Our Summer in Books

Ah, sweet summer! As much as I admire the year-round-school crew, this summer has convinced me that I’m solidly in the we-need-a-break camp. I’m finding summer to be a time like no other to (catch up on innumerable dental appointments – ughh!) draw, paint and craft together; take field trips; practice chores like folding laundry, making beds, and breading chicken (I’m so happy to hand this messy task off to my mess-loving daughters!); create intentional family moments through game nights and individual daughter dates; and work on life skills like shoe tying (as soul-searing as potty training, no doubt!)

I’m sure there’s no need to tell kindred spirits like yourselves how we’re savoring our reading time. Still, some of the books are so delightful I can’t help gushing about them. Without further ado, here’s a short list of the books shaping our souls this summer (intermingled with my scintillating observations, of course!):

Bible / Spiritual Life:

The Story Bible, Concordia Publishing House; Leading Little Ones to God, Miriam M. Schoolland; Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, Arthur S. Maxwell; The King James Bible

The historically accurate artwork in The Story Bible is a relief after the cartoony kind prominent in many children’s Bibles. For instance, Jesus actually looks Jewish and the disciples truly lie on the floor around the table at the Last Supper. Imagine that! Much as we enjoyed The Story Bible, though, after awhile I found myself wanting to just read from the Bible itself. I grew up on the KJV and remember my elementary school teacher lauding “the beauty of the language.” I thought she was off her rocker at the time, but I get it now, and I hope my girls will one day, too.


Cricket in a Thicket, Aileen Fisher; Wings from the Wind, Tasha Tudor; Poems to Read to the Very Young, selected by Josette Frank; The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Jack Prelutsky

Our favorite little anthologies don’t seem to be on anyone’s list of great poem books. They’re just random thrift store finds, but they definitely put the poetry into our poetry teatime! The Random House Book of Poetry for Children is solely responsible for sparking my lifelong love of poetry. My six-year-old hands rifled these pages so often that my father resorted to duct taping (horror of horrors!) the battered covers for me. I carried this beloved book from one tiny apartment to another in my single years, and although it pained me to let it go, I was thrilled to find a nice hardcover copy for a pittance at the thrift store.

Art and Handicrafts:

Drawing with Children, Mona Brooks; The Creative Family, Amanda Blake Soule; The Artful Year, Jean Van’t Hul; The Farmer’s Wife, Laurie Aaron Hird

My girls draw enthusiastically every day and sometimes I feel jealous over their fun. So this summer I’ve taken to spreading art supplies all over our dining room table and joining in. I loved drawing as a child, but there was always a more artistically-inclined older sibling or friend to compare myself with. It’s delightfully freeing to draw as an adult knowing you’re not very good at it so you might as well enjoy it instead of worrying about how it comes out, right?

I also chose one craft per month for us to do together this summer: dried flower bookmarks, garden stones, and (next up) fabric napkins printed with ferns and leaves from our Big Woods. Some fabulous thrift store fabric finds spurred me to tackle The Farmer’s Wife sampler quilt. The girls tend to rummage through my scrap bin and stitch together their own creations while I’m sewing. “More is caught than taught,” right?

Chapter Books / Long Picture Books

Jenny and The Cat Club series, Esther Averill; Blacky the Crow (and other Thornton Burgess animal adventures); Cheerful, Palmer Brown; Hickory, Palmer Brown; Mouse House, Rumer Godden; Jeremy: The Tale of an Honest Bunny, Jan Karon

Chapter books were about as successful as Brussels sprouts on their first few introductions at our house. My girls’ outrage over the shocking lack of pictures left me breathless. Then one day a little red-scarfed cat named Jenny Linsky trotted into our lives and forever changed our minds. I don’t know why the Jenny books aren’t mentioned on every list of great first chapter books. I’ve grown misty eyed on more than one occasion over the moments of beauty and truth that pop up all the time in this series. Like when Jenny realizes her recalcitrant friend just needs to be loved harder and held closer. If that isn’t a truth for motherhood, I don’t know what is!

Picture Books

Jamaica series, Juanita Havill; Alfie series, Shirley Hughes; Peter and Lotta series, Elsa Beskow; Quincy the Horse series, Camille Matthews

“…Still we find the flowing brooks In the picture story books…”

Oh, Robert Louis Stevenson, how could you express it so perfectly? Even while encouraging the girls’ tolerance for longer books, I’m secretly delighting that they still love picture books! Here are just a few “flowing brooks” of soul nourishment we’re enjoying this summer:

Flutterbudget loves the Jamaica books so much she’s memorized them all. She’ll pile them on the couch and “read” the whole stack through to herself. I love that an African American girl actually plays the heroine, rather than the supporting role, in this series. I was also thrilled to find a new horse series for my aspiring equestriennes. The best part is how Quincy learns to find his worth not in the number of ribbons he wins but in his owner’s love and friendship. A refreshing change from the usual “they won all the blue ribbons and lived happily ever after” focus of many horsey tales.

And on Ma’s Nightstand: Twopence to Cross the Mersey, Helen Forrester; Liverpool Miss; By the Waters of Liverpool; Lime Street at Two

I’ve completely lost myself in these books this summer. I was almost happy when my beloved husband had to go away for a few nights so I could stay up late devouring them. In these amazing autobiographies, Helen Forrester’s middle class family, devastated by the Great Depression, struggles to survive in the slums of Liverpool. At age 11, Helen takes over the crushing care of her six younger siblings while her parents look for work. Living on white bread and margarine, she longs to finish school but finds the door slammed in her face time and again. Yet always in the midst of blackest despair, a glimmer of human kindness kindles hope.

In the words a compassionate stranger speaks to Helen one day, I find my faith bolstered to continue the off-the-beaten-track education I’m giving my girls:

“At last, he sighed and said, ‘You know, child, it is not what happens to you that matters – it is how you deal with it.’

This was a new idea to me and I pondered on it, as I shyly watched his face.

‘You can read?’


‘You go to the library?’


‘Then read! Read everything you can. Read the great historians, the philosophers, especially the German ones, read autobiographies, read novels. One day, you will have the opportunity to make use of the knowledge you will accumulate, and you will be surprised to find that you know much more than those who have had a more formal education.'”

Doesn’t that sum up our wildest dreams for our children’s home education?!

Don’t forget, all these books and thousands more are available to members of the Little Library in the Big Woods. I would love to hear how reading is shaping your soul this summer!

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