The Green Ember Review and a Giveaway!

Anyone who has known me for any considerable amount of time knows that I am a lover of stories. I am a voracious reader and I tend to agree with Erasmus in that “when I get a little money I buy books; if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” I have been known to hunt down out-of-print titles and stalk eBay for hard to find editions for months on end. I have broken the wheels on suitcases under the weight of my bounty from library sales. If it seems to outsiders like I am on a mission, it is because I am.

I believe in the power of stories. I believe that stories form us by nourishing our souls and ordering what our hearts love. I believe that stories provide the fertile soil in which Truth, Goodness, and Beauty can take root in our hearts and eventually grow into Wisdom and Virtue. I am drawn to stories that kindle the moral imagination and echo to us the whispers of the Great Storyteller. And when I find these kinds of stories, I want to shout it from the rooftops. That is why, over the past few podcasts, articles, and speaking events, you may have noticed me gush once or twice (or a dozen times) over my love for The Green Ember by S.D. Smith.

The Green Ember has been called “a new story with an old soul,” and I believe that is a fitting description. Although it was Smith’s first novel, recently published in 2014, it seems as if it could have been written generations ago. It is full of the adventure, heroism, mystery, and virtue that distinguishes stories of old, yet it resonates with readers of all ages today.

You can choose what you believe...but you can’t change what’s true.

It seems strange at first to think that a story about anthropomorphic rabbits would be as beloved by adults as it is by the children for whom it is written. But it’s true. After the first few chapters, I was absolutely captivated by Heather and Picket and their adventure and peril. Perhaps that is because the character development is superb and the plot is so well thought out. It truly is a good story in the old-fashioned sense. But what enthralled me the most, I think, is the way that I heard whispers of timeless truth and wisdom throughout its pages.

Heather and Picket’s world comes undone at the beginning of the book, and they get caught up in the danger and calamity of the wider world. They realize how their individual lives are very much linked to the bigger story going on around them. As they come to terms with this discovery and begin the journey to become who they truly are, they are faced with choices common to all of us. We are all part of a bigger story and, like Heather and Picket, we must decide if we will choose courage or fear, virtue or ease. Although it is not an overtly Christian book per se,  I was surprised at how deeply it made me consider how I spend my days and how I am living out the hope in Christ that I confess. It is one of the few books that profoundly changed me, giving me a vision for how I can bring God’s Kingdom to bear on earth today.  It is a story that resonates deeply in the soul, beautifully echoing the Truth that “it is what it is, but it is not what it shall be.”.

All of life is a battle against fear. We fight it on one front, and it sneaks around to our flank.

Don’t be mistaken; these characters are not perfect. They display the same flaws that many of us see in ourselves. There is selfishness, cowardice, and even betrayal. There is uncertainty and true risk. There is very real pain. But nothing is gratuitous and it is the peril and pain that shape the characters into who they were born to be.

Growing up is terribly wonderful. But often it’s also wonderfully terrible.

The Green Ember is written for middle grades, but it has been enjoyed immensely as a read-aloud by our entire family. My six-year-old, my husband, and I all rated it as one of our very favorite books of 2015. Because of the anthropomorphized animals and Christian themes that permeate the story, it has been compared to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia,  and I would say that it is also of similar level and intensity, particularly The Last Battle. This is a book that deeply nourishes the moral imagination and kingdom longing in our children, and it deserves to have a permanent place on the shelf of every family library. (Or collect the audiobook, which is beautifully and richly narrated by Joel Clarkson!)

We are heralds of the Mended Wood...We sing about it. We paint it. We make crutches and soups and have gardens and weddings and babies. This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. We are heralds, you see, my dear, saying what will surely come. And we prepare with all our might, to be ready when once again we are free.

The prequel to The Green Ember, called The Black Star of Kingston, and the first in a series of sequels to The Green Ember, entitled Ember Falls, are also superb. We will have reviews of each of those books coming soon!

 

And GREAT NEWS! S.D. Smith has generously offered to give away a complete set of The Green Ember series to one of our readers!  Subscribe to the Storyformed blog (at the bottom of our home page) and you will be entered to win a story pack that includes The Green Ember, The Black Star of Kingston, and Ember Falls, as well as some fun stickers!  (Giveaway closes at 10PM EST on Saturday, May 27, 2016.)

Storyformed Summer, Part 1: Staying In & a New Podcast

Hello Storyformed Friends! In this NEW podcast episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker share ideas about how to be intentional with  SUMMERTIME! You may be dreaming of what you would like summer to be filled with, but in reality your summer days may look like all the others. 

Even if many of your summer days are spent indoors in your normal routine, listen as they share ideas for how to make time with your kids meaningful. And of course this intentional time involves reading inspiring books! In Part 2, we'll share ideas for getting outside and reading books that will inspire a love of nature.

In addition to the books mentioned in the podcast, you can download the Summertime reading lists (PDF's) for 10 year olds and 12 year olds. 

Click below to hear the podcast

We would love to hear from you. Please take a moment and write a review on iTunes.

Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #6 - Storyformed Summer, Part 1: Staying In

Books& Audio CD's for Children

Books for Adults

Stories To Inspire Motherhood

Jaime Showmaker

I collect old books.  Or, I should be more honest and say that I hoard old books. One of my favorite pastimes is waffling through old, dusty, second-hand book stores (the more stacks piled up to the ceiling, the better), searching for those perfect hardback editions of my all-time favorite stories. I have dreamy visions of a home library that contains beautiful copies of any classic that my sons would ever need (or want) to read over the course of their school years.  I work to fill our home with books that I believe will help strengthen my boys minds and nourish their souls. My husband teases me mercilessly because whenever I go anywhere, I usually come home with a trunk load of heavy, tattered, cheap, but gorgeous old books to add to our buckling shelves, and I say I am building our sons' inheritance. So, of course, when it comes to gifts, I can think of nothing I could ever want more than a beautiful, old, beloved book.

Two years ago, for Mother's Day, my husband and boys surprised me with just that. It was a first edition, signed copy of Kate Douglas Wiggin's book, Mother Carey's ChickensI had been familiar with Wiggin's classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farmbut it had only been in the previous year that I had discovered this lesser-known gem, and it had quickly become one of my all-time favorites.  I opened the spine and discovered that on the front flyleaf, yellowed with age, Wiggin had inscribed a quote from the book: "I'm just a mother, that's all," said Mrs. Carey with a smile." As I read those hundred-year-old words, written in faded ink above her signature, I blinked back tears. I was overwhelmed that my husband had tracked down such a valuable copy of one of my very favorite books and had given it to me on such a special day. But the tears were induced by more than gratitude over such a priceless gift. It was Wiggin's words in beautiful script that moved me: I'm just a mother, that's all. 

"A mother, living well in her God-ordained role, is of great beauty and inestimable value to the future history of any generation." -Sally Clarkson, Desperate: Hope For The Mom Who Needs To Breathe

The years before had been the hard ones. Three babies in four years. Midnight feedings. Sleepless nights. Countless diapers. Although motherhood was the vocation that I had chosen, I had been weary with the weight of it and, at times, I almost felt as if I was buckling under it. But as the saying goes, "the days are long but the years are short," and soon I found myself emerging from the fog as my youngest son grew into toddlerhood (and finally slept through the night). Each morning that I awoke after a blissful six or seven hours of straight sleep, I longed for fresh inspiration and vision as my three little men gathered in my lap, wide-eyed and ready to embrace their mama and the world. And so, to "fill my own cup," as I always have, I turned to books. I pulled my beloved hardbacks off of the shelf after a few years of neglect and read of grand adventures and epic quests--of magic and mystery and glory. But I found myself feeling unsatisfied. Discontented. Even sad. My heart longed to live a great story, but as I looked around at the peanut-butter-crusted table and the piles of footie pajamas to be folded, I sighed. Although I shared those wonderful stories with my boys and stirred their imaginations with wonder and possibility, I thought about how my great story would have to wait; I had sippy cups to wash and boo-boos to kiss. If my life was ever going to be a grand adventure, it would have to happen some day down the road. But then, I met Mother Carey.

I'm not totally sure how I came across the book, but somehow I discovered that it was the inspiration for one of my favorite childhood movies, Summer Magic. As a young girl, I had watched that movie over and over, longing to be Nancy and live in the "yellow house." So I began reading the book eagerly, happy to become reacquainted with my old friends Nancy, Gilbert, and Peter. I expected to frolic with them in the countryside as they planned barn dances and made all manner of mischief, as I had as a child. But instead of the young characters, it was their mother who captivated me. Mother Carey, a young woman who had just lost her husband, was raising four children, taking in orphans, making a home, building community, and bringing beauty into dark places.

Mother Carey became my mentor as I studied how she related to her children. I soaked up her wisdom and modeled her actions.  I noticed how carefully she observed her children, learning their ways and meeting them with exactly what they needed: "Love poured from her, through voice and lips and eyes, and in return she drank it in thirstily from the little creature who sat there at her knee, a twig growing just as her bending hand inclined it; all the buds of his nature opening out in the mother-sunshine that surrounded him."

I watched how she learned to suppress her own feelings in order to help her children grow: "Mother Carey's impulse was to cast herself on the floor and request him simply smile on her and she would do his lightest bidding, but controlling her secret desires she answered: 'I would help if you needed me, but you don't. You're a great big boy now!'"

I noticed how intentional and kind she was in the formation of her children's characters: "The way to begin would be to give him a few delightful responsibilities, such as would appeal to his pride and sense of importance, and gradually to mingle with them certain duties of headship neither so simple nor so agreeable."

But mostly I noticed her centrality and importance in the lives of all those around her. They were all thriving because of her loving concern for them: "Any girl that takes me will get a better husband because of you; any children I may be blessed with will have a better father because I have known you. Don't make any mistake, dear Mrs. Carey, your hearth fire glows a long, long distance!"

As I saw her story unfold and read her words of wisdom and insight, I realized that she was every bit as much a hero as Frodo, or St. George, or Odysseus.

"She had but one keen desire: to go to some quiet place where temptations for spending money would be as few as possible, and there live for three or four years, putting her heart and mind and soul on fitting the children for life. If she could keep strength enough to guide and guard, train and develop them into happy, useful, agreeable human beings,-- masters of their own powers; wise and discreet enough, when years of discretion were reached, to choose right paths,--that, she conceived, was her chief task in life, and no easy one."

Mother Carey lived a great story and, I realized with repentance and fresh resolve, that I was living a great story, too--the greatest story. I began to devour books again, with a new perspective and mission: to learn as much as I could from the mothers within them. I re-visited Little House on the Prairie with a keen eye to Ma and I was awed by her resolve, resourcefulness, tenacity, and courage. I studied Marmee in Little Women and determined to show my boys the same kind of loving concern for family and hospitality to neighbors as she did. I met Jo Bhaer in Little Men and Mrs. Gilbreth in Cheaper By The Dozen and I determined to nurture my boys to be boys and bring out the individual gifts that God has given them.

“I always wanted to be a hero--to sacrifice my life in a big way one time--and yet, God has required my sacrifice to be thousands of days, over many years, with one more kiss, one more story, one more meal.” -Sally Clarkson

I may be just a mother, after all, but I can't imagine anything I would rather be. Each day as we add a new chapter to our story here in our home, I thank God that He set my feet on this path and chose me for this grandest of adventures.  I don't know how my story will end, but I confess that if I could write just one scene, I would write this one:  my boys, grown grey with age and wisdom, leafing through all of the old books that they have inherited, the books that formed them and me, and catching little glimpses of their mother on the pages that they read.

A Picture Paints a Thousand Stories: Why Illustrations Matter & a New Podcast

In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss about ILLUSTRATIONS. Are illustrations cute ornaments to the words of a story? Or can they be in themselves a faithful guide into the story? Do they work at a deeper level, beyond words, so that even children who can't read are somehow drawn into beauty and wonder? We believe that illustrations, like good art, have the power to awaken wonder, and draw us to beauty and goodness of Christ. Find out how in our latest podcast! And don't forget to check out the notes below for links to the stories we referenced. Happy listening!

 

BOOKS FROM TODAY’S SHOW - STORYFORMED EPISODE #5 - A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND STORIES: WHY ILLUSTRATIONS MATTER

LINKS FROM TODAY'S SHOW

Rembrandt's Painting - The Prodigal Son

How To Choose A Great Read-Aloud Book

When I think of pleasant, lyrical words that somehow perfectly describe my thoughts, my mind leaps to the beautiful words of a well-know character in a story, dear Anne of Green Gables. She has a way of cultivating beauty wherever she wanders. Anne can look at a serene sunset, describing its beauty and be reminded of the goodness in this world. She wanders under wavering willow trees and hears the sweet whispers of the wind. Hearing beautifully written stories, shapes the imaginations of our children, which is truly a gift to them— a gift to be able to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.  So, what is a ‘great’ read-aloud? How do I know if a beautiful story like Anne of Green Gables should be read independently or as a read-aloud? One possible indicator is when your child says, “Mom, will you please keep reading….just one more page? Please!!” You know you’ve likely found a great read-a-loud when your your kids are asking for more. There are numerous books out there that have a captivating story and are also wonderfully written. Whether you have already created a culture of reading in your home or if you’re just starting now, there is hope. I had my first child twelve years ago and I had no idea at that point in time how to choose great books to read to her. One day, in a Borders bookstore, standing before the shelves of children’s books and feeling more than a little overwhelmed, I shyly gathered courage to ask a nearby mom. “ Umm…do you have any recommendations for what to read to a toddler?” She kindly responded with, “Two words….Charlotte Mason. Check her out.” I discovered Charlotte Mason was a British educator living and teaching in the 1800’s. She recommends the reading of what she calls, ‘living books’. Living books are typically written by one person who writes in a narrative or conversational style who has immersed herself in a topic. I liked the sound of reading a ‘living book’ to my child— much better than a dead one, I suppose! Mason discouraged reading ‘twaddle,’ a word she termed as dumbed down literature with the absence of meaning. In our home, we aim to spread before our kids a broad feast of books to read and for us to read to them. And once in awhile, we all read a few purely for fun! If you’re wondering what criteria to think through in selecting a read-aloud for your children, here are a few thoughts: Great Read-Alouds… include an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive; stimulate the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults; are often timeless classics, fairy tales, or chapter books; include characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart. Children are often able to listen to a book being read that is two to three levels higher than his individual reading level. We just finished reading Mr. Poppers Penguins to our four year old and six year old. This absurd tale is full of humor and you might find yourself laughing out loud along with your kids. The goal in selecting stories for a great read-aloud isn’t finding one with the most well-behaved characters. The Bible certainly isn’t even an example of this! Rather, the goal is to find stories that help us wrestle with themes of good vs. evil, whether it be in an external battle and an internal challenge a character is facing. “Having found the book which has a message for us, let us not be guilty of the folly of saying we have read it. We might as well say we have breakfasted, as if breakfasting on one day should last us for every day! The book that helps us deserves many readings, for assimilation comes by slow degrees.” ― Charlotte M. Mason, Ourselves If reading aloud is a new practice in your home or if you’re trying to get back into the habit…start small. Try one thing on this list: Spend 10 minutes a day reading aloud to your child. This small amount will actually total 30 hours of reading a year. Set an alarm on your phone to read aloud to your kids.  Play audio books. Our local public library system has an abundance of books on CD or playaways. Try out a free subscription to audible.com, or check out LibriBox– a free public domain books in an audio format written before 1923. Audio books or playaways  are perfect when you’re tired, or when you’re in the car, even if you’re just driving the kids around town for their activities. Older kids can read to younger kids. Replace wasted minutes in the day with intentional reading time. A 10-minute Facebook scroll time in the car may be a window of time you can read to your child. Let us know if you tried a new habit from this list or have one to share. We'd love for you to leave a comment!  

When I think of pleasant, lyrical words that somehow perfectly describe my thoughts, my mind leaps to the beautiful words of a well-know character in a story, dear Anne of Green Gables. She has a way of cultivating beauty wherever she wanders. Anne can look at a serene sunset, describing its beauty and be reminded of the goodness in this world. She wanders under wavering willow trees and hears the sweet whispers of the wind.

Hearing beautifully written stories, shapes the imaginations of our children, which is truly a gift to them— a gift to be able to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come. 

So, what is a ‘great’ read-aloud? How do I know if a beautiful story like Anne of Green Gables should be read independently or as a read-aloud? One possible indicator is when your child says, “Mom, will you please keep reading….just one more page? Please!!” You know you’ve likely found a great read-a-loud when your your kids are asking for more. There are numerous books out there that have a captivating story and are also wonderfully written.

Whether you have already created a culture of reading in your home or if you’re just starting now, there is hope. I had my first child twelve years ago and I had no idea at that point in time how to choose great books to read to her. One day, in a Borders bookstore, standing before the shelves of children’s books and feeling more than a little overwhelmed, I shyly gathered courage to ask a nearby mom. “ Umm…do you have any recommendations for what to read to a toddler?” She kindly responded with, “Two words….Charlotte Mason. Check her out.”

I discovered Charlotte Mason was a British educator living and teaching in the 1800’s. She recommends the reading of what she calls, ‘living books’. Living books are typically written by one person who writes in a narrative or conversational style who has immersed herself in a topic. I liked the sound of reading a ‘living book’ to my child— much better than a dead one, I suppose! Mason discouraged reading ‘twaddle,’ a word she termed as dumbed down literature with the absence of meaning. In our home, we aim to spread before our kids a broad feast of books to read and for us to read to them. And once in awhile, we all read a few purely for fun!

If you’re wondering what criteria to think through in selecting a read-aloud for your children, here are a few thoughts:

Great Read-Alouds…

include an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive;

stimulate the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults;

are often timeless classics, fairy tales, or chapter books;

include characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart.

Children are often able to listen to a book being read that is two to three levels higher than his individual reading level. We just finished reading Mr. Poppers Penguins to our four year old and six year old. This absurd tale is full of humor and you might find yourself laughing out loud along with your kids.

The goal in selecting stories for a great read-aloud isn’t finding one with the most well-behaved characters. The Bible certainly isn’t even an example of this! Rather, the goal is to find stories that help us wrestle with themes of good vs. evil, whether it be in an external battle and an internal challenge a character is facing.

“Having found the book which has a message for us, let us not be guilty of the folly of saying we have read it. We might as well say we have breakfasted, as if breakfasting on one day should last us for every day! The book that helps us deserves many readings, for assimilation comes by slow degrees.” ― Charlotte M. MasonOurselves

If reading aloud is a new practice in your home or if you’re trying to get back into the habit…start small. Try one thing on this list:

Spend 10 minutes a day reading aloud to your child. This small amount will actually total 30 hours of reading a year.

Set an alarm on your phone to read aloud to your kids. 

Play audio books. Our local public library system has an abundance of books on CD or playaways. Try out a free subscription to audible.com, or check out LibriBox– a free public domain books in an audio format written before 1923. Audio books or playaways  are perfect when you’re tired, or when you’re in the car, even if you’re just driving the kids around town for their activities.

Older kids can read to younger kids.

Replace wasted minutes in the day with intentional reading time. A 10-minute Facebook scroll time in the car may be a window of time you can read to your child.

Let us know if you tried a new habit from this list or have one to share. We'd love for you to leave a comment!

 

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You Have to Be Brave to Be an Artist

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I’m sitting alone-- which is quite rare-- listening to peaceful classical music in the background, delighting in the culmination of Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. This wonderful tale has the ability to capture the imagination of adults and children alike! Read this aloud to your children and you’ll surely find yourselves laughing one moment and contemplating a deep idea the next.

In the town of Squashbuckle, just about anything can happen, and when Henry Penwhistle draws a mighty Chalk Dragon on his door, the dragon does what Henry least expects--it runs away. Now Henry's art is out in the world for everyone to see, and it's causing trouble for him and his schoolmates Oscar and Jade. If they don't stop it, the entire town could be doomed! To vanquish the threat of a rampaging Chalk Dragon, Sir Henry Penwhistle, Knight of La Muncha Elementary School, is going to have to do more than just catch his art--he's going to have to let his imagination run wild. And THAT takes bravery. ~ Good Reads

If your child thinks she is the only one with a vivid, wild imagination, this is the book for her. Is your eight year old drawing in sketchbooks, maybe even on walls, at every spare moment creating a world of his very own? Then he will immensely enjoy this whimsical and delightful story about a boy who doesn’t appear to see what is in front of his very eyes, what, according to others, is ‘real’.

It’s a joy as a mother to see how stories have shaped my children’s imaginations. My oldest daughter has an especially vivid imagination and still enjoys initiating or inventing story lines to act out with her siblings on a regular basis. At times, she has expressed feeling a little embarrassed that she spends much of her free time acting out stories. I know my children will find a friend whom they can identify with in Henry. I bet yours will too.

Trafton helps the reader see not only into the lives of children but also into the lives of the adult characters. She lets you pull the curtain back in the adults’ lives as they remember a time when they were creative and imaginative, and became aware of how the responsibilities of life have drowned out their ability to truly ‘see.’

“The trouble with most grown-ups, Henry had learned, is that they paid attention to the wrong things. They spotted the peanut butter sandwich you accidentally stuffed into your pocket, but they missed the Martian landing a spaceship in the backyard.”

Reading this felt convicting to me in my own motherhood journey. How often do I focus on petty things that don’t really matter in the bigger picture of life. Does it really matter if my daughter wears a dress to church? There was a time when it did matter, but I choose to let go of my preferences, and let her be creative and a decision maker. She often wears jeans, 2 baggy shirts (that clash), un-matching socks, and maybe even water shoes in the winter. Let the inner artist reign!

So...Do you or your child have an artist inside that needs to come out? Read this and be inspired on your journey to imagine the possibilities for goodness and beauty.

Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, says Henry.

To purchase a copy of Henry and the Chalk Dragon - Click here


About the author - JENNIFER TRAFTON is the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, which was a nominee for Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award and the National Homeschool Book award. Henry and the Chalk Dragon arose from her lifelong love of art and her personal quest for the courage to be an artist. When she’s not writing or drawing, she teaches creative writing classes and workshops in a variety of schools, libraries, and homeschool groups, as well as online classes to kids around the world. She lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse in Nashville, Tennessee, along with her husband, an energetic border collie, a miniature rooster, an assortment of chickens and ducks, and a ghost who haunts the staircase. Find out more by visiting, www.jennifertrafton.com

 

 

 


 

 

A Storyformed Identity

Hello! We are overwhelmed by your support in the re-launch of Storyformed! Thank you, thank you for sharing with friends personally and on social media.

We have WINNERS to announce!! The winners of the drawing are posted at the bottom of this blog. If you are a winner, please leave a message with your 2 book choices (any 2 books  the Clarkson's have authored) and your address on our Storyformed Facebook page. 

But first, please read an incredible and inspiring article from Jaime.

Jaime Showmaker

The year that I turned ten, my dad built me a playhouse. It was a smallish house, only about six feet square and very quaint, but it had a window cut out and a door that latched and I absolutely adored it. Although he never got around to painting it, I had grand plans for my little house. One of my favorite pastimes when I finished my school work early was to sit at my desk and draw elaborate blueprints for its expansion, with additional rooms and window boxes full of flowers.  I suspect that my teacher eventually grew impatient with all of my drawing because one rainy morning in the Spring, she suggested that, instead of doodling while my peers finished their math worksheets, I should peruse the bookshelf in the back of the room. Ever the obedient child, I put away my papers and began to examine the tattered, colorful spines lined up on the wall. Almost immediately a book popped out at me. On its cover was a little cottage, with a thatched roof and a picket fence, surrounded by grasses and flowers growing with wild abandon. Something about it made me think of my dreams for my own little house and I was immediately intrigued.

I remember well that afternoon, sitting on the damp roof of my playhouse under the sweet-smelling boughs of the Carolina pines and reading Mandy by Julie Edwards in its entirety.  I was captivated by the story of the young orphan girl who, like me, was also ten years old and longing for a place to call her own. My own heart beat with elated anticipation as Mandy discovered an abandoned cottage on an estate adjacent to the orphanage, and I dreamed with her as she set about to clean it, care for it, and make it her own. Even today, decades later, my heart warms as I think of little Mandy sweeping the dirt off of the old floor and washing the old dusty curtains in the nearby stream. Edwards' sweet story gave me a vision, not just for my own little playhouse, but a vision of stewardship, industry, home, and beauty that still resonates with me today.

"Stories are the lifeblood of existence. They are the heartbeat that pumps vision into a child's developing imagination and hope into his or her soul."

Sarah Clarkson, Caught Up In A Story

It's raining again this Spring afternoon as I dwell on the memory of my playhouse and sweet little Mandy, and I am struck with the realization of how much that story shaped me. There is so much of my own identity that I can trace back to that very book, where the seeds were first planted that, over time, grew into so much of who I have become. And now, as a mother of three young boys, I recognize the power of stories to form them in unique and profound ways.

Stories form our character. Every story turns on conflict, and the ways in which the characters in the story react to that conflict determine whether that character ultimately becomes the narrative's hero or its villain. We too are living a story so, of course, the same is true for us. Our children are going to be confronted with conflict. What better way to equip them to face that conflict than to fill their arsenal with great tales of heroes who chose well?

"As children set out to beat their dragons, stories stand beside them as comrades in arms, filling their mind with a host of people who made the right choices, who fought the good fight, and became the overcomers who shaped their worlds."

Sarah Clarkson, Caught Up In A Story

Children will call to mind heroes like Janner from Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga, or the Pevensie children from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and they will remember what it looks like to take courage.  They can recall Laura Ingalls Wilder's tale of visiting Indians and recognize with acute clarity the importance of obedience. But not only do stories paint a picture of heroic choices, they can also reveal the disastrous consequences of poor choices. Who of us doesn't grieve when Edmund sneaks out of the Beavers' warm home to betray his siblings to the White Witch? I still remember Mandy and how her deception broke the heart of her friend Sue each time I am tempted to put my own introverted needs and desires above those of my friends.

Stories form our affections.  As a mom, one of my roles is to help my children learn to love what they ought. In the same way that I labor to help them have an appetite for healthy food instead of sweets, I must labor to give them an appetite for what is True, Good, and Beautiful.

I recall verses such as "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23) and "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

Good stories help me fill my children's hearts and minds with God's truths about the world in which they live. They reveal God's goodness and reflect God's beauty, and the more that our children encounter them, the more their appetites are formed by them.  My love for close family relationships was formed in part by the picture that Louisa May Alcott painted of the March family in Little Women.  When I read of her desire for a home that she could love and care for, my heart echoed Mandy's cry. I read Gene Stratton-Porter's tales of the Limberlost forest and learned to love the beauty of the natural world that God has created and called "good." Even as an adult, the tale of Cloud Mountain in S.D. Smith's The Green Ember series stirs up a longing in my own soul and spurs me on to love and create beauty through my vocation and in my own little corner of the world.

Stories form our imaginations. There are few things that make us more "human" than the faculty of imagination. As ones made in the image of God, we also have the ability to picture something that we cannot see and to create something that does not yet exist. It is also through imagination that we are able to perceive Truth and, ultimately, believe it. Great stories give children a place where their God-given imaginations can flourish and grow.

"In a materialistic, hedonistic culture that flattens reality to the physical, the temporary, and the material, children's literature evokes an original Paradise before Pandora opened the box and a country at the back of the North Wind which children visit in their dreams." (Mitchell Kalpakgian, The Mysteries of Life in Children's Literature)

This is particularly important in the formation of our children's faith. It is only through imagination that we are able to grasp the reality of the Kingdom of God, since we cannot yet see it with our eyes. I didn't know it at the time, but when I read about a benevolent guardian and gift-giver, watching over Mandy's labor of love in her cottage, my imagination was sparked and the garden of my soul was being tended to accept the Truth that there is a God who loves me, watches over me, is the giver of all good gifts, and is preparing a place for me as well. And it is through our imaginations that we reflect the Divine Image, as we picture worlds that do not exist and bring them into being. Literature, art, music, architecture, and all invention begins with imagination, and stories help kindle that imaginative fire in our children. When they read stories like Barbara Cooney's Roxaboxen or Johann David Wyss' Swiss Family Robinson, they are  inspired to create worlds of their own.

Although the dreams for my little playhouse never came to fruition, the dreams I learned to dream from reading Edwards' Mandy atop it that wet Spring afternoon remain with me to this day. In fact, all of the stories I read in my childhood had a profound influence in the person that I became in a way that no reading has been able to do as effectively since. Good stories are vital in the formation of our children's identities. It is our hope that, as we continue to expand the Storyformed website and podcast, that you will encounter a treasure trove of resources that will inspire heroism and virtue, shape affections for that which is Good, True, and Beautiful, and kindle imaginations to live out our own great stories.

We are so happy that you are joining us on this grand adventure. Until next time, new friends, read on.

Drumroll......And the four winners of the Storyformed re-launch drawing are:

Teresa Poore

Brandy Higgins

Kimberly Kamer

Amanda Layman

 

 

 

Soul Advocacy

Soul Advocacy

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