5 Middle-Grade Heroines You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Everyone knows Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games and Tris Prior of the Divergent series. YA fiction (especially dystopian fiction) abounds with strong female protagonists. But beyond Nancy Drew, such fictional role models are harder to find for the younger set. We scoured libraries and book stores trying to satiate my daughter’s appetite for good books with great girls in the lead. Her standards were high (still are), but we unearthed some awesome series!

Here are five amazing, fictional girls whose names are now embedded in our family conversations. We enthusiastically recommend these heroines to anyone who will listen.

  1. Ruby Redfort
20180305_173735 (2)
Ruby Redfort – yes, I took these at my local library (c) Carole Sparks

The Ruby Redfort series, by Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame), packs the punch of James Bond with the quick wit of Lisa Simpson. Unbeknownst to her parents, Ruby becomes a spy, implementing all the best spy gadgets (even the ones she wasn’t supposed to take from headquarters) and repeatedly saving the world while just managing to get her homework done on time. Outlandish enough to make you wonder if it could be true, Ruby’s adventures leave her readers feeling confident and wide-eyed.

If your middle-grade reader loves adventure, intrigue, outlandish contraptions, and problem-solving, introduce her to Ruby Redfort!

  1. Kiki Strike

Kirsten Miller has assembled a group of bad-girl geniuses to protect New York City from below. They’re called the Irregulars. No challenge is too big, no mystery too enigmatic, and no risk too dangerous for these amazing girls! Teamwork doesn’t come easy to this bunch, but they learn to combine their skills to solve mysteries they couldn’t conquer independently. (Why no photo? These books were checked out when we went to the library.)

If your child is ready for more sophisticated stories but not quite up to YA yet, introduce her to Kiki’s band of brilliant misfits who will inspire her own curiosity and courage.

  1. Sophie St. Pierre in Red Blazer Girls
20180305_173854 (2)
The Red Blazer Girls (c) Carole Sparks

Michael Beil draws on his experience as a math teacher in a private school to create three friends who attend a private school where, not surprisingly, the uniform includes a red blazer. They’re just trying to help a neighbor when they find themselves following lots of brainy clues and working out geometry puzzles to solve an old mystery. All the while, they’re also dealing with homework, crushes, and typical middle-school drama.

If you just know your young reader would like Nancy Drew (if only she could get past the now-archaic pacing and silly situations), pick up The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour and challenge her to solve the mystery before Sophie.

  1. Princess Annie in Wide Awake Princess

20180305_173811 (2)E.D. Baker has created an anti-princess—a heroine who counters every stereotype of a “good” princess. The younger sister of Sleeping Beauty, Annie is immune to magic and can’t imagine waiting on any prince to come and rescue her. Instead, she repeatedly rescues her big sister and the prince! These books offer a fun, modern twist on well-known fairy tales—one where quick thinking and courage count for more than physical appearance and charm (the feminine kind or the magic kind).

If your early middle-grade reader enjoys the fantastical elements of fairy tales but finds herself frustrated by the classic princess’ inability to help herself, hand her The Wide-Awake Princess.

  1. Emma Hawthorne in The Mother-Daughter Book Club
20180305_173632 (2)
(c) Carole Sparks

In this cute series, Heather Vogel Frederick throws four dissimilar sixth-grade girls together against their wills when their mothers decide to form a book club for them. They can’t imagine talking to each other at school, but when they share Little Women, they discover they may have more in common than they expected.

Each book in the series follows the girls through another year of school and another classic work of fiction (including Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë). Frederick integrates her love of classic literature with the standard problems of middle and high schoolers to create sweet friendships and many laughs.

If you would love for your child to read the classics but she’s not interested, let Emma and her friends whet your daughter’s appetite while they also show her that people who are different can learn to care about each other.

From international super-spy to fairy tale anti-princess, these #middlegrade heroines will knock your socks off and provide hours of reading pleasure for your own young hero or heroine. (click to tweet) #IntentionalParenting via @Carole_Sparks

Have a favorite middle-grade book series you would like to recommend? Love or hate one of the series listed above? “Do tell” in the comments below!

Your Child and the 5 Love Languages (guest post)

This week, I'm pleased to introduce you to Jann Martin. On her own blog, 
Jann recently did a series of posts on The 5 Love Languages for Children. I
asked her over here today to summarize all her work and study (in less than
1000 words--no small task). If you haven't read the book, this will be a 
good introduction. If you have, it's still a great reminder (one that I 
needed!). Find out more about Jann at the end of this post.
IP - 5 Love Languages book
The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell

It’s important to teach our children all of The Five Love Languages of Children. This will help them become more rounded adults and care for others around them. It may be difficult for them at first to learn how to reach out to others, but it’s very important that as they grow they learn more about how others feel and act. This will teach them not to be selfish and self-centered, but to care for and about others.

It will take time to figure out your child’s love language. When they are infants we use all of the languages with them. They are very self-centered and can’t tell us the best way to reach out to them. As they grow we will learn what responses work the best. Try to be aware of what words and actions work best in different situations.

Be honest with your children as you talk with them and reprimand them. Don’t, however, tell them what, how, and why you are saying and doing different things. This can lead to the child manipulating you to get what they want.

Describing the “Languages”

Physical touch – Touch in each stage of life is different. For infants and toddlers, it’s easy to give a lot of touch and loving cuddles. Both boys and girls need all of the love and comforting touches they can get.

12-26 friend hugs
showing some love through physical touch (c) Carole Sparks

When the children become school-age it’s important to send them off to school with hugs. This can give them a positive start to their day. There is so much new for them at school that they need that little extra reassurance before they head out for the day. The hug at the end of the day can be just as important, especially if they have had a challenging day.

Next, we come to the pre-teen and teen kids. This can be challenging. They want to break away, yet they still want their full support system to be there for them. Girls especially need reassurance and hugs from their dads to give them a healthy look at men as they grow older.

Words of affirmation – Encouraging our children with words of affirmation gives them the courage they need to grow up to be strong adults. What they learn with these types of lessons gives them the basis for treating others as they would like to be treated as well.

Quality time – We can turn any time with our children into quality time. Take advantage of a long ride. Ask a few questions or share something from your past. Your children will love to hear stories about how you met your husband or wife.

Plan quality time with each of your children. It could be a day alone with them. Go shopping, or to a movie, then their favorite restaurant for a meal. Another example could be reading together. If they can read, have them read their favorite book or a few chapters to you.

Gifts – For some children receiving gifts is very important. They look forward to their parents returning from vacations and business trips. They can’t wait to see what new thing they will receive. However, parents need to be mindful of making sure their child’s other love language needs are met.

We need to be careful not to use gifts as payments for chores or a bribe to stay busy so you can accomplish a task. These types of gifts make a child feel unloved and that receiving the gift is only if they do what is asked of them.

They also may want to make and give gifts to those around them. This can be family, friends, or teachers.

Acts of service – We want our children to grow up wanting to help others. If this is their love language, it’s easy for them to reach out to loved ones. They can do a chore, make a meal, or take them to a place where they can help others. We want to teach them to reach out to those in need around them without expecting something in return. Jesus showed this gift of love over and over throughout his ministry.

Discerning Your Child’s Primary “Language”

As your child grows, keep a mental record of how they express their love to you. Do they tell you they love you? Are they asking for attention, or how they did on a project? Then their love language would be Words of affirmation.

IP - Jesus w children
Don’t you know Jesus demonstrated all of the love languages? (image courtesy Jann Martin)

When they are relating to others and want to take something to friends, family, or teachers, they are showing the language of Gifts. It gives them pleasure to see others happy to receive something from them.

Is your child complaining that you are too busy? Is your time being split with another child or you have work to do around the house because you work away from home and are trying to get everything done? What and how often they are asking for or complaining about will help you see their love language may be Quality Time.

Is Physical touch something that is very important in your relationship with your child? They may enjoy lots of hugs, sitting close, or even being tickled. Any form of touch can be felt as an expression of love for them.

For some the Act of Service is very important. They are always looking for a way to help or do something for someone. They don’t want to be paid or recognized, the act of doing is reward enough for them.

Your child and the 5 Love Languages: how to connect with your child in the way that means the most to them. An #IntentionalParenting guest post from @JannWMartin. #5LoveLanguages (click to tweet)

I hope you learned something new to help you with Intentional Parenting. Which “language” is most challenging for you to demonstrate with your children? Have any fun thoughts or memories on how to show love to your child in the way they best understand? Leave Jann and me a comment below!


IP - Jann MartinJann W. Martin is a wife, mother of two girls, and Nina to four grandchildren. She is also an author, teacher, speaker and blogger. Her dream is to captivate the hearts of children, by writing stories that teach them of the Bible through the eyes of a child. Catch up with Jann on any of these platforms:

https://jannwmartin.com/  https://twitter.com/JannWMartin https://www.pinterest.com/jannwmartin/pins/  https://www.facebook.com/booksjann.christianchildren?ref=bookmarks          https://www.linkedin.com/nhome/?trk


6 Reasons I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids

The sky darkens and we begin to see ourselves reflected in the window. Three plates are empty but one—the youngest—is still at work, with his tiny bites and propensity to tell an entire story between each mouthful. I take a long drink of water then reach for the heavy book on a nearby shelf. The others around the table grow quiet. This is a sacred time, of sorts. This is reading time.

I have a fifteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old, both of whom read far above grade level. My husband, of course, can read anything he wants. Yet they all stay around the table while I voice the characters, pause for dramatic effect, and stop to ask questions. Continue reading “6 Reasons I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids”

For the Love of Libraries

It was my five-year-old’s first week of Kindergarten. We still went inside to pick him up at the end of the school day. Amidst all the chaos and scramble for unfamiliar backpacks, I absentmindedly asked, “So what did you do today?”

He stopped in his tracks and looked up at me, his normally huge eyes now enlarged to saucer-size. With both arms stiff at his sides for emphasis, he exclaimed, “They have this place. It’s called a lie-bu-rary and you can get books and you DON’T even HAVE to PAY!” He left his mouth hanging open at the end to express the level of his shock.

I laughed and squatted down beside him, backpack forgotten. My mouth said, “Isn’t it fantastic? What did you get?” but my heart said, “Yes, this is undoubtedly my child.”

12-17 turkeys at the library
We saw these wild turkeys just behind our library one day. The reflection of the books makes it look like they’re browsing. (c) Carole Sparks

Fast forward five years or so. My seventh-grader had a tough day at school, exacerbated by a post-pick-up trip to the grocery store. On the drive home, I didn’t say anything. I just pulled into the parking lot of our beautiful, stone-faced, fireplace-centered library that sets back in the woods. (Really, it’s more like going into a mountain lodge than a library!) Some girls prefer “retail therapy” but I knew my favorite bibliophile would get more satisfaction from this one stop than from a four-hour trip to the mall. We stayed as long as she wanted, “shopping” the aisles of the ever-growing YA section, whispering our thoughts on this title and that back-cover blurb. I put no limit on the number of books she could check out. And when we left, her shoulders were visibly more relaxed even though her arms were full.

I have my own fond childhood memories of a particular branch library (and the cones of custard that followed summer visits there), so I feel like a successful parent when I see I’ve instilled a love of libraries in my children as well. But even without these happy recollections, I sincerely love libraries!

In honor of National Library Week, I offer you…

Five Things I Love About Libraries

Free – There’s no cover at the door, no minimum purchase. You can enter as often as you like and stay as long as you want (or until they close, whichever comes first). The membership cards are free and never expire. Then, like my 5-year-old said, you don’t even have to pay for taking away the books. So no worries about staying under budget or “breaking the bank.” No expense means no excuse for not reading! (click to tweet)

Egalitarian – Anyone can get a library card, even Imogene Herdman, so anyone can check out books. Libraries don’t care if you are rich or poor, influential or inconsequential, charming or cautious. If you put a book on hold, you get it next, regardless of who else is in line. Your library card has the same limit as the rich kid’s down the block.

Forgiving – Even if you return a book late, the fees are miniscule. And if you talk too loudly? You might get a stern look or a “sshhhh,” but as long as you make an effort, the nice librarians will forgive you. One time, one of my children (I won’t say which one.) dropped a library book in the toilet—the TOILET!! (It was clean water.) We dried it out as best we could and confessed when we returned it. There was very little damage, and it was still readable, so they didn’t charge us for it.

10-23 library bookshelves (1)
our local library (c) Carole Sparks

Quiet – Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I like a place with no muzak, where people are at least making an effort to be quiet. I like that self-conscious feeling when my shoes tap the hardwood section in the middle. I like the fact that everyone’s thoughts are respected.

Discovery-Inducing – This is the absolute best thing! You go in search of one book only to find two or three other interesting books on the way. The fact that you search the shelves creates delightful opportunities for discovery.

Consider checking out (literally) these great books about libraries from your local library.

(Yes, I recognize the irony of using Amazon links when I’m talking about the library.)

For the younger set: The Library by Sarah Steward, illus. by David Small
For Middle Grade readers: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

When’s the last time you went to the library? What do you love about libraries in general or your branch in particular? Let’s celebrate National Library Week together!

For Valentine’s Day: 5 Best Marriage Books

Perhaps I’m just not romantic. I don’t really like little chocolate bites packaged in heart-shaped boxes, and cut flowers often make me sneeze. Also, to wax philosophical for a moment, romantic infatuation is like both these gifts: pleasant for a short while, but then withering or becoming a burden (as chocolate does on my thighs!). Okay, that last sentence confirms it; I am not a romantic person. So when I say that I would be thrilled to receive a book for Valentine’s Day, you understand part of the reason why.

This is a parenting blog, not a love and marriage blog, so why, you ask, am I talking about Valentine’s Day? As we’ve heard so many times, the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse. So in recognition of Valentine’s Day, I offer the five best books that I’ve read on marriage. There may be better books out there, but I haven’t read them…yet. This year, why not invest in the long-term health of your marriage in addition to (or rather than) spending your money and attention on things that last only a few days? No matter how good your marriage is now, bless your spouse with your desire to strengthen it; what could be more romantic than that? Read one of these books together, prayerfully heed its advice, and watch your marriage blossom like no cut flower ever will!

The stage-of-life recommendations are just for fun, or if you don’t know where to start. Don’t take them too seriously.

Newlyweds: For Women Only and For Men Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Jeff Feldhahn

“What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men” and “A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women”

These short books make great engagement or wedding gifts. They are easy to read, down-to-earth, and packed with truth. Based on the premise that there are many things we don’t know about the opposite gender, the Feldhahns straightforwardly shed light on all those dark areas. Sit beside your spouse as you both read silently. You will interrupt each other frequently with questions that start, “Do you really…?”

Near your first anniversary: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

“The Secret to Love that Lasts”

You’ve probably heard of this. Don’t let its popularity turn you off (as I tend to do with books). This book helps you remember love is not about what you get but about what you give. Sometimes, the actions your heart translates as love don’t mean the same to your spouse. Chapman helps you know how to show love to your spouse in the way that he or she best receives it. **Bonus: Love languages don’t just apply to spouses. This book helped me understand how to love and receive love involving other family members (particularly in-laws) as well! The 5 Love Languages for Children is also excellent.

After five years: Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs

“The Love She Most Desires; the Respect He Desperately Needs”

I suggest this later in marriage mostly because it’s a longer book, but also, it digs more deeply into our heart needs as men and women. This book will mean more to you after you’ve been to that point when you just don’t know what’s missing , when you’re trying hard to honor God but feeling frustrated in your marriage. It helps to read Eggerichs’ book alongside Bible passages about marriage and let the Lord convict you where you need it, based on your own positive and negative experiences in your marriage. I recommend it because, like with 5 Love Languages, we often assume that our spouses’ needs are similar to ours when, in actuality, they are very different.

Ten years and beyond: The Meaning of Marriage – Timothy & Kathy Keller

“Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God”

We picked up this book because of our respect for Tim Keller. I should have known his wife would be equally delightful…and deep. Through personal stories and extensive Biblical application, the Kellers boldly declare that, in order to have a fulfilling marriage, you have to take self out of the equation. At its best moments, this book feels like a long conversation with an older, more experienced couple. You’ll benefit from this one the most when you’ve been married long enough to have some stories of your own to lay beside the Kellers’ stories. If you’re in professional ministry (pastor, etc.), this one should be at the top of your list!

Ten years and beyond: Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

“What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?”

This and The Meaning of Marriage approach the same summit from different routes: that God’s plan for marriage was never about personal satisfaction or happiness. Besides serving as a vehicle for His glory, life with a spouse refines you unlike any other relationship. This book is profound. If you’re willing to internalize Thomas’ wisdom, you’ll find every aspect of your life changed—even the ones you didn’t think were related to marriage.

If you can’t scratch out the time to read a whole book, try one of these excellent blog posts to strengthen your marriage:

What book or blog post would you add to the list? I have You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan on my TBR. Let everyone know in the comments below.


Best Books for Intentional Parenting, plus some good fiction

An in-the-car conversation with my 12-year-old, book-loving daughter…

She: What is a bookkeeper?

Me: It’s someone who takes care of the finances for a company.

She: (disappointed) Oh.

Me: Why?

She: I thought it would be a viable career option. You know, someone who keeps books.

Me: I think the word you’re looking for is ‘librarian.’

As you can see, we really love books at our house. So for this end-of-the-year post, I offer you three of the best books for intentional parenting. Put any or all of them on your TBR (to be read) list for 2016.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? Want to add or change anything? Have any suggestions for my 2016 TBR? Let me know in the comments below!

Three Great Books on Parenting

On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo and Dr. Robert Bucknam

Some potential and new parents really resist the principles presented in this book, but I am so thankful that people in my church recommended it to me before my first child was born. While we didn’t strictly adhere to every element (especially not with our second child), we found that following Ezzo’s suggested practices gave us peace of mind and helped us establish a routine that was family-centered, not child-centered. Baby Wise II (also very helpful) has a great chapter on potty-training. Here’s what I’ve observed: There are non-Baby Wise children who are pleasant and well-behaved, but I’ve never met a Baby Wise child who wasn’t pleasant and well-behaved. I even think our kids were healthier because of their ability to sleep and follow routines.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

This has been by primary parenting resource for more than twelve years now. I’ve probably read it at least five times and referenced it many more. Here’s the main point: The condition of a child’s heart (that is, his/her relationship with God) is far more important than his or her behavior. It’s about parenting with a bigger purpose in mind—intentional parenting (applying my phrase to Tripp’s work). I wish this were required reading for Christ-follower parents around the world.

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp

I really wanted to finish this one before I posted the list, but I haven’t yet. We’re about to have a teenager in our home, and it felt like time to address that age group more specifically. Two factors drew me to this book: the subtitle, which is “A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens” and the author’s name. Turns out that Tedd (of Shepherding… above) and Paul are brothers. I’m about one-third through, taking my time to absorb the teaching. I already know, however, that it needs be on this list. Thankfully, it looks like we’re headed in the right direction; read my posts, Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me and Where My Kids At? to see what direction that is.

Next to read: Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls by Gary L. Thomas. If this book is as good as his Sacred Marriage, it will definitely be on my “Best Books” list next year!

5 Best Newbery Award Books (that I’ve read)

In no particular order…

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

5 Children’s/YA books that should have won Newbery Awards (in our opinion)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

You can read my reviews of most of these and the Newbery winners *here*. Also, sorry I didn’t put Amazon links for all these books. We’re still in holiday mode here!

5…3…1 Recommended Reading

Instead of a guest post this month, I offer you some recommended reading beyond this Intentional Parenting blog: 5 things to pray, 3 steps to child-rearing, and 1 book (with a 1-word title). Enjoy…and let me know what you think of these readings using the comments section below!

Praying Higher Things for Your Children by Dr. Walker Moore

“There are two ways to pray for children. The first is to pray them through things like tattoos, skydiving and prom night, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also a higher way to pray for them, and that is to pray for their lives to be aligned with His holy Word.”

I recently discovered Weave, a website/blog devoted to help families take their place in God’s global mission. You’ll find many good posts there. One of their contributors, Dr. Moore, has a great sense of humor. (I’m a sucker for a good post that makes me laugh…or cry.) In this post, he offers five Scripture-based suggestions for praying for our children. I think I’m going to print them out and hang them on my mirror!

3 Steps to Raising Disciples by Matt Blackwell

“Mom and dad, you are the leaders in your home and as such you are uniquely positioned to keep your eyes fixed on God and your finger on the pulse of the family. The kids that God has entrusted to you are your primary disciples. And as their mom and dad you have the privilege, joy and responsibility to lead them.”

Verge Network’s posts on family/parenting are always insightful. I’ve reposted from them before. In this article, Blackwell lays out a simple plan for discipleship-based parenting. It’s very intentional but not at all intimidating. I encourage you to give it some thought and examine where you may need to make adjustments in your home too.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.”

Do you have a child who clams up immediately after school but then interrupts your dinner preparations with multiple stories from the same day at school? Chances are, that child is an introvert. Quiet is not necessarily a parenting book, but parenting applications abound throughout it. Cain does devote the final chapter to parenting; it’s entitled “On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them.” This book is worth a trip to the library just for that chapter! Especially if you are an extrovert raising an introvert (or two), please take time to read this book. It will equip you to support your child in the way that’s most appropriate for him or her. Even if you’re not a big reader, Cain’s friendly style and excellent organization make this one easy. Also check out the Quiet Revolution parenting website.

ABCs and the Books of the Bible

ESV and NIV study Bibles (c) Carole Sparks
ESV and NIV study Bibles                                                                        (c) Carole Sparks

A B C D E F G…

My children attended primary school overseas. Things were different. I remember pointing at the letter ‘b’ and asking my son, “What’s this letter?”

He proudly replied, “That’s buh.”

“No,” I corrected, “That’s bee.”

There was a slight argument, but he was five years old, so I won…at least in the moment.

He also didn’t learn the letters in alphabetical order. He learned them in order of difficulty to write: straight-lined letters first, curvy letters last. His handwritten ‘O’ is still sad.

I was frustrated, but I chalked it up to cultural differences. But now, as much as it pains me to admit it, his teachers were on to something. Never in my adult life has anyone asked me to identify a letter by its name. Every day—even as I type this right now—I use the sounds the letters represent to read and write. As for order, the only benefit to knowing alphabetical order, besides singing the ABC song, involves looking things up in a dictionary. I’m a whiz at that, let me tell you! My son? Not so much, but he’s improving. Dictionaries are going the way of the abacus, unfortunately: obsolete, although some of us refuse to admit it. For that reason, I’m not too worried about this skill either.

My son reads incredibly well, so I really can’t be critical of his primary school teachers. He simply learned the content of the letters without memorizing their titles first.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers…

In teaching our children about the Bible, one of the most straightforward tasks involves teaching them the list of books contained within the Bible. I’ve even heard songs to help with this—no small task given some of the difficult names in both the Old and New Testaments. (“Chronicles” rhymes with what? Bionicles? They aren’t in the Bible.) While there’s nothing wrong with it, I wonder if this in-order skill serves even less purpose than letters in alphabetical order. It might help our children become excellent Bible Drill participants (Do they even have that anymore?), but how does it help them become stronger Christ-followers?

Our children need to learn the content of the books in the Bible along with the titles of the books. This is easy with books like Esther, but what about Joel? Esther is about a woman named Esther, but she didn’t write it. Joel is written by a guy named Joel, but it’s not actually about him. Confusing! And then there are books like Ecclesiastes, Zephaniah, and Leviticus. Their titles give us no clue as to their content.

I wouldn’t make this critique without also suggesting a solution. So for the next several weeks, come back for a series of posts listing the books of the Bible with some content and context clues. (Look for the first one later today.) Like the times tables, there’s no other way to learn these except to memorize them, but also like the times tables, these facts will be useful forever! Use them in weekly devotions, homeschooling, or however you want. Use as much or as little of the information as you find helpful. At our house, we put each title on an index card with extra information on the back and hung them on the wall by the breakfast table, one per day. Then we quizzed the kids in different ways.

Once all the books of the Bible have been listed and posted, I’ll move everything to a separate page on this blog so you can access it easily.

Hope it helps.

Why it’s more important to teach our kids the content in the #booksoftheBible rather than just the names of the books. Via @Carole_Sparks #IntentionalParenting (click to tweet)

Walk Thru the Bible has some great resources similar to this, but with pictures! What other resources have you seen? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

what to read, what to read

My children love to read.  They devour books, and both of them read well above their grade level, with large vocabularies and excellent comprehension skills.  I’m not bragging; I’ve met many children in this same situation.  The temptation with children like this is to let them read any book they are willing to crack open.  After all, reading is good for them, right?  Not always.

In watching my children grow, I have discovered that there are three aspects to reading ability.  The first is functional:  vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and things like that.  Can they convert letters into words and words into sentences?  The second is mental:  following a plot, keeping up with multiple characters, understanding imagery or foreshadowing and other subtleties.  The first time my daughter read The Secret Garden, she could read all the words, but she couldn’t really follow the story.  Same thing happened with a Nancy Drew book.  Now, of course, she loves both of those because her mental reading skills have increased.

The third aspect of reading is more social or emotional.  And more difficult to gauge.  It involves understanding the situation, social context, or implications of the story.  Early-reading books revolve around loosing a toy or getting your feelings hurt by a friend.  More advanced reading exposes the reader to some of the uglier things in the world:  injustice, abuse, prejudice, witchcraft, death.  Or sometimes just more mature topics:  relationships, sex, struggles with money, eating disorders, mental illness.  Even books like The Diary of Anne Frank require a certain level of social and/or historical understanding.

We do a fairly good job of measuring the first aspect of reading.  It’s easy to see if our children have the functional ability to read a book.  And in a brief conversation, we can know if they have achieved the mental ability to understand that book.  The challenge arises in measuring their social/emotional level for reading the same book.  Just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.  Like Paul said,  “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive (1 Cor 10:23 totally out of context, but it’s the same idea).  If we won’t let them watch ‘R’-rated movies, if we protect them from explicit song lyrics, if we instruct them to think on whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, etc. (Phil 4:8), why do we put overly-mature books in their hands without a second thought?

As parents, it’s our job to guard our children’s hearts.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov 4:23).  There’s an incredible scene in The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her father are on a train, and she asks her father about sex.  Instead of answering, he asks Corrie to pick up the heavy suitcase sitting between them.  She can’t.  He tells her that some subjects are like that suitcase:  too heavy for her right now, but she will grow.  She must trust him that, when she is able to “carry” the information about sex, he will give it to her.

It’s not about sheltering our children from the world.  It’s about protecting them against things their hearts aren’t ready to manage just yet.  For a long time, we didn’t let our first-born read the Harry Potter series.  (Not judging here.  I read and loved every one of them; we just didn’t think she was ready.)  When all her friends read them, we talked about guarding her heart and thinking about things that honor God.  I asked her to trust me to know when she was ready.  I told her the story about Corrie Ten Boom and her father.

For now, there are SO many excellent, challenging books for my tween-ager.  Sure, she reads some “fluff” (she especially likes girl secret agents like Ruby Redfort), but we’re also working on the Newberry Award Winner list.  Have you read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch or The Witch of Blackbird Pond?  Do you remember Caddie Woodlawn or A Wrinkle in Time?  I’d forgotten; these are fantastic books!  In general, the Newberry winners are not at all childish (a complaint we sometimes hear from our double-digit-aged kids), but they handle mature topics in a way that’s appropriate for younger readers (think The Scarlet Letter without adultery for The Witch of Blackbird Pond).  They generate fantastic discussion topics; they help us engage with the world, and they supply a big dose of American history without any grimaces or complaints.

Also, it’s important to read questionable books before or at least alongside our kids.  This includes “Christian” books (e.g. Ted Dekker).  If I’ve already read the book, my child knows she can talk with me about anything she doesn’t understand.  I can even broach topics or scenes that I think need more light shed on them.  Let’s not allow literature to parent our children.  That’s our job.

If you were to finish all of the Newberry winners and honor books (which date back to the 1920s, so it should take awhile!), you can start on the AP English reading list.  This list, of course, is far more mature, but by the time they get to it, they should be ready.  I plan to read these books alongside my child too, so we can filter everything through our faith as she learns to knowledgeably engage the world around her.

By the way, my daughter is going to read Harry Potter this summer.  She can handle it now.  We’ll talk about it as she goes, and I know she’ll enjoy every minute!