Friday, December 12, 2014

gems from books...and books ARE gems

Last night as we were settling in for bed Dave smiled at me and told me all my dreams were coming true: our kids are becoming enveloped snuggly into a love for reading.

And I smiled back.  Because he is right.

I like to dream big.  When we came to China I figured we would be able to turn our whole family into health-food fanatics, I would read the whole D & C with my early-morning seminary kids, I would become an email master, I would label every picture I have ever taken, I would have interviews each week with each of my children, blah blah blah.

All those things up there in that list are complete fails.  Yep, you got that right.  Not one of them has been fulfilled.

But reading?  My goal to get us all reading our hearts out?  Well, that one has come to fruition.  And that little fact makes all those other goals fade into the minutia of this adventure we're on.  Life is long.  I'll get to all that other jazz.  But seeing my kids delving into books is one of the very most rewarding things I could ask for.

Max had come home earlier that afternoon on cloud nine about a book he had just finished and was antsy to download the sequel (The Maze Runner ).  The girls have their noses in Harry Potter at any given moment of the day (even Elle's joined into that one), Grace and I are jumping into The Arabian Nights , Elle and I have had some great discussions about slavery spurred by her reading of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , Max has delved into John Donne and The Jungle for his AP English class, and I am offering up gratitude beyond measure for all this.  Our "E" on our "China Theme" (back here) is filling up quick, with more to be added.

It makes me happy because I know what books can do to you.  I know how they can make you think and take you somewhere you've never been before.  I know they can help you express yourself better. I love the examples I find within their pages  The good and the bad.  Sometimes I get little epiphanies from the most obscure little side-stories.  It's like they are speaking to me.  And I always, always wish someone were reading it right alongside me who I could discuss my thoughts.  That's why I love book club so much.  For the past year and a half I have been a book club fail.  I think there is a time and a season for everything, and the "season of remodeling a house" didn't coincide very well with the "season of reading."

But only when we started sinking into good books here did I realize how much I missed it!

I'm so glad for a book club here where we've read some great stuff and had some equally fascinating discussions, and I'm also so glad that it's kinda like a book club around our house all the time lately.  Claire will delve into questions and awe-filled comments about how in the world J.K. Rowling came up with all the crazy imaginative things she does.  She and Lucy will dive into why Dudley is so mean or what a "Snitch" is at any given moment.  Max and I will discuss the meaning of things like what "death" is in a poem he has to read for school, and the big girls and I have loved discussing the books we are all reading.

So I figured I should share some of my favorites here, because I want to remember how they made me think and why I loved them so, and I would so love to hear what books others have enjoyed as well.  I wish I could write a whole blog post and have a discussion about each of these much food for thought, but since I can't, just click on the name of the book for more information.

I was transported into the world of slavery while reading The Kitchen House .  I got so frustrated at the lack of communication in that one (just talk to each other for crying out loud!) and fell in love with Mamma and her courage.

I loved the concepts my girls and I got to talk about as we read The Giver together so much that I have to do a separate post on that soon.  Way too many thoughts and lessons learned from that one.

Grace and I were enthralled by The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian .  Wow, I LOVED how this book made us think, and the discussions that came from it.  I have to warn readers that there are some some parts in there that I wish the author would have left out.  But I knew that from the onset so we read it at the same time (not together because she read a lot at school) and loved the topics it brought up for us.  Boy oh boy did that ever take me into a new world!  It was fascinating being inside the head of a native-American kid as he tried to make sense of his world at the reservation vs. his world at the high-faluting school he decided he wanted to attend.  I loved his courage and determination.  I loved that he overcame so many fears.  I loved the description of how he grew by facing them.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague got me thinking about so many things.  First of all how we all deal with catastrophe in our own lives.  How I would deal with catastrophe.  When we talked about the title at book club my friend mentioned that maybe it is more a year of "wondering" right along with the "wonder" of the amount of growth and knowledge Anna (the heroine) gained through going through that year of agony.
I loved her true grit to get through things and how her world was expanded as she went through agony and heart break like never before.  It made me think so much about how hard things break us in so many ways, but if we have enough faith we can mend those broken places and build something stronger in their place.

Elle and I read portions of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass en route to Beijing and I still think about that one all the time.  I had never read it before and we read the part where he learns to read, and how education makes him continually less satisfied with what he makes him yearn and thirst for more which took him on an amazing journey escaping slavery.

Right now I'm just finishing Pavilion of Women .  My favorite book is The Good Earth (more on why back HERE and also HERE with a lot of other book suggestions) and my sister suggested this one since she knew I love Pearl S. Buch so much.  Wow,  I keep trying to tell my kids all that's going on in that one.  In some ways it's driving me crazy, but Andre is such a great example and I love seeing the meaning of life come into focus for Madame Wu.

I'm also reading The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts which I'll have to do another post on some day.  I "stole" it from my mom's bookshelf because it just happened to be there and I had been wanting so much to read the one on kid's love languages (The 5 Love Languages of Children ).  I was trying to figure out some things my kids are going through and how to love them better through them and figured maybe I could learn some stuff from this one since it was right there, but oh boy I love how that one on relationships sure makes me think in a whole different way.

I could go on forever about many more, but I am out of time (and I'm sure you are too :).  I'll just leave this post with a few more book recommendations for Christmas stories.  Each Christmas it is our tradition to read a Christmas book under the Christmas tree every night we can in December.

We don't have our Christmas book stash here so we have printed out some books from the internet to read under our blue-ish disco-flashing Chinese Christmas lights :), but a list of my favorite Christmas books (and some great suggestions for additional books from readers in the comments) is back HERE.

If you have any great book recommendations for us to keep this reading going send them on over!  


  1. A mother ecstatic about her children developing a love for books... I'm glad for something so sweet and substantive amidst this crazy, idiotic, and at times ugly internet.
    And please write about the five languages soon! I have always wanted to read it; I think I could 'cheat-learn' the whole thing through the intelligent summary you are bound to write!

  2. Maybe your younger kids would love "Tom`s Midnight Garden" by Philippa Pearce. It`s a beautiful story, and the language is beautiful as well. You find it here:

  3. I just finished Global Mom. If you haven't already read it I think you would really enjoy it!

  4. Just finished Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt. It is one of my new favorites. YA fiction and I know you would love it. Such a beautiful story of art, symbolism, hope, and resiliency. Consider this my virtual Christmas present to you, because if we were neighbors I'd leave it on your doorstep.

  5. The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. It's a long book (I'm a fast reader and it took me about a week of reading until 3 a.m.!!!) but entirely worth it (seriously, it has to be good for me to intentionally read until 3 a.m. when I have to get up for work at 6!!). The best book I've read in a very long time. I learned so much history and the story is just breathtaking. It really caused me to think about spirituality and what that means to me.

  6. I am such a book-lover that we don't have a TV. It's something my parents did when I was a kid (they didn't get a TV until I'd left for college and my youngest sister was a solid reader) and so we decided to do it for our own kids. I love books and I love that you're posting about this!

    Two of my favorites are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and My Life In France by Julia Child. When your kiddos finish up Harry Potter, you might try Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson kids have LOVED those when they were looking for something post-Potter!

    I also really love Gone With the Wind. So much more than a love story...even my husband enjoyed it!

    Most of these books are probably too young for your kids, but just in case you have readers with younger kids who are looking for really quality picture books, I have done a bunch of posts about my favorites on my personal blog, all of which are linked on one page here:

    1. We are the same! We got rid of our tv and we all read about ten times more now best decision ever :) Thanks for the great book suggestions I'm always on the lookout for my next read. I've actually wanted to comment so many times and suggest Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng one of the most inspiring thought provoking books I've ever read and you are so close to where it all took place fantastic read that you will love! Some other recent ones we've loved isThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, and These is My Words by Nancy Turner all fantastic! :)

  7. I'd say if you liked the Kitchen House you absolutely have to read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd - so so good. For the Maze Runner lover try The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - it's a series so if you like the first one there are more to look forward to.

  8. I'm hoping my kids get my love for reading, too. I ALWAYS have a book in my hand!

    You NEED to read Nothing to Envy... it's about N. Korea - a journalist interviewed a bunch of defectors from there and it's absolutely horrifying and fascinating. Hard to put down.

  9. Oh my goodness, BOOKS! I could go on and on...

    One of my favorite books I read this year (which surprised me since it's a middle-grade fiction book) was The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. Another great middle-grade fiction book I enjoyed this year was Wonder by R.J. Palacios.

    One book that floored me this year was Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. It's a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche. Some say it's his greatest work (he thought it was and so did his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien) and, WOW. I get goosebumps just thinking about it again. If I remember correctly, he wrote the first part when he was an atheist and then the second when he converted to Christianity. The way he understands women was incredible (his wife helped him write the book). It's beyond beautiful and one of those books you could read over and over and get something new out of it. I can't praise it enough.

    Thanks for the recommendations! I added a couple to my never-ending 'to-read' list. :)

  10. I'll add my two cents about Gary Schmidt too. Loved Wednesday Wars and Okay For Now. I wish they would take his Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and make high schoolers read that instead of Lord of the Flies.

  11. i'm glad for your thoughts on part-time indian. students at my school are reading it and i'm glad to hear that great writing and a great story outweigh the kinda colorful parts. you're such a good reader! i have been so bad at reading lately - i need to get back on it! but the boy and i do read 5 pages of a christmas carol every night together by the tree :)
    love you and can't wait to see you!! come visit us in january!!

  12. Tell Max he must read the "Prequel: The Kill Order" and then the Maze Runner will really make sense.
    Love your blog - enjoy the rest of your time in Shanghai.

  13. Hi Shawni,

    We're avid readers over here and I thought I'd share some of my kids' (son and daughter) favorite books. They're in 8th grade this year:

    Elementary Age:
    The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane--Kate DiCamillo
    The Tale of Desperaux--Kate DiCamillo
    Bridge to Terabithia--Katherine Paterson
    Listening for Lions--Grace Whelan
    A Single Shard--Linda Sue Park
    Gregor the Overlander series--Suzanne Collins
    Hatchet--Gary Paulsen
    Mysterious Benedict Society
    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon--Grace Lin (Set in China, so perfect timing for you guys)
    Out of My Mind--Sharon Draper

    Middle/Jr High:
    Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life--Wendy Mass (My daughter really enjoyed all of her books)
    When You Reach Me--Rebecca Stead
    Wonder--R.J. Palacio
    The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of 4 Sisters, 2 Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy--Jeanne Birdsall
    Percy Jackson Series--Rick Riordan
    Peak--Roland Smith
    Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now and Trouble--Gary D. Schmidt
    Best Bad Luck I Ever Had--Kristin Levine
    Navigating Early--Clare Vanderpool
    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian--Alexie Sherman
    The Maze Runner, Divergent, Hunger Games, Unwind--My daughter seems to really enjoy Dystopian stories

    High School: (not quite there yet, but here are some my kids have read and gotten something out of it)
    Anthem--Ayn Rand (great discussion)
    The Six Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make--Sean Covey
    7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Sean Covey
    Do Hard Things--Alex and Brett Harris
    Life of Pi--Yann Martel
    Into the Wild--John Krakauer
    Outliers--Malcolm Gladwell
    The Fault in Our Stars--John Green
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time--Mark Haddon (great insight into Asperger's)

    I know a number of people have suggested you read Wild Swans--II'll echo that. It's a long book, but so very good.

    1. p.s. I forgot Harry Potter--my kids were obsessed with Harry Potter! :)

    2. One more thing...there's a really great docudrama about J.K. Rowling called Magic Beyond Words, that shows how she got many of her ideas for Harry Potter. We watched that and then made butterbeer. We found the recipe for Universal Harry Potter World's Butterbeer online (using cream soda). Thought your girls might get a kick out of it while they're crazy about H.P..

  14. Oh man, my book list just tripled in size from. So many recommendations! Fabulous!
    Wild Swans is an eye-opening account from a relatively short window in China's long history. It is equally disturbing and fascinating, and definitely makes me sympathetic toward the Chinese people and the obvious effects of what happens when God is taken out of a culture.
    I just finished another fascinating book titled, "Life Animated..." by Ron Suskind.
    I am currently reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, and Covenant Motherhood by Stephanie Sorensen. All great books for different reasons. I need to add a good novel in the mix. Thanks to all for the numerous recommendations.

  15. the girl with no name by Marina Chapman It's a story of a girl in Columbia raised by monkeys and on the streets...very interesting and eye opening. I'm always looking for good book recommendations so thanks for the post.

  16. We looooove books at our house, too, so I have to chime in with a comment!

    I am going to second a couple that Maureen suggested -- your kids (and you!) will love Mysterious Benedict Society (reminds me just a little of Harry Potter -- attend boarding school, work together, and save the world!). And yes -- definitely get ahold of Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon; you are going to love the enchanting setting (China!) and the good morals. (I love Grace Lin's Year of the Dog series, too, but Mountain Meets the Moon is her more "literary" choice.)

    Your older kids might enjoy Pivot Point (and the sequel, Split Second) by Kasie West. I thought it was a fun story -- kind of an XMEN meets Sky High, but also just really unique and different. Pretty darn clean, too.

    Recent books I really liked: The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery (lots of dry humor and a heroine I could relate to) and Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay (squeaky clean with lots of references to books ... and this book lover loves reading about books!)

    Also, thank you for your suggestion about Christmas books under the tree (I know you posted about that last year, too, because I went out and bought On Christmas Day in the Morning after I previewed from my library -- it's so great!). We are doing this for the first time this year and my kids and I are loving it!

  17. For Max and you, "Fearless, the story of Adam Browns", incredible life story


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