Poetry’s, another member of the gang, Bill is attacked—shoved into a snowdrift—and his suitcase and the letter are stolen. The gang shows up and, because the snow is falling, they all quickly set off to follow the tracks of the assailant and to discover who he is. As they walk, they also try to figure out who may have written the letter.

A chance encounter with their new teacher adds drama to the search, but seems to twist the plot away from the mysterious stranger as the boys consider their previous behavior toward their new teacher and vow to behave better. Suspense mounts as the boys continue tracking the assailant. They spot a suspicious man and are certain he is the thief, but they are mistaken. The plot continues to twist and turn until, in a surprising way involving their new teacher, the boys solve the mystery.

I think boys in particular will find this book absorbing. There is a lot of action and some danger. But I also think the lives of the Sugar Creek Gang will intrigue boys. The Mystery Thief gives a glimpse of life in rural America of the mid-twentieth century. It is in some ways a harsh life. The boys in the novel are familiar with poverty and they have seen the effects of drunkenness in adults. Material wealth, even for the boys whose families are not just scraping by, is so much less than what children generally have today.

Yet these boys are not unhappy. They seem at home in their lives. They have each other and they accept each other and all the oddities that go with each individual personality. As a group, they are courageous and resourceful. They have an independence and freedom to move about that twenty-first century boys and girls will envy.

The novel is short and will appeal especially to boys ages 10 to 12 years old.

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.

 

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