May 30, 2017

What We're Reading (May 2017)

Need ideas for your summer reading list? Here's the May edition of "What We're Reading." What about you? We'd love to see your recommendations in the comments. 

Anna Mussmann

This month I’ve been testing out lots of library books with my kids. We are particularly delighted with several of Lois Lenski’s picture books. In contrast to most modern nonfiction for kids--filled with sidebars, annoying “humor,” and other non-linear distractions--stories like The Little Sailboat or The Little Train give young readers serious information in a pleasant way that demonstrates respect for their minds and attention spans. My three-year-old pulls out our Lenski titles frequently. He also loves Linda Sue Park’s Be-Bim Bop, a delightfully illustrated story with tremendous energy about a Korean family preparing dinner.

I’m also making my way through Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. I’d summarize the author’s thesis as: “Modern culture has so dulled our connection to reality and wonder that we’ve been made less human and less able to recognize natural law. This process could be avoided for our children if we protect and ignite their imaginations.” As a Lutheran, I think Esolen’s Roman Catholic theology makes him a trifle over-optimistic about the potential effects of wonder and natural law; but as a parent, I agree with many of his ideas on how children should be raised.

Want to hear Kaitlyn DeYoung and I discuss the introduction and opening chapter of this book? Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast episode on that topic. In fact, you may want to get a copy of your own and read those sections before listening to us talk about them.

Cheryl Magness

The last few months I have been jumping between social commentary, children's literature, and Christian fiction. In the first category I read Hillbilly Elegy and The Benedict Option. I have already blogged about both, so please click on the titles for more!

In the children's literature department, I have been reading several things with my 13-year-old. We are reading Watership Down, the classic by Richard Adams, together. I don't think I have read it since high school. It's one of my college-age daughter's favorite books, and a few months ago she wrote about it on the occasion of Richard Adams' death. You can read her thoughts here.

Finally, in the Christian fiction category, I was privileged to receive an advance reader copy of The Harvest Raise, the third and final installment in Katie Schuermann's Anthems of Zion series. Fans of the series are in for quite a treat! The book will be released in June.

Rachel Kovaciny

I recently read The Jane Austen Guide to Life by Lori Smith. I don't usually enjoy "self-help" books or books that try to give you advice on how to make your life better/easier/happier/more-Pinterest-worthy.  But this book has no floofy advice about cleansing your inner cupboards or letting go of your fixations or whatever.  This book, like Jane Austen herself, is very sensible, helpful, witty, and fun.  It's broken up into chapters that each deal with a subject, such as "living your dreams" and "finding a good man" and "saving and spending."  I really loved that this book delves into what Austen had to say (in fiction and letters) about every aspect of life, not just about love and marriage or becoming a nicer person.  From "finding joy and laughter" to "enduring the hardest things," from "seeking fame and success" to "cherishing family and friends," it has something to apply to just about any life.  And it does so from a gently Christian perspective, which I appreciated too.

Smith does assume that her readers will be female and unmarried, but I think that men and married people will find plenty to interest, amuse, and teach here.  This is a small book, but it does not contain small thoughts.  

Above all, I liked it as much for its insights into Austen's books as for the way it sought to apply her ideas to modern life.

(PG-13 for some discussions of sexuality that are tasteful, but not something for kids.)

Dana Palmer

Having an ongoing interest in the characters of Gone With the Wind, I recently completed Ruth's Journey, the authorized novel of Mammy, written by Donald McCaig.  Published in 2014, it is written in a style that is more forthright about the private actions and motives of the characters than the original novel is.  At 372 pages, it is also less complex than its predecessor.  However, I did find it interesting book.

The story begins when Mammy is a child living in the French colony, Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). After her family is killed in the fight between the slaves and the colonists, she is rescued by a French couple. The wife, Solange, names the girl Ruth. Interestingly, just before page one of the story, the author quotes the Biblical book of Ruth:  "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diests, will I die, and there will I be buried."  That certainly is a fitting description of the little girl, Ruth, who grows up to be a fiercely devoted Mammy to Solange's children, including Ellen Robillard (who later becomes Scarlett O'Hara's mother).  

I had a hard time getting through the first couple of chapters. Once Solange and her husband escape the warring island to Savannah, Georgia, the story picks up.  Solange is a shrewd woman (reminiscent of her granddaughter, Scarlett), who nonetheless highly values Ruth's companionship and service. Ruth in turn clings to Solange in gratitude for having a family and a roof over her head. Together, they encounter challenges and tragedies as they adjust to American life in the early nineteenth century.  

I found the antebellum setting interesting, as slavery slowly became the norm for the southern states. This development is personified in Ruth's transformation from a young, hopeful servant girl into a wife and mother, and then into a slave who self-identifies only as Mammy.  The narration of the book changes along with Mammy.  At first, the reader knows little of Ruth's thoughts and the narrative focuses primarily on Solange's thoughts. Later on, we know little to nothing of Solange, and the narrative (although still written in the third person) changes primarily to Mammy's thoughts and point of view. As the reader, I found this to be a little hard to adjust to, especially because Mammy's thoughts were written in her own dialect (which took longer for me to decipher).  The book ends just as the Civil War is beginning, so the reader gets to hear from Mammy's perspective some of the events from the early part of Gone With The Wind.

Donald McCaig paints a full picture of Mammy, an interesting character in her own right who becomes an important part of the O'Hara household. I liked hearing about how she came to be Mammy, which includes her conversion to Catholicism as well as her thoughts about God, morality, and her place in the world.  I could have done without the author's constant reminders of how Ruth/Mammy "sees things" spiritually, such as lingering mists around a person who was going to die soon. It was obviously a voodoo carry-over from her childhood, but I found it unnecessary to the story (since there was no hint of it in Gone With The Wind) and wondered why she never challenged those thoughts based on her Christian beliefs. I also found the ending weak, with its frank conversation between Mammy and Ellen about Ellen's past love, Phillipe.  Such a discussion would have been a break in propriety that neither one of them would have displayed, based on their characters and the time period.  Overall, even though I don't consider it to be at the same level of writing as its primary source material, I did enjoy it and learned from it; however, I would only recommend for people who have read Gone with the Wind and would like to know more.  


  1. We enjoy the Lois Lenski's picture books and "Bi Bim Bop" too. Have you made Bi Bim Bop to eat? :-)

    A few other children books we recommend are "Train" by Elisha Cooper and The Smithsonian Backyard and Oceanic Collections. My boys have learned much from these Smithsonian series. The illustrations and writing are high quality.

    1. We haven't made it yet, although my elder kiddo wants to very much. I'm a little intimidated by the idea of kimchi, but perhaps I can buy it.

      Thanks for the suggestion! We are really into trains right now, so that sounds perfect.


Please note: Comments are moderated and will appear on the blog once we've had a chance to approve them.

Thanks for joining the conversation!