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It has been a rough week.

A few days ago, an altercation occurred between a teenager and a neighborhood watch volunteer.  The teen was black; the volunteer Hispanic.  One died, the victim of a gunshot wound to the chest.  Many call it a hate crime.  Others claim the shooter had cause.  The story has been front page news across the nation for days.

Last weekend, a blockbuster based on an extremely popular young adult book series smashed box office records all over the world.  Yet a disturbing trend of disparaging tweets about the race of a pivotal character made headlines.  Some of these tweets expressed disappointment that an African-American actress was cast for the role; others said the character’s death “wasn’t as sad” as they thought it would be “because she was black.”

Apparently we’re not so enlightened as a society to believe the days of racism — either assumed or actual — are behind us.

Just look at the aftermath of the week’s events:  Death has been politicized, or minimized according to color.  Those with lighter skin are hunted in Chicago by gangs with hoodies seeking some warped form of vigilante justice.  A celebrity with an axe to grind carelessly shares the wrong address of the shooter, instead condemning an elderly couple to night after terror-filled night, fearing for their lives.  Technology is used to degrade a young girl because of her skin color, despite the author’s obvious intent for the character.

Ignorance is revealed.  Latent anger, even hatred, is uncovered.

I intentionally used the passive voice there… because that’s how we tend to process tragedy.  We separate ourselves, believing “we” are somehow above the fray.  “We” would, of course, never do such things.  “We” are more empathetic, more enlightened, more tolerant, more politically correct.   After all, “we” elected an African American to the presidency (insert sarcasm here).

“We” are different than “they” are.  Surely.

But are we?

The truth, deep down, is that we’re not so different as we’d like to believe.  Every single one of us tends to believe one side over the other based on our own biases, our own experiences, our own set of beliefs.  And some of those biases, my friends, are ugly.  They are deliberately ignorant.  They generalize, they stereotype, they degrade and humiliate.

They reveal our hearts.

Our youngest daughter will have darker skin than we do.  Unlike our esteemed President, I don’t have to speculate as to whether this biologically unrelated child will look like me… I know for a fact she won’t.

I’m not going to stand here on my soapbox telling you how we “don’t see” color… that it won’t matter in her life.  Because whether it matters in our own little circle or not (it won’t), the events of this past week make abundantly clear that such things still DO matter in this world.  That ignorance and hatred exists, no matter how much we want to wish it away or sweep it under the rug.

Will you recognize the ugliness in your own heart today?  What, then, will you decide to do about it?

May I humbly suggest something?

Don’t “stand with Trayv*n”… but don’t assume the worst of him, either.   Don’t dismiss racist tweets about a beautiful child as immature banter, or as a sign that the world is about to collapse under an onslaught of hatred (although you all should be dismayed at the apparent and total lack of reading comprehension in our populace… Rue was, after all, clearly described in the book as having dark skin).

Instead, I would encourage you to be sad.  Saddened that our children are hateful.  That our elders harbor generational prejudice.

I would also encourage you to be reflective. What does this reveal about the world in which we live?  And, more importantly — lest we are tempted to pass blame and judgment elsewhere — what does this reveal about me?  About you?

Deep down, am I really any different?  Are you?  Are you just better at holding your tongue than those who are condemned for their words?  Does that really make you a better person?

What are my own prejudices?  To whose “side” am I likely to jump, if given only an instant to take sides?

Be honest with yourself… and then…

Be personally proactive.

Do everything in your power to ensure racism, whatever remains of it through generational prejudice, experience, or whatever, is eradicated in yourself.  In your own children.  In your circle of friends.  Teach your kids.  Take every opportunity to live by example.  Pray to God to remove the vestiges of sin in your life, and in the lives of those around you.

Yes, our daughter will have dark skin.  She is coming into a world where she will likely be looked down upon by someone simply because her skin is brown.  Make the decision today that you and yours will not be that someone.  That your heart will be changed.

That’s where we start.

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(sorry I’m a day late!)

True confession:  I pretty much hate this book.

I just had to get that off my chest.  Whew.

I don’t know at exactly what point in the reading my enthusiasm turned to skepticism turned to disgust turned to out-and-out hate, but I can tell you, despite not knowing the exact details of that little journey, by the time I finished the first half of the book I was indeed confident in my destination:  absolute and complete disdain.

Just keeping it real here.

Not that I didn’t know what I was getting in to… at least I thought I did.  I noticed from the outset that Hayes would be operating from a worldview a bit different than my own; after all, she called people like me freakish religious fundamentalists who cower at the sight of their overbearing husbands (I still have to chuckle at that one).  I could look past that.

Until she invited Karl Marx to the party.  And reminisced fondly about ancient goddess worship.  And assumed macro-evolutionary explanations (without support) for everything from hunting/gathering to the closeness of human family relationships.  And spouted socialist “victimization/government entitlement” junk from pretty much every other page.

Thus the internal groaning began in earnest.

I took notes, I analyzed, I tried to be objective… then I just got ticked off.

If you know me, you know I’m not one to back down from battles, big or small.  And believe me, there were numerous points in this reading where I wanted to slam the book down and rant about the ginormous holes in Hayes’ historical and evolutionary arguments, and the pedestals upon which she places uber-feminazi Betty Friedan.

And I wrote a scathing post about it.

Which I chose not to publish.

Instead, I decided to first read the rest of the book.

And my temper was… well, tempered.

Tempered a bit by these statistics, which hit you where it hurts (how can one not feel convicted after reading these?):

“(T)he average American adult spends twice as much time driving than the average American parent spends interacting with his or her children.”  (72)

“The average American ingests approximately 14 pounds of chemicals per year in the form of food additives (such as colorings, artificial flavorings, preservatives and emulsifiers), pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones, and heavy metals.”  (79-80)

“Owing to this industrialized global food production system, over the last 100 years 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost and 30% of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction.  75% of the world’s food comes from 12 plants and only 5 animal species, making our global food supply highly vulnerable to disease and famine.”  (80)

“It is estimated that 20-25% of Americans use psychiatric drugs and 10-15% abuse alcohol and illegal psychotropic drugs.  7-12% engage in compulsive gambling… millions more compulsively view television, video games, and p**nography; play the stock market; overeat, shop for things they don’t need, and flee their helplessness and hopelessness in countess other ways.  Increasingly the U.S. economy is based on diversions and anesthetizations.”  (85-86)

“In the early 1950’s, the U.S. was one of the healthiest countries in the world, but by 1960, it had sunk to the 13th healthiest… Since then we have continued to fall, so that we are now 25th, behind almost all other rich countries and a few poor ones, as well.”  (86)

And page 83… now THAT is just all goodness.  That is exactly why I wanted to read this book.

If even half of the statistics cited by Hayes hold water upon examination (no, I have not back-checked them), then they are, at the very least, cause for pause.

That being said, I wholeheartedly disagree with what appears to be one of Hayes’ main premises:  that to become radically domestic, one basically must embrace a “one for all, all for one” socialist mentality and politics.  That one becomes more of a champion of the earth by making less money (and thus paying fewer, if any taxes); that one can — and should — be a “conscientious objector” to private health care yet at the same time be more than willing to accept taxpayer-funded government- provided health coverage.  Apparently there is no such objection to RH’s using other people‘s money to pay for their dreams… just so long as they don’t have to earn it themselves.

I have a problem with that.  To paraphrase former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:  The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. In other words, Hayes’ approach may be viewed as ideal by those engaged in it, but on a mass societal level it simply doesn’t work.  And in the meantime, it frankly frustrates the hell out of me: people who on one hand (very rightly) believe they are entitled to live their lives as they see fit and on the other ticked off (not rightly) that the government doesn’t simply hand them blank checks to do so.  Unbelievable.

I know that only a few of the RH’s Hayes profiles simultaneously engage in a predominately non-extractive, non-income generating life filled with “fun and relaxation” while being “frustrated” that the government requires so many darn forms to qualify for free health insurance paid for by the taxpayers who, by choice or not, foot the bill.  But the pedestal on which these individuals and families were placed by the author seriously put me over the edge.

So instead I will say this:

Women do, inevitably, feel a great void in their lives.  So do men.  Without Christ, we are always left with the nagging question:  Is this all there is to life?

Yes, the world as we know it is broken.  American society is broken.

We – you and I – are broken.

And I hate to tell you, but true personal fulfillment is no more likely to be found in a quasi-utopian urban homestead or in the challenge of “taking on a constructive role in society” (46) than it was/is in a high-powered, high-paying career or a plush vacation home with a panoramic mountain view.  It’s not found in anything the Earth has to offer, friends.  It’s found only in a Savior.  With a capital S.

All that to say… it’s apparent Hayes and I come at this issue from drastically different places.  Despite our immense differences, however, I am actually gleaning something from her interviews in the later chapters.  Just because our “whys” are so different doesn’t mean our “hows” must also be.

So I will finish the book, I promise… in the hope I will get something beneficial out of it.  In the meantime, if anyone asks for a recommendation in the “domesticity/anti-consumerism” genre, I will wholeheartedly recommend Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher.  Now THAT, although also not outwardly religious in nature, is a fabulous, helpful, useful read… likewise full of lots of Wendell Berry goodness but lacking the heavy socialist under/overtone.

But if I haven’t yet completely scared you off and you’d like to discuss what we’ve read thus far (and you can feel free to disagree!), I would love to hear from you. And let’s plan to wrap up the “how” section — the second half of the book — for next Monday.  I promise you it’s more tolerable than the first half.  I will share some of our family’s journey into domesticity, and I would love to hear yours.

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You may have been wondering where I’ve been.  Whether I dropped off the face of the earth or something.

Or perhaps you haven’t wondered at all.

I forgive you.  🙂

My friends, we were a’travelin’.  All together, about 3,000 miles of a’travelin’.  In the car.  With three children ages five and under.  And a very fluffy, shedding dog.

We don’t do anything halfway, people.

I’ll try to put pictures of that, as well as of our garage sale, up soon.  Which, given my track record as of late, may be sometime in late 2012.

Sheesh, self.

So let me at least catch you up on the happenings of late around here:

… Annie has been a fussy mess.

… One of the many reasons for the fussiness:  she cut two teeth (which, of course, I discovered several days AFTER they broke through the gums). Both molars.  She’s 14 months old.  I was shocked, I tell you.  Shocked.

… More on Annie:  Her weight check last week didn’t go great.  She only gained one ounce last month.  Although the pediatrician was encouraged that given her flu bug (did I mention that all three children had the flu last week?) and her teething she didn’t LOSE weight, we still have to come in next week to check her again to make sure she’s making that up.  I am so grateful, though, that the doc gave her a second chance instead of just moving forward with the NG tube right away.  So if you think about it, we’d appreciate prayer for that wee little bit of a child to eat her body weight in some high-calorie grub between now and then.

… We had our second home study visit last week.  We were interviewed individually… which basically means I got to explain my rather complicated family background for over an hour while Bryan’s took all of five minutes.  Okay, maybe ten.  But still.  🙂  Our last one was scheduled for tonight, but our case worker is not feeling well so we’re now scheduled for next week.  Which is fine because…

… We’re FINALLY getting fingerprinted tomorrow.  And I FINALLY sent our passport renewals in last week.  So we have another 4-6 weeks before we can wrap everything up anyway.  And I just started on the other dossier stuff yesterday.  But…

… thanks to a generous donation from a wonderful lady in my home town — as well as receiving payment for some side work Bryan did a few months ago — we were able to pay the entire balance for the home study!  Praise God for His provision!!

… AND our garage sale last weekend netted almost $1,400!  We’re going to list some of the larger items on Craigslist, so we’re hoping we can pay at least one of the agency fees ($2,150) with all the proceeds.  Now THAT would be cool.  🙂

Lastly, I’d love to move forward on the whole Radical Homemakers discussion at some point.  How about we try to finish the first half (the “why” part) by next Monday, then we’ll do the “how” part the following week?

Like I said, I’m hoping cute kiddo pics are on the way in the coming days.  I appreciate your patience!

XOXO  -N

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No, I haven’t gotten Chapter 1 of the Radical Homemakers discussion up yet.  I’m sorry!

And given that all five of us are about to head out in the ol’ SUV into the wild blue yonder (aka the Midwest) in a few short hours, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.  Bad blogger.  Bad.

Which reminds me, please pray for us… 15 hours in the car with three children aged five and under.  Should be interesting… fun, but interesting.  🙂

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I’d like to start by saying that for the 20 or so pages of this book, I have SIX pages of notes.

About half of these consisted of the memories the reading generated in my mind from my own childhood.

Another third were disclaimers, disagreements, and caveats I felt necessary to note for myself — and for this little discussion — as I read along.

The rest were just gems of universally applicable nuggets of goodness.

For today, I’ll focus on the latter two groups; the first likely will take more than one post for me to thoroughly think through and digest.  And despite paring it down… and not even commenting on much of what I noted in the introduction alone… this has turned out to be a marathon post.

My apologies.  I promise my next one will be full of cute kiddo pictures and little else.  Agreed?  🙂

So first, the disagreements/disclaimers/caveats:

1.  Just so you know, Im probably going to ignore a lot of the more femi-nazi empowerment rhetoric in this book… because frankly I don’t think it either necessary or appropriate for our discussion, nor is it the reason I picked up the book in the first place.  So no, we will not be engaging in an in-depth analysis of the (horrible) Feminine Mystique in this forum… nor will I even link up to that garbage; if you want to read it badly enough, be my guest to go find it yourself.

2.  This is related to #1… but I just want to be clear:  It’s obvious Hayes is not a Christian woman.  In case you needed a hint, she classifies the folks like me as “ultra-religious” people who apparently “cook, clean, toil, serve and remain silent and powerless.”  HA.  My husband is rolling on the floor laughing right now at that ridiculousness.  But God also uses unbelievers to bless and share His truth… and as long as we recognize her “we are woman, hear us roar” comments and themes for what they are, I know there will still be some great information within these pages from which we can learn and grow.

Onward.

According to Hayes, radical homemakers are “men and women who (are) pursuing homemaking as a vocation for saving family, community, and planet.” (1)  I especially appreciated her description of “mainstream American culture” as that which

“views the household a a unit of consumption.  By this conventional standard, the household consumes food, clothing, household technologies, repair and debt services, electricity, entertainment, health-care services, and environmental resources.  In order to be a ‘successful’ unit of consumption, the household must have money.”  (9)

And this not so little truth:

“Mainstream Americans have lost the simple domestic skills that would enable them to love an ecologically sensible life with a modest or low income.”  (12)

Ouch.

As to the first, I have been as guilty as the next person.  (And yes, I said guilty.  On purpose.)  It’s the American way, right?  If we’re tired, we can just order a quick pizza or fast food… never mind what’s in the ingredient list or how much less money we could spend simply by spending some thoughtful moments planning our week’s meals at home.  If we need quick entertainment, cable or pay-per-view are at our fingertips on any of the six or more HDTVs we have in our houses… while our backyards, bikes, and local trails sit empty.  If big is good, then bigger must be better… right?  Isn’t that what the almighty value meal and the Hummer have taught us?

(Side note:  One of our neighbors does in fact own SIX televisions… for the TWO people living in the house.  Seriously.)

As to the second… well, I guess the question is: should we really be investing in learning and honing these skills?  I really resonated with Susan Colter, the first woman Hayes mentions, when she spoke about her parents not being “particularly invested in having a home”:

“It was sort of ‘let’s do as little as we can just to get by and make sure we’re fed, and the house isn’t an absolute disaster.’  The sense that I got was that [homemaking] was something to be avoided.”  (3)

Not that my parents — my mother, anyway — was like that AT ALL; in fact, much the opposite was true in my house during my childhood years… for which I am abundantly thankful, by the way, and will comment on more at length in later posts.  Rather, Susan’s words hit me personally as a parent.  That’s so ME.  My family.  We are consumptive freaks, friends.  Too often I catch myself just trying to rush through the day, focusing on what things we need to buy, putting out the proverbial fires and doing what I think somehow MUST be done, and stressing about not having enough money to do this or that, all at the expense of all those time-intensive but integral things that make “home” what it is:  a place of retreat, rest, and family togetherness.

On that point, I thought this was perhaps Hayes’ most valuable gem so far:

“If there was one unifying belief among [the homemakers she interviewed], it was to question all the assumptions in our consumer culture that have us convinced that a family cannot survive without a dual income.  They were fluent at the mental exercise of rethinking the ‘givens’ of our society and coming to the following conclusions:  nobody (who matters) cares what (or if) you drive; housing does not have to cost more than a single moderate income can afford (and it can even cost less); it is okay to accept help from family and friends, to let go of the perceived ideal of independence and strive instead for interdependence; health can be achieved without making monthly payments to our insurance company; child care is not a fixed cost; education can be acquired for free — it does not have to be bought; and retirement is possible, regardless of income.”  (17)

Wow.  There’s a lot of scary stuff in there.  Do those thoughts somehow threaten your need for security or challenge your conception of what “the good life” should look like?  To be honest, some of them scare me to death.  True homemaking like this seems so hard, so foreign, out of reach.  “I don’t know how to cook”, you say.  “I have a black thumb… there’s no way I can make anything grow.”  “I live in an apartment/on a tiny lot/in the city/far away from my extended family.”  “I don’t have time… we’re so busy with activities/school/fill in the blank.”  The excuses we all have are manifold.  And if we let them, they will keep us from changing anything about the consumption-based status quo in our own lives.

I have come to realize over the last several years that the kind of homemaking Hayes describes doesn’t necessarily require a particular giftedness… it does, however, require willingness.  A willingness to learn new things, to make small changes over time, to ask for help and to welcome advice, to entertain thoughts of what our homes and families might look like if we just focused our effort in different, more meaningful places.  What would suffer if we did that?  Are those things really that important or essential?  Food for thought.

Like you, I am really just beginning this journey of growth as a homemaker (although its seeds were planted many years ago… again, more on that later).  But I find my stride becoming just a bit more confident with each baby step I take.  Last year, it was creating herb garden, relying on one of my dear friends to know what to plant and how to cultivate it; this year, we’re doubling its size and adding vegetables and strawberries.  I learned how to make plum jam a few years ago (thanks to that same friend) with the wild plums we have in our yard.  I’ve limited our grocery runs to every other week, buying fewer processed foods and instead forcing myself to use fresh and flash-frozen foods, getting creative with what we already have on hand.  We have owned two homes during our marriage, and both were purchased on only my husband’s income (even though I was making almost twice his then-salary when we bought the first one).  Baby steps… and I have a long way to go… but steps in (I hope) the right direction nonetheless.

Our little family’s goal is to keep moving forward on that path… but its destination is not some kind of uber-feminist fantasy of creating our own personal eco-friendly utopia here on earth (because… and I’ll get more into this later I’m sure… this moving away from a consumption mindset can create a whole new idol, another false righteousness, in our hearts and minds). Rather, it’s a deliberate effort to respect and reflect God’s infinite mercy, to honor His creative work in nature and in the family unit itself, and to give credit and praise not to ourselves, but where (and to who) it rightfully belongs.

Just so you know where I’m coming from.

There was so much more in that reading, but I’m assuming we can get into the details more as we progress.  In the meantime, here are some questions to think about (please feel free to discuss in the comments!):

1.  What resonated with you most in the reading?

2.  What scares you most about moving away from a consumptive mindset?

3.  What baby step(s) do you think you could take to reduce your family’s consumption?

4.  (not in the book, but it begs to be asked) How could such steps bring praise and glory to where it rightfully belongs, not to us but to God?

For next week, we’ll read Chapter 1.  Slow and steady wins the race, people.  🙂

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(a little note: Please pardon me if I seem a wee bit self-conscious in this entry.  My dear bloggy friend Missy, as well as a couple of new bloggy acquaintances, sent many hundreds of folks to my site over the weekend because of this post, and I feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all… so bear with me whilst I adjust to the new reality.  It’s a little weird.  Good, but weird.)

The Well-Educated Mind and Don Quixote, anyone?

Bueller?

That’s what I thought.

I suspected the enthusiasm of our first several weeks would wane once reality set in and Cervantes’ little ditty was staring directly at us, taunting us, double-dog-daring us to put aside our busyness and dive in to its ancient pages.  (That’s SO like Cervantes, I know… that arrogant self-centered jerk.)  And believe me, I wanted to take him on… I tried to take him on… and then life happened.  Annie was sick; Bryan was suddenly working only part-time; our adoption plans were postponed; Jonah was fighting school; Bode was being, well, three; and me… well, I was quite busy throwing myself a little stress-bag pity party in the midst of it all.  Pretty productive, eh?  🙂

All this to say:  I failed.  Miserably.  But I will persevere, be it ever so slowly.  I will continue to read through the classics, and I’m coming to the realization that it’s okay if it takes me a lifetime to do so.  Life, that thing that happens to disrupt all our best-laid plans, is by far superior to frantic literary study.

That being said, I’d love to encourage all of us to continue growing our minds even while we are in the throws of this blessed thing called “life with many small children.”  So I have a proposal:  Anyone up for reading another book together?  I promise it’s infinitely lighter than ol’ Don, and I also promise you’ll likely be able to relate to it much more easily.

Here it is:  Radical Homemakers.

Can I tell you I’m a bit jealous that I didn’t think to write this book first?  After all, I am one… a radical homemaker, that is.  At least, I’m trying to be one.  I’m not a super-cool, make-my-own-yarn-and-raise-chickens-in-the-backyard kind of one like my friend back in Oregon (mostly because our HOA wouldn’t allow it), but I’m trying to check out of the uber-consumer mindset a little more each day.  Wanna see my latest efforts?  You can laugh at me… that’s totally okay… especially if we grew up together and you know that this is so NOT what I saw myself doing in my mid-thirties.

Ahem.

First things first:  I learned how to knit.  I’m by no means an accomplished knitter, but I can make scarves so far.  Check it out:

My second effort (this one was for me)

Hot model, I know! Sorry ladies, he's taken. 🙂

This year, I also started gardening from seed.  Because – if you do it right – it’s cheap (seeds are like $1.50, even for organic ones) and you can control what goes into your food from its beginning.  Note the big “if”.  I’m working and praying, people… working and praying that at least some of it takes root and gives us a little harvest.  We also limited what we could grow to the pots we already had in the house/garage; maybe I can pick up some more at garage sales this summer or start saving more plastic containers, but for now we’re just using what we have.  And the boys love helping Mommy water and care for all the little seedlings… they make sure to tell me whenever they see a new “friend” popping up out of the soil.

Here’s our wee greenhouse, also known as the southwest corner of our dining room:

(Note the several inches of snow just outside.  This pic was taken was in late March.  Yep, spring in Colorado… gotta love it!)

My hubby is building a second small raised bed in the backyard for me to transplant these little buggers when the weather outside is a bit less frightful.  He has made both beds out of wood reclaimed from the old patio we tore down shortly after our move here four years ago.  How frugal and environmentally-friendly are we?!  😉

Now, I know that some of my Midwest friends and family are likely laughing their heads off looking at pics of my meager little garden.  Yep, I know… it’s tiny.  But we live in the city, we have a relatively small yard, and we have an extremely short and dry growing season out here in the Rockies.  I discovered quickly that I couldn’t just throw something at the ground and it would grow like my mom’s garden does or like I did back in Portland; even small crops take big effort out here.  So we’ll see how it works!

So… how about you, friends?  Do you want to join me to learn more about radical homemaking?  If you’re interested, we’ll start in two Mondays (April 26)… so we have some time to track down a copy of the book.  In the meantime, I would love to hear about what you’re doing in your own households to revolt against consumerism.  We can all learn from each other… heck, perhaps one day we can all live happily ever after off the grid, far away from the reach of The Man…

Ah, one can dream.  🙂

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“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”  – C.S. Lewis

Yes, I know… I’m reading Don Quixote.  I promised, after all.  🙂

Between chapters, however, I am wholeheartedly continuing my quest to read pretty much every good juvenile fiction book that exists.  When I started this obsession notable endeavor a few years ago, I convinced myself that I was merely doing due diligence, surveying the landscape of literature available to younger readers so I could knowingly guide my children to those books most worthy of their time and attention.  But I’ll admit it:  some of the books I read are among THE best I’ve read in terms of storytelling.  I’m not talking the type of “deep” writing demanding its own graduate-level course here, but stories… stories you inhale, you digest, you enjoy so thoroughly that you remember them fondly forever.  That’s the kind of good stuff I’m talking about here, folks.

So, aside from the obvious “must-reads” in this category — The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the like — I have come across in recent reading some pretty wonderful, compelling stories that I would love to share with you (and in case you’re wondering, I added the ones I didn’t like at the end… gotta be real here).

Leepike Ridge:  This was a great book written by N.D. Wilson (Pastor Douglas Wilson’s son, FYI). I read it along with some other books aimed at the same age group (including more famous books by Rowling, Funke). This book easily stands head and shoulders above the rest. Tightly yet vividly written, the story has you racing to its end but enjoying every step along the way. Wilson does not “write down” to his readers, including words in his prose only rarely found in any current adult fiction, let alone fiction created for “young readers”. I was very impressed.

100 Cupboards trilogy (100 CupboardsDandelion FireThe Chestnut King):  Also by N.D. Wilson, this series is a magic/good v evil/fantasy/kids discovering their powers kind of tale.  For those who appreciate really, really good writing, especially geared to juvenile readers (who may not be the same people who liked Harry Potter and the like), this author does not let you down; Wilson weaves a compelling, extremely well-written story that leaves you waiting with anticipation to read each next book in the series.

Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy (I only linked you to the first one, but they’re all wonderful):  Well-written, fast-paced books about a group of child geniuses out to save the world, with a great story and likable characters that make you cheer.  I love when juvenile fiction writers choose to challenge, rather than condescend to, their young audience; my boys will love these books in a few years.

George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind:  This was my first exposure to MacDonald’s writing (C.S. Lewis loved the guy so much he wrote his biography), and I’m thankful for the introduction. Beautiful story, wonderful characters, and a feeling of intimacy (can’t find another word to explain it) that you don’t often get in books today.  It may feel a bit old-fashioned to some, but to me that’s part of its beauty.

Madeline L’Engle’s Time Quintet:  Believe it or not, this was my first time ever reading these lovely books… and I loved them all.  While A Swiftly Tilting Planet was my favorite of the five, all were extraordinarily imaginative, tightly-written, and neatly wove both history and some pretty complex scientific concepts into the plot.  Bravo.

Douglas Bond books (I’m currently reading Hostage Lands):  Great historical fiction; reminds me a bit of Stephen R. Lawhead but for a slightly younger set.  The stories are gripping, smart, and historically accurate, and they give the reader the feeling he/she is always in the middle of the action.  I love that.

Despite all the wonderfulness I described above, it wasn’t all lilies and roses; here are a few books I recently read that I do not — I repeat, do NOT — recommend:

The Tunnels series (Simply put?  It’s yucky, horrible, graphic, the writing is mediocre at best, and the plot is super-thin and not tied together well at all.  Some of the reviews called this grossness the next Harry Potter… whatever.  Blech.)

Anything by Cornelia Funke (I heard all these wonderful things about her… Inkheart, blah blah blah… and then I picked up The Thief Lord and learned she’s a plagarist.  Come on, do you have to copy the age-shifting carousel idea verbatim from one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time?  Seriously.  That one bad read turned me off to anything else she could offer.)

What other “juvenile fiction” books have you read that you would recommend?  Are there any I should definitely avoid?

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