Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tough to Find Quality Books at Your Library?

I had a revelation yesterday as I was attempting to clean out this year's planning binder to ready it for next year, and I want to share it in case you are as picky as I am about which books your children read. (Are you already Prayerfully Planning for Next Year? Don't forget to begin by Prayerfully Reflecting on Last Year!)

My children love going to the library, and we try to go every two weeks to linger and look. And, I am pleased to say that our library has invested in some great series books by well-known Christian publishers, so we have happily devoured most of hose. But, with so much twaddle out there, it's often difficult to just browse the shelves and hope to find something acceptable. My daughter, in particular, who is 11 but has been reading at a level 3-4 years above her age for 3-4 years, always grabs books for me to preview, and often, the content focuses too much on modern themes that I wish to avoid at her tender age.

Enter the Library Binder. You see, I have printed a variety of lists which I have determined to be acceptable for our standards from various sources and periodically consult them to help my independent readers choose books. The difficulty is that they are always at home and stored in various places: some in my planning binder, some in my file cabinet, some in my action file on my desk, etc. My simple, but possibly brilliant idea, is to three-hole punch all of those lists, stick them in a slim three-ring binder and keep it in my library bag. That way, whenever we are at the library hunting good books, we have a starting point!

Now, if I was really savvy, I would save all of these files in one spot on my tablet (the one my husband insisted I buy for my home business when I was in the midst of burn-out and needed to reorganize my life) in an editable form and bring that with us, but I'm still transitioning to paperless organization and figuring out how to do all that. Baby steps. Right?

Here are just a few of the lists I have printed, in no particular order, although there are many, many more good ones out there! If you have a great booklist, please leave a link in the comments. Then, get ready for summer reading by creating your own Library Binder and let me know how it goes!

1000 Good Books from Classical Christian Education

8 Catholic Reading Lists in One (not free, $7 for download)

Angelicum Good Books Program (click on each grade level to see literature)

Books for Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Build Forts All Day (look in description for link to PDF booklist)

Elizabeth Foss's Real Learning Booklists

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Jennifer's Fault!

I received my copy of Jennifer Fulweiler's book Something Other Than God last Thursday. Honestly, I wasn't planning on buying this book. I love reading Jennifer's blog, mostly because she is totally honest about her crazy life. We all have crazy lives, and I feel she is the rare writer who can write with transparency while still earning my admiration for the priorities she maintains. Her sense of humor brings to light the joy she finds in her crazy life, and I look forward to every post. (yes, I realize I just said she has a crazy life three times in the same paragraph, but if you've read her blog, you know I'm right; if you haven't, let me assure you, it's a totally good kind of crazy)

Back to the book, though. I really didn't see how reading a conversion story about a woman who was once an atheist would appeal to me. I liked to read Jennifer's writing now that she is a super-busy, Catholic, homeschooling mom writer like me (except I'm a wannabe writer, and she's for real). I'm a cradle Catholic. I read Rome Sweet Home in college, but I cannot name a single atheist in my entire life except my high school best friend's father. But, something really tugged at me to buy the book. After all, she is speaking at our 2014 San Antonio Catholic Homeschooling Conference at my suggestion, so I supposed it would be good to have read her book. Maybe I'll even get it signed!

I read a chapter or two Thursday night, as I am trying to reestablish my routine of reading for pleasure before bedtime, and a chapter or two the following night. Ditto on Saturday. Yesterday was Sunday, the day for my weekly battle with my own anxiety over toomuchtodothisweek but must. honor. Sabbath. take nap. must. relax. have fun. eventhoughthereistoomuchtodothisweek and I'dreallyratherstartnow! So I read some more of the book, and got hooked somewhere around chapter 7, probably because of the wedding. I finally put it down last night when I was falling asleep reading and forgetting what was happening, and I couldn't wait to pick it up again today.

I'll turn this the right way tomorrow!

Today was a school day. I was able to read a chapter while I rocked the baby for his morning nap. Then, I forced myself to leave the book on my desk while we went through our Morning Basket material. (but I did take the book upstairs to the school room rather than leave it on my night stand) As soon as we finished, I took the book to the bathroom with me. I just had to get in one more chapter and only mention this, because I happened to be reading about the time Jen was reading Scripture in the bathroom at the office.

I made lunch and forced myself to chat with the children, but I couldn't wait to get back to the book. After lunch, I allowed myself the indulgence of a few chapters while the big kids got their independent work started, and I watched the little boys happily play. During naptime, I sat on the school room floor and snatched free moments to read in between correcting math problems and giving dictation for spelling. At this point, my daughter declared that I must really like that book. What? The one I've been carrying around all day?

I kept reading. The big kids finished their work and disappeared to build with Legos. The preschooler, who refused to nap today, started acting out, which he does when he hasn't napped and mom won't pay attention to him. My nose was stuck in the book! I sent him outside to play. I processed the laundry and kept piling it on the family room floor, but I couldn't fold it. That would require stopping reading for more than ten minutes. As I sat on the floor, trying to give the baby snippets of attention while continually going back to the book, (he's at that age where he grabs your face with both hands and turns your head towards him when he wants you to look at him) my daughter mused that she had never seen me so engrossed in a book. She's right. That's sad.

The aftermath - their creations are hidden!
I had to take a break to fix dinner, get the big kids off to scouts, and put the little boys to bed, but then I sat on the couch to read, wondering if I could really finish it AND write a blog post before they got home from scouts (looks like it's going to be close). So, what about this book, kept me riveted? Why did I feel so convicted to read this book so intensely?

1. Jennifer's writing is superb! I was an English major in college and in all the honors and AP English classes since middle school. That means they forced me to read everything that is considered quality literature. Something Other Than God is undoubtedly quality literature. Memoirs, as a genre, can be entirely sentimental and self-centered. Not this book. Jennifer describes herself as probably self-centered, but the story is at a different level than most modern memoirs, both due to Jennifer's intelligence and her skill at her craft.

It felt like a momentous occasion, and not just for obvious reasons. I shivered in response to something I felt. It was like the vibration in the ground before a space shuttle launches, that rumble that precedes the unleashing of a great power. I was filled with a sense that something was about to happen for Joe and me - and that whatever it was, it would be big.
2. Jennifer's story is entertaining and yet so ordinary. This is one of the things I enjoy most about her blog writing, so it shouldn't have surprised me that her book has the same qualities. I laughed and smiled so much and yet certain passages took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Her experience is every-woman's experience, a quest for purpose wrapped up in the unexpected complexity of marriage and children.

Okay, God, let's try this again, I whispered. I took the book in my hands. My heart was full of so many worries and questions that I didn't even know where to start. should I pray for a resolution to the search engine issue? Or just ask for help figuring out if God exists? I packed it all up into a  ball of hope and yearning, and did that thing where I sent it out in the form of an unspoken prayer that I hoped someone could hear.

3. Jennifer's conversion is inspiring, and she covers both basic Christian beliefs and challenging Catholic doctrine in layman's terms. Clearly, having read this, I am reminded that I take my faith in God and Christianity for granted. Like I said, the only conversion story I had ever previously read was Scott Hahn's. He was already a Christian, a solid one at that, and came home to the Catholic Church through a beautiful story. But, Jennifer's conversion brought up some quandaries about Christian belief that I usually dismiss as simply requiring enough faith (believing without seeing). She has challenged my faith through her story, and I can see God is already convicting me to take my faith more seriously.

But what I had not been factoring in was heaven.
Starting with that childhood moment at The Creek, I'd always been acutely aware of the fleetingness of human life. Now that I took that same awareness and examined it in light of the existence of heaven, everything changes. I'd always heard the ticking of the clock that counts down the seconds as we all get closer to death; now I should see its ticking as a countdown to the end of unjust suffering. As an atheist I mourned the fact that nothing good would last; now it was time to accept the fact that good did last, and it would last forever. Only suffering would end.

So, buy the book here. Read the book. Love the book. Come hear Jennifer speak on June 7th, specifically to Catholic homeschooling mothers about pursuing our dreams while homeschooling our children. I am sure I will have more to say about this book. In fact, now that I have read it as a story, I plan to re-read it as a spiritual treatise, journaling about the ways God has spoken to me through Jennifer. For now, I need to go fold my mountain of laundry!

About one third of Monday's mountain.

But, the last thing I want to say is that it's Jennifer's fault that I didn't get much done today besides the bare minimum. It's Jennifer's fault that I'm itching to read the book again already but know I need to tackle a few work-related projects first. And, I am so glad that I listened to that inner voice and bought the book and read the book. The Lord is working in me in this book, and I know He will lead so many readers to a fuller faith, regardless of where they are on their journey.