Episode #28 - Cultivating Your Child's Imagination

Do you sometimes wish your child had more of an imagination? Do you wonder what steps to take to help cultivate an imagination in your kids? Today on the podcast, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker talk about why imagination matters in life and faith, drawing from the stories of inventors, authors, and even their own experiences with their kids. 

Topics include:

  • How imagination inspires creativity
  • How imagination leads to a life with God
  • Ways to cultivate imagination in our kids' lives
  • How to create space for imagination in our children
  • Book recommendations 

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #28 - Cultivating Your Child's Imagination

My Favorite Literary Mothers- A Book List

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By Jaime Showmaker

 

It's Mother's Day in the United States this weekend, and in celebration and honor of our beloved mothers, I thought that I would take the opportunity to share a list of books that include some of my very favorite mothers in literature. Enjoy!

 

Little Women- Louisa May Alcott

You can hardly have a list of beloved literary mothers and begin with anyone other than Marmee. Mrs. March is almost the quintessential ideal mother. She is wise, kind, loving, and compassionate to her four growing daughters. She regularly models hospitality and selflessness, sharing with the needy and tending to the sick, in spite of limited financial resources and an often absent husband.  At a time when many women were still regarded as somewhat second-class citizens, Marmee encouraged her daughters to pursue their passions and creativity.  Her gentle, quiet, practical, and strong devotion to her family shines through in every moment. 

 

Little Men-Louisa May Alcott

With a mother like Marmee, it is no wonder that Jo March Bhaer also shines as one of the most memorable mothers in literature. In the sequel to Little Women, Jo is mother to not only her own boys, but an entire school full of boys at Plumfield, the academy she runs with her Professor husband. Jo is a perfect, spunky "boy mom," though wisdom can be gleaned from these pages for mothers of either gender. She takes delight in the individuality of each child and nourishes their humanity with compassion, belief, and ingenuity. 

 

Mother Carey's Chickens-Kate Douglas Wiggin

I have written about Mother Carey's influence on me in an earlier Storyformed article, and each time I read this book, I glean more and more insight into the joys and pains of motherhood. Mother Carey is caring for her four children under very difficult circumstances, and her wisdom, compassion, creativity, and understanding are inspirational to me as a mother. Her insight into the nature and needs of children is illuminating.  But it is her selflessness and her sacrifice that challenges me and makes me want to be a better mother myself. 

 
 

Cheaper By The Dozen- Frank Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Mrs Gilbreth is a highly unusual mother. In addition to having twelve children, she is raising those children with an eccentric efficiency-expert husband, and the vitality in their home reflects their originality. Although they often test their efficiency theories in the management of the home and children, her passionate love for each of her children and their individual well-being is evident in all that she does. I wrote a full review of the book here. 

 

Little House on the Prairie- Laura Ingles Wilder

Most people are familiar with Laura's perspective in these tales of 19th Century pioneer life, but it was the mother, Caroline Ingles, who shined for me when I read these books as an adult a few years ago. In spite of the severity of the circumstances in which the Ingles family lives, Ma Ingles demonstrates unflinching bravery, resourcefulness, and wisdom, as well as devoted love for her family.

 

The Wingfeather Saga- Andrew Peterson

It was Nia Igiby's quiet strength that first inspired me as a mother, but as the series progressed and I learned more of her story, my admiration for her grew until she became one of my all-time favorite mothers in literature. Her fierce devotion to her children and their individual callings and roles in the world is demonstrated in her sacrificial love and noble bravery.  Her willingness to live a counter-cultural life in order to fulfill her children's purposes is encouraging to me as a mom who frequently feels as if I am swimming upstream for the sake of my own children's good.  But it is the dignity with which she watches her children step into those roles that strengthens me, as each day I watch my boys grow more and more into the men that they will one day become. 

 

Harry Potter Series- J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series contains one of my all-time favorite mothers in literature: Molly Weasley. Molly is mom to her own large brood of wizards and witches, to whom she is loyal, devoted, and sacrificially loving. But it is the loving kindness that she demonstrates to orphaned Harry that puts her near the top of the list of lit moms for me. Plus, she's a spitfire in her own right, which I absolutely love!

 

 

Understood Betsy- Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Although Aunt Abigail Putney isn't biologically "Mother" to Betsy, her assumption of that role in Betsy's life is transformative. Her no-nonsense expectation and belief that Betsy will rise to the occasion is inspiring, as is the wisdom in how she manages to allow Betsy to see her own abilities for herself. It is also a beautiful example that "motherhood" can be demonstrated to anyone, not just biological children. 

 
 

The Runaway Bunny- Margaret Wise Brown

Even the sweetest little board books can have some of the most memorable mothers. In Runaway Bunny, Mother Bunny remakes herself over and over to meet the needs of her precious little baby bunny. I love her and her willingness to adapt to the ever-changing needs of her baby. It is a simple picture of how, although our roles as mothers may always be in flux, love for our children is steadfast.  

 

Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen

As a bonus, I had to include a mother that I loathe, yet who still instructs me. Mrs Bennett is one of the mothers that we love to hate. She is self-absorbed, inconsiderate, rude, and foolish, and yet, she teaches--if only to demonstrate the kind of mother we do not want to emulate! 

Episode #27 - Why do Goodness, Truth, and Beauty Matter? (A conversation with Adam Pelser)

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Do you ever hear people rattle off the words, 'goodness, truth, and beauty', and wonder what they are talking about? We mention this triad of words from time to time on the Storyformed podcast, but don't often take the time to discuss what we really mean when we say them. So, today I had the opportunity to interview philosophy professor Adam Pelser about this topic!

Adam received his Ph.d from Baylor University where he studied under Bob Roberts, a renown Christian philosopher. Adam is a currently a philosophy professor at the Air Force Academy where he teaches Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Love, and even a course on C.S. Lewis and Philosophy. He writes on emotions and virtue formation and he is currently writing a book on Emotional Evidence for God where he explains how we can see God with the "eyes of our heart." You can connect with Adam on Facebook and Twitter (@AdamCPelser) and at his website - adampelser.com.  

Topics Include:

  • The value of understanding goodness, truth, and beauty as Christian virtues
  • How goodness, truth, and beauty show up in everyday life
  • How goodness, truth and beauty reveal themselves in stories
  • Book recommendations

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #27 - 

Lifegiving Parent Podcast Series: Holly and Glenn Packiam

By Holly Packiam

Hello Storyformed friends! My husband and I had so much fun being on the At Home with Sally podcast with our dear friends, Clay and Sally Clarkson. They have been such an encouragement to us over the years, and their new parenting book, The Lifegiving Parent,  is everything we’d want other parents to glean from!

Glenn was privileged to endorse the book: ‘Wisdom is crammed in these pages-- the wisdom of the Scriptures exposited and the wisdom of God embodied in over three decades of parenting. You won’t find formulas, guarantees, or glossy depictions of family life in this book. Instead, there are well-worn and well-loved pathways into the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit…for parents and for children.’ 

We hope you'll listen to us talk with the Clarksons in this Lifegiving Podcast Series. Click HERE to listen to this podcast! 

Why I Now Read Fiction

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By Glenn Packiam

I have always been a reader, but I haven't really been much of a fiction reader. At the risk of revealing my snobbery, I must confess that I used to think of fiction as a waste of time. I read for information. I want to learn! Who has time for silly stories?

Over the last few years, I've realized what a fool I've been for ignoring great stories. Here are just a few of the things I'm reminded of when I read good fiction:

The power of storytelling is not just in the story but in the telling. Not all fiction is created equal. Many stories rely on gimmicks and tricks, with more plot twists than a bubble gum blockbuster. No doubt, these stories are entertaining, but they will never be great. They acheive an emotional response by manipulating the reader not be truly letting him enter the story.

Take Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, which I only recently read. There's not much of a plot per se. An old man goes too far out to catch a fish too big and struggles with sharks and fatigue as he tries to make it home. But that's not it. The way Hemingway tells us the story makes us feel the cracking rope burn against our hands, taste the salty breeze on our parched lips, and rise up with the deterimination to conquer age and nature and all the criticisms of society.

Solzhenitsyn's One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich is, as you would guess a story of one day. Yet, that one day captures so beautifully all the agony and disappointment and hope of living in a Siberian concentration camp-- ordered by the country he had once fought for.

The lesson is simple: how we say something is every bit as important as what we are trying to say. How we do something matters as much as what it is we are trying to accomplish. This foolish pragmatism of having to learn something efficiently or communicate something directly robs us of the joy of life. And God's way of teaching us is usually not as direct as we'd like. Sometimes it takes 40 years of wandering to test our hearts and make us humble.

Every scene matters.  Telling a story well means treating every scene with equal delicacy. Tolstoy in Anna Karenina transports us to elegant parties in Moscow and peasant farms in the countryside with equal deftness. Each scene is described in detail, making them believable and "feel-able".

Good fiction doesn't tell you that the journey matters as much the destination; it shows you why by making you present in every step. Good fiction makes us slow down. Ah, to live that way!

The best characters are people you know.  (Or vice versa) In the movie, Shadowlands, the C.S. Lewis character says that we "read to know that we are not alone." Some people object to reading saying that they choose to live in the "real world" instead or to write their "own stories." But good fiction creates characters that remind you of someone you know and helps you to see them more deeply and more truly.

Our temptation is to turn the people around us into caricatures...to say that Bob is just an accountant, or Susan simply a mom. Or worse, we peg people by one or two traits, ignoring a host of others. Jill is a "neat freak". John is a porn addict. But no one is only those things. Every person is complex. Good fiction makes us see the characters in 3D or HD or both. We see their confidence and the underlying insecurity. We see the noble impulses and their base cravings. We see the imago dei and the carnality of flesh. This is what good characters do: they remind you that every human being is a rich, beautiful mess.

Holding up a mirror is better than breaking a window. The best fiction, though, reminds you of yourself. It makes you come clean about your hidden thoughts or motives. It makes you admit your fears and face your demons. We are not as pure as we imagine. We are not as hopeless as we feel.

The beauty of good fiction is it makes us face ourselves without our being threatened by a confrontation. Think of Nathan the prophet telling David the King that he has sinned against God by sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering an innocent man. It was the power of a story that allowed Nathan to lead David to see his own guilt-- though David didn't know it until Nathan said "You are that man!" Jesus repeatedly used obscure stories that unwittingly made listeners feel a knot in their gut. The pinch of the "Good Samaritan" story wasn't that Jews needed to help the poor; they already did that...and Pharisees were famous for doing so. By making the hero of His story a person that Jews despised-- the Samaritan-- Jesus subversively made them recognize their own prejudice without calling them bigots and hypocrites. (He saved that speech for later!)

A story is subversive. Rather than throwing a brick through a window in anger, a story holds up a mirror and leads to you to the truth. One has to do with confrontation, the other with confession.

Over the last few years, I've seen myself in Tolstoy's Levin (Anna Karenina), Huckleberry Finn, Ryan in Rob Stennett's The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, Eustace, Jill, and all four of the Pevensie kids in Narnia. I am like the Hemingway's Old Man who goes out too far and gets more than he can handle; I am like Tobias Wolff's narrator who wrestles with his cultural roots in Old School.

I've still got loads of catching up to do, but with every page I can feel my life getting broader, and slower, and richer, and more honest. And those are all good things.

Episode #26 - Stories from the Farm

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In this episode, Holly Packiam talks with her husband, Glenn Packiam, and their daughter, Sophia Packiam about farm life. Glenn shares his first experience of going to the farm, and Sophia talks about what visiting the farm has meant for her childhood. Holly discusses how reading Wendell Berry helped realize the gift she was given by growing up on a farm and having a poet-farmer for a father. Sophia contributes to the conversation by talking about the various farm stories and books set on farms that she’s read and what she’s gained from them.

Topics Include:

  • How farm life can teach us to see beauty in the ordinary and to have patience and persistence through difficulty;

  • What Sophia would tell young people who find farm stories uninteresting;

  • Why reading farm stories are not about nostalgia or idealizing a certain way of life, but rather about learning a new perspective and gaining new virtues.

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #26 - Stories from the Farm

Cultivating Your Child's Gifts

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By Holly Packiam

Have you ever wondered what you were like as a small child? I have many memories of my childhood as I’m sure you do. I remember swinging on swings, playing house with my sister and friends, and wandering around my grandparents Iowa farm. But, sometimes I’m curious if I naturally had a certain bent - specific activities I always returned to.

Last week my first child turned thirteen. When she was little, someone gave me an idea to keep a journal as a way to remember. We wrote down her favorites, cute things she’d say and do, and milestones. And then about twice a year, my husband and I would write letters to her, telling her what we see in her and what we see the Lord doing in her life. As she read aloud certain passages to us, I recognized reoccurring stories and themes in her life. She seemed to take every opportunity to imagine a story and act it out from quotidian scenes from home to momentous occasions such as weddings. From the age of two, my daughter began to call us to gather as she led us in worship or gave a sermon. Now at thirteen, she’s writing books and reading them aloud to us, leading worship for children at church, and performing in musical theater shows. As I look back, is some ways it seems obvious that she would continue to do the things she’s always gravitated to.

And yet, these God-given gifts are to be cultivated. That’s (partly) what parents are for. I was reminded of this by a wonderful recent post from Clay Clarkson, called ‘Imaginations Should be Exercised’. Clay writes how reading a particular biography as a family helped them to recognize the qualities which mark each person uniquely, and how the right people and environment can draw out these gifts.

Marguerite Henry’s delightful story of how Benjamin West’s God-given talent sprouted, blossomed, and grew naturally like a wild flower in the forest is told with historical details and dialects, and with great human insight. What enriches this story is not only the progress of Benjamin’s art and how he felt about it, but also the softening of his strict but loving Papa, the encouragement of his quietly supportive Mamma, and the help of his connected uncle Phineas. There is a tenderness and joy in the telling that will warm your family’s heart with the picture of a very different, but still the same, eighteenth century family’s love for their artistically gifted child.

What captured our imaginations in the reading of this story was the true part about Benjamin’s artistic skills and motivation. They were clearly gifts from God, not the result (in modern lingo) of behavioral or environmental conditioning. He did not come to the world as a tabula rasa, a blank slate; rather, he came as a tabula scriptum, with markings on the slate. The finger of God had already written “artist” in Benjamin’s mind and spirit. And isn’t that, in part, what it means that we bear God’s image? We share markings in our person-ness from the Creator and creative God. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). The story of Benjamin West is a quiet, Quaker testimony to the work of God’s hands in our lives.

Read the entire piece

As a mom, it’s easy to get distracted, to be more in tune with my own life than the budding lives of our children. It takes considerable intentionality on my part to pray and to be attentive to her life. It also means being willing to re-evaluate-- multiple times a year-- the activities and ministries she commits to, asking  the Lord what He has for her this season. These are decisions my husband and I discern together with her. There are times when a blossoming plant needs more sunshine, other times when it needs shade; times when it needs watering and times when it needs heat. We can never put parenting in cruise control mode; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan for our children and the cultivation of their gifts. At least, not for our wild and wonderful four!

Episode #25 - Reading with Teens

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Are you wondering how to navigate reading with teens? Today on the podcast,  Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker talk about how to stay connected with teens through books in this changing season of their lives.

Topics include:

  • The kinds of questions teens wrestle with-- from identity to purpose
  • The value in reading together in the teen years
  • Practical ideas for creating space to read together 
  • How to help teens recognize and choose good books
  • Book recommendations for teens

Click below to hear the podcast

 

If you are enjoy listening to the podcasts, please leave us a star review and rating HERE

Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #25 - Reading with Teens

Fantasy Books for Teens

A Wrinkle in Time

OPD: 1962

I read this book by myself and aloud with my family and found new creative fascination and spiritual insight with each read. L’Engle’s classic tale of the stubborn Meg, her abnormally intelligent little brother, and their gangly, gallant friend Calvin is an adventure tale to begin with, as the children travel galaxies in search of Meg’s scientist father who vanished in the midst of an experiment. Guided by the amusing and rather awe-inspiring Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which into the depths of the universe’s beauties, and its darkness, this is a story exploring the power of love to redeem, heal, and resist the power of evil. A book with humor, a tale rich in affirmation of the world’s beauty, this is a classic to be read again and again.

 

At the Back of the North Wind

BY GEORGE MACDONALD

OPD: 1871

“…though I cannot promise to take you home,” said North Wind, as she sank nearer and nearer to the tops of the houses, “I can promise you it will be all right in the end. You will get home somehow.” 
― George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind

One of my favorite fantastical children’s stories, Wind is the story of the little boy Diamond, and the night journeys he takes with the lovely and real North Wind. MacDonald, whom Lewis said was his “master,” imbued every story he wrote with his wonder in a God whose goodness will not leave us in the darkness. An exploration, through the adventures of a little boy, of suffering and pain and the promise of heaven, this classic tale is a fairy tale swift with the beauty of the marvelous North Wind woman, and rich with spiritual contemplation. One of my favorites.

 

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Auralia's Colors

BY JEFFREY OVERSTREET

OPD: 2007

Jeffrey Overstreet (who I’m happy to say is a friend o’ mine), has created a fantastic, richly imagined novel about a world in which the glory of color has been dimmed and forgotten. Into this wintered land comes a girl named Auralia, gifted with the ability to find and weave color into a startling gift whose power could change the course of the kingdom.

 

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Lilith

BY GEORGE MACDONALD

OPD: 1895

This is one of George MacDonald’s later books, the story of a young, leisured man who discovers a world within (or beyond?) his own where he is challenged to “die indeed” by a raven who seems to be the first man, Adam. Plunged into a fantastical world of little children living at peace with their beasts in the forest, giants, dueling skeletons, and an evil princess attended by leopards who terrorize the land, the hero must face not only the terrors, but his own capacity to act, choose, and love. A MacDonald fairy tale is a world of spiritual realities made flesh. Not direct allegory, nor yet mere fantasy, Lilith is a journey into the regions of the soul, into grace, sin, suffering, and the fresh-sprung waters that come when we learn to lay down what keeps us from dying in order to live.

RELATED

 

 

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The Book of the Dun Cow

By Walter Wangerin

OPD: 1978

This story took me by surprise. Here is an opening from Wangerin’s site: “At a time when the sun turned around the earth and animals could speak, Chauntecleer the Rooster ruled over a more or less peaceable kingdom.  What the animals did not know was that they were Keepers of the Wyrm, monster of Evil long imprisoned beneath the earth.  And Wyrm, sub terra, was breaking free…” I didn’t expect to be engrossed by a farmyard fable, or moved by the story of a slightly arrogant rooster who must learn to protect his people from evil, but I found this to be a powerful tale of humble, workaday hearts encountering evil and resisting its dominance. Fascinating. Excellent for discussion.

 

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The Cosmic Trilogy

BY C.S. LEWIS

OPD: OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET IN 1938, PERELANDRA IN 1943, AND THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH IN 1945

Lewis considered this trilogy of space-travel adventures a “fairy tale for adults.” Don’t be put fooled by the space-travel nature of these books, in many ways they have a medieval flavor in keeping with Lewis desire to “re-enchant” the modern imagination with the wonders of, not cold, empty “space,” but the golden dance of the “heavens.” The first book finds a philologist named Ransom (based, according to several sources, on Tolkien) on an unexpected journey to “Malacandra,” (Mars), where he encounters the presiding spirit of that planet and discovers why earth is, in a universe of singing, dancing stars, called “the Silent Planet.” The second book follows him on his second planetary journey to Perelandra (Venus), where he must assist that planet’s Eve in resisting the temptations of the “unman.” The third book takes place right on earth, with Ransom and the planetary powers pitted against the dark machinations of the N.I.C.E. A strange, vivid, convicting story in which Lewis imagines what might happen if the principles of “scientism” were seriously applied to education and society, this book can offer an uncomfortable commentary on our own materialistic age. Great moral drama and fantastical travel all made with Lewis’ vivid imagination and vibrant prose.

 

The Dark is Rising Sequence

BY SUSAN COOPER

OPD: 1965-1977

I include this series because, frankly, I was fascinated by it. Though Cooper writes from a decidedly dualistic view of the world rather than a theistic standpoint, I found this well-written, vividly imagined series to be a captivating portrayal of the struggle of the light against the powers of darkness, of love against the stronghold of hate. Richly woven with Arthurian legend, set in Wales, with characters straight from The Round Table, this series traces the adventures of Will, seventh son of a seventh son, last of the Old Ones, whose doom is to conquer the darkness for ages to come, or if he fails, to watch the world plunged into the powers of hate and death. Haunting, rich in a sense of ancient legend and old Welsh lore, these books captivate and open a prime opportunity for the discussion of worldview, while still affirming the goodness of Light.

 

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The Giver

BY LOIS LOWRY

OPD: 1993

There has been a renewed interest in this book since the recent release of a movie based on its story. I haven’t seen the movie, but I know that the book is a quiet, unsettling exploration of a world in which people have chosen to abdicate choice and personal responsibility in return for a sanitized, colorless, controlled existence that guarantees them freedom from suffering and pain. Except for one person, the Giver, an enigmatic old man chosen to bear the memories of the world before the new system was imposed. When Jonas, a young boy, is chosen to be the next Giver, what he discovers, and tastes, and feels for the first time, threatens to change everything. Caution: this is a book for older readers who can handle discussions of euthanasia, death, and morally complex situations.

 

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The Hobbit

BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN

OPD: 1937

This classic tale of Bilbo, a member of the the little-known race of garden loving, pipe-smoking, gentle-hearted Hobbits has the hominess of an English folktale combined with the high romance and epic drama that would mark Tolkien’s later work in The Lord of the Rings. An old fashioned fairy-tale centering on twelve dwarves intent on recovering their ancient home (and their gold, for dwarves are lovers of gold) from the awful dragon Smaug, this story of Bilbo, the “burglar” who comes along as a member of their party also examines the motives of the heart, the nature of greed, and the strength that comes in unexpected places.

Delightful, vivid, with sylvan elves and bear men and daughty warriors, no adventurous young reader should miss this story.

Further, in the words of the venerable C.S. Lewis:

For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbitmay well prove a classic.

-From a review published in the Times Literary Supplement (2 October 1937), 714.

 

The Man Who Was Thursday

BY G.K. CHESTERTON

OPD: 1908

This was the most discussed book of my teenage years. Several friends and I had an ongoing discussion regarding Chesterton’s topsy turvy, vivid, confusing story of a Gabriel Syme, a brave man plumbing the depths of an anarchist society and its dire plots in Victorian London. But all is not as it seems. For in a rollicking tale of pursuit and disguise with anarchist agents named after the days of the week, Syme finds he may not be hunting what he thinks he is after all. Not exactly allegory or fantasy, yet with the fantastical, symbolic elements of both, this dream, or “nightmare” (as Chesterton dubbed it) explores the confusing nature of a world so beautiful at times we cannot believe that evil is real, and so evil at others that we cannot believe that beauty will ever endure. Fascinating stuff.

Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front -” 

 

The Silmarillion

BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN

OPD: 1977

If you really loved The Lord of the Rings, then you have to read The Silmarillion. This is what Tolkien considered the “real” story behind the romance and drama of The Lord of the Rings. Presenting his own mythic version of the world’s creation (the whole book is worth the passage about the “music of the Ainur” when the world is sung into existence), the coming of the elves, the coming of men, and the fall of both, this collection of epic, often tragic tales reflects the ancient, Icelandic, and Old English mythologies that so captivated Tolkien’s imagination. The tale of the brave man Beren, and his beloved Luthien, the tragic history of Turin, the wars between Elves and Dwarves, every one of these stories is rich in ancient color, in the high language and beauty of older times, and a clear understanding of what goodness looks like, and what evil brings.

 

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Tree and Leaf

BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN

OPD: 1964

For any Tolkien lovers, this slim book will be a gem. In this collection of essays and stories, readers will recognize Tolkien’s winsome style in tales like Leaf by Niggle or Farmer Giles of Ham, and also get treated to his famous defense of the fantasy genre in his essay, “On Fairie Stories.” Also included is the poem Mythopoeia, written for C.S. Lewis after a discussion of the truth-bearing power of myth.

Episode #24 - Read for the Heart (Picture Books Edition)

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To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

~ Victor Hugo

In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss the picture books chapter in Sarah Clarkson's book, Read for the HeartThe book describes how her parents, Clay and Sally Clarkson, decided that one of the primary gifts they would give their children would be a childhood shaped by great stories. Sarah writes from the perspective of one whose own heart, mind, and soul were formed by books, and in doing so, invites us into what she calls 'the reading life'. We share some of her picture book recommendations in this episode. But this is more than an invitation to get through a reading list; it's an invitation into a reading life.

Topics Include: 

  • The value in reading good books to our children

  • Reasons for choosing Read for the Heart as your #1 resource for children's book recommendations

  • Hallmarks of a classic children's book

  • Picture book recommendations from Read for the Heart

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #24 - Read For The Heart (Picture Books Edition)

Favorite Architecture Books

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By Jaime Showmaker

I've written before and spoken often on the Storyformed podcast of how my oldest son has been bitten by the architecture bug. Before he could even talk well, he was often attempting to build copies of famous buildings and landmarks using blocks, various toys, and even things like toast or marshmallows.  I have tripped over Lego castles, books stacked like pyramids, and cathedrals made out of cups more times than I can count.  After using various media to build his little landmarks, it wasn’t long before he came to me and said, “Mommy, how did they really build that?” Fortunately, award-winning illustrator David Macaulay has published an exquisite series of picture books that accurately answer his question and fit the bill perfectly!

Macaulay is a Caldecott medal winner with a background in architecture, and he showcases his talent and extensive knowledge through outstanding pen and ink drawings in his architecture-themed books. The first book that we acquired, and the first one that Macaulay published, was Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It chronicles the building of a fictional medieval cathedral in France, from its conception to completion.  It wasn’t long before we also collected Castle, which traces the planning and construction of a fictional castle in 13th Century Wales, and City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, which explains how a typical Roman city was designed and built. We also own and love Pyramid, where Macaulay unravels the mystery of how the ancient Egyptian pyramids could have been constructed. Mill and Mosque are on our wish list. All of these books are similar in style and are outstanding for so many reasons.

Illustrations

Each of Macaulay’s architecture books is exquisitely illustrated with black and white pen and ink drawings. The detail that he captures is extraordinary! He uses cross-hatching and other artistic techniques to produce an almost 3D effect in the architectural elements. The intricate pictures are realistic and often humorous (like a stereotypical culprit in the castle dungeon and a detailed drawing of a medieval toilet). Each page contains these large-scale illustrations, and my boys and I enjoy examining the drawings and trying to find details that we missed in earlier observations, like oxen in the field or a dog begging for table scraps. Although the book does contain text, the illustrations are so thorough and detailed, you can easily follow the progression of the story from the pictures alone. Macaulay has won several awards for these books, including a Caldecott honor, and it is easy to see why!  (Note: In recent years, Macaulay has released revised editions of Cathedral, Castle, and Mosque that contain color illustrations!)

Architectural and Technical Detail

Macaulay has an architecture degree and he showcases his knowledge with illustrations that almost resemble blueprints. Through his drawings, he thoroughly explains advanced architectural concepts at a level that even children can comprehend. From digging foundations and flying buttresses, to vaulted ceilings and archways, each architectural element is explained and the process is drawn in detail.  He explains technology, such as ancient measurement techniques and physics concepts such as levers and pulleys. My son’s actual scientific knowledge of the field of architecture is extensive and accurate based on Macaulay’s attention to detail and realism in this area. Although these books are technically picture books for children, I have also received a thorough education in architecture from the four books that we own.

History

Not only are these books beautiful to look at, they are filled with a detailed history of the various time periods that are covered. Although the narrative is fiction, it could be classified as historical fiction because of the accuracy of the accounts. Castle, for example, details such history as medieval military strategy and the societal customs of landlords. Pyramid describes life in ancient Egypt, including beliefs about the Pharaohs and the afterlife; and City has a similar treatment for ancient Rome. In all of the books, tradesmen, artisans, and historical tools are described in detail. The books detail how much human effort and ingenuity were required to build the various structures, which represent the actual castles, cathedrals, and pyramids still standing today. There is a glossary at the end of each book that explains the terms and names covered in the text. The narrative is short (the highlight of these books are, of course, the illustrations), but the text is informative, advanced, and entertaining.

Problem Solving

One of my favorite aspects of these books is how they give a detailed account of the problems that the builders of the various structures faced, and how they solved those problems. From technological limitations to geographical obstacles, the fictional characters encounter multiple engineering challenges. Macaulay explains these challenges, as well as the innovation that was required to overcome them. My son is learning how to anticipate problems when building his own structures, and compensate and innovate when he encounters problems in his mini building projects!

We absolutely LOVE these books and highly, highly recommend them--not just for budding architects like my little guy, but for every child! They are beautiful, educational, and entertaining, and definitely worth the investment for a home library.

 

Episode #23: Help! My Child Doesn't Love To Read!

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In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss what to do when you have a reluctant reader. They discuss the different reasons for reluctance and how to be a detective to determine what is going on with your child or student.  

Topics Include: 

  • Specific developmental challenges to watch for in emerging readers
  • Reasons for reluctance in otherwise skilled readers
  • Strategies to apply to encourage a love of reading
  • Ways to build reading confidence

Click below to hear the podcast

 

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #23: Help! My Child Doesn't Love to Read! 

Easy Chapter Books for Emerging Readers

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By Holly Packiam

One of the questions we get here at Storyformed is, “What books should I give to my child who can fluently read picture books, but is not quite ready for difficult chapter books?”

It’s a great question! I have experienced the same struggle! It seems like so many of the books in this category didn’t seem worth reading. Feeling at a loss when my oldest hit this stage in her reading journey, I went to a trusted, wise friend who had older kids. I asked her what she gave to her kids to read in this phase, and she let me peruse the ‘easy chapter book’ section of her home library. I’m delighted to report that many books on her shelf are now on my list! I hope there are some on this list that your kids will enjoy too.

 

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Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol

This series is a perfect one for young readers because of the way the story draws you in and practically forces you to pay attention. Children are invited to follow the trail of boy detective, Encyclopedia Brown. My five year old thoroughly enjoyed listening to my seven year old read these aloud to her! They both followed the story and tried to pick up on the clues hoping to solve the mystery before the end.

 

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The Littles by John Peterson

My kids have giggled and giggled as they have read the adventures of these tiny people called the ‘Littles’ who live in the walls of the ‘Biggs’ home. They find everything they need living with the Biggs and hope to repay them by making sure everything in the home is in good working order. The Biggs go out of town for the summer and a new family, the Newcombs, stay in their home. The Newcombs are messy and their mess attracts mice! This story is the adventure of the Littles finding a way out of this dilemma. The Littles is part of a series. Here are a couple others in the series we have enjoyed: The Littles and the Big Storm and The Littles and the Trash Tinies.

 

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Nate the Great by Majorie Weinman Sharmat

Nate the Great is a great choice for a beginning reader because of it’s length: it is only about 60 pages. It includes illustrations on most pages, and does not have an overwhelming amount of words on each page. Nate is a boy detective who "likes to work alone" to track down the culprit and solve the mystery. Nate also loves pancakes which made him immediately relatable to my kids. Nate the Great is part of a series. Here are a couple others we have enjoyed: Nate the Great Goes Undercover and Nate the Great and the Phony Clue.


 

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Pioneer Cat by William H. Hooks (A Stepping Stones Book)

My seven year old recently read Pioneer Cat out loud to me. He was so interested in finding out how the story would unfold that he didn’t want to put the book down. We begin by stepping into the story of a nine-year-old girl, Kate, who is traveling with her family by a wagon train from Missouri to Oregon. There are no cats allowed on the wagon train except a special one, Snuggs, who found his way to Kate’s wagon. She made a spot for Snuggs to stay while he joined them on this long and difficult journey.  Stepping Stones has many great selections. I prefer the stories that are in the categories, ‘History’ or ‘Classics’. Here are a few titles we’ve enjoyed: Hannah, Next Spring an Oriole, Anna Maria’s Gift, Swiss Family Robinson, Anne of Green Gables, and The Secret Garden.

 

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The Boxcar Children - Gertrude Chandler Warner

What child doesn’t find living in a boxcar to be exciting and intriguing? Our family has immensely enjoyed reading and re-reading this book over the years! The Alden children find themselves without caregivers and are determined to stay together. In their search for a home, they come upon a boxcar. As they begin to build a new life together, a turn events bring them together with extended family. An entire series of adventures with the Alden children follow this book. Here are a few we’ve read: Surprise Island #2, The Yellowhouse Mystery #3, Mystery Ranch #4.

Please leave us a comment and let us know what easy chapter books you would add to this list.



 

Episode #22: Learning to Love Poetry (A Conversation with Sally Clarkson)

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In this episode Holly Packiam speaks with Sally Clarkson about encouraging our kids to love poetry. The ability to participate in God's presence through the reading and listening of beautiful poetry is a gift of being created in His image.

Topics include:

  • Practical ways to capture our childrens' interest in poetry
  • The value of putting great works of poetry before our childrens’ eyes
  • The importance of presenting a feast of poetry to our children
  • Books to inspire a love of poetry

Click below to hear the podcast

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Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #22 - Learning to Love Poetry 

Connecting With Our Children's Hearts Through Story

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By Jaime Showmaker

It was a typical Wednesday morning. We were driving to our homeschool co-op and we were discussing The Princess in the Goblin, the book we had been reading aloud over the past few days. We had come to a particularly adventurous part in the tale, and my boys were eagerly trading “well I would have…” stories, trying to best one another in courage and imagination. As I often do, I made a comment about how I knew they were all going to be heroes someday, and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of adventures God had planned for them in the story they were living. As my two younger boys continued to laugh and describe increasingly gruesome encounters with hypothetical goblins, I noticed my oldest son looking thoughtfully out the window. I drove on, thinking his quiet was due to sleepiness in the early morning hour. But after a moment, he spoke up.

“Mommy...I think God might have made me a hobbit.”

I caught my breath because, in an instant, I realized exactly what he was trying to tell me. But I was struck, not just with his actual confession, but with the manner in which he chose to share his heart with me. He chose to reveal himself to me through the character in a story.

I’m always grateful for the time that I get to spend reading with my children, but in that moment, my heart was completely flooded with gratitude as I contemplated the way in which a story had just given me a glimpse of my son’s secret heart.

My son is only eight years old. He doesn’t quite have the self-awareness to express that he is what one would call a “homebody.” He’s a rule-follower--the practical, down-to-earth, cautious one, who would rather sit under a tree and read architecture books than climb it. And, although I do know this about him, I still frequently try to gently stretch him out of his comfort zone and encourage him to take a few more risks. And one of the ways that I try to inspire him is through literature. I want my boys to see themselves as characters in a grand story, so I fill their hearts and minds with pictures and tales of courageous men and women, who do the hard things and go the extra mile. I want them to relate to the characters that they encounter and emulate them. And my sweet son did exactly that. He saw himself in the story. But it wasn’t in the way that I expected. Yet, he was able to use the character in Tolkien’s tale to express to me something that he longed for me to understand, but didn’t yet have the vocabulary to convey: he may not be built for THAT kind of adventure. And, perhaps, my constant words of glorious feats and daring escapades may put undue pressure on him to be something that he just is not. I’m not sure how or when he would have been able to tell me this truth about himself without the shared experience of story. And so, because of the power of story to connect my child with a truth he couldn’t express otherwise, I am reminded that there are many kinds of heroes; and I have been spared the regret of trying to inadvertently make my precious child into a character that God Himself didn’t write him to be.

Just like my son’s confession that he is more hobbit than hero, stories give our children the ability to convey things that they are not quite developmentally ready to express. They allow us to connect with their hearts on a very profound level when they express that they, like Edmund, probably would have eaten the Turkish Delight too. Or when they shyly admit that they like Caddie Woodlawn much more than the fairy tale princess. They cheer when the underdog beats the bully or when the minor character steps into the spotlight for just a brief moment.  And if we listen carefully to what they are telling us, we realize that they aren’t always talking about the story, but are sometimes telling us a bit about themselves. What a precious, precious gift.

So, from now on, I’m going to be more careful about the way I try to speak to my boys about the immeasurable potential that they have. I’m going to continue to lay out a feast of adventure stories before them, of course--full of heroes and dragon-slayers and mountain climbers and kingdom conquerors. But, be assured, I am also going to give them an array of tales that include quiet heroes--men of wisdom and contemplation, who are full of moral courage and fortitude. Less David, and more Solomon. And I will continue to love and encourage my sweet “hobbit” son. Because if the greatest risks he ever takes are in the death-defying heights and configurations of the structures he longs to build, I will rejoice in the truth that he is living the exact story that God meant for him to live. And that makes him a hero too.