October 2010

Dorothy Sayers

Friend of C.S. Lewis, original Inkling, writer of mysteries.

Dorothy Sayers' Wisdom

"None of us feels the true love of God till we realize how wicked we are. But you can't teach people that - they have to learn by experience."

One way we can let our children experience their own wickedness is by exposing them to books with characters who must wrestle with their own sinfulness-- especially those who are redeemed and purified through their struggle- as they identify with the characters they will realize their own depravity.

"I always have a quotation for everything - it saves original thinking." 'Nuf said. :)

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Blinded by Custom

"The trouble with the people in this mountain is that they are all blinded by custom. They only see what they're used to seeing, so they believe that what they're used to seeing is all that is worth seeing. They need to be jolted to a new view; then they would realize that Tatsinda is beautiful in a new way." (Tanda-nan, chapter 2)

Book: 

Tatrajanni

...and since the Tatrajanni are always beautiful, the only change is that there are many sorts of beauty in the kingdom instead of only one. So for many, many years, more years than I can name or number, the Tatrajanni have lived in peace and usefulness. There is no word in the Tatran language that means boredom. There is no word that means war. There is a word that means hate, but no one uses it except the children, and they use it only in their games. (Chapter 7)

Book: 

Strange or Normal

It would take a year to describe all the strangeness of the mountain. Things that seemed perfectly natural and ordinary to the Tatrajanni would, from our point of view, be considered very unusual if not almost unbelievable. (Chapter 1)

Book: 

Tatsinda

In a land of ice-white-haired, blue-eyed people, Tatsinda stands out, with her golden locks and deep brown eyes. She is a kind girl, an excellent weaver, and very perceptive. She wins the affections of the Wise Woman, Tanda-nan, who assures her adoptive mother that Tatsinda is beautiful in her own way. Her difference leads her to be captured by a giant from across the mountain, Johrgong the terrible Gadblang, come to their land by the counsel of a wicked snowy owl, Skoodoon. Tatsinda's kindness and industry had won her friends, among them the prince Tackatan. He and Tatsinda form a plan to defeat the giant and free her in the process. They marry, and in the course of time their people come to love many types of beauty.

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The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

Four siblings- Peter, Susan, Edmund & Lucy- enter the fantastical world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe in the home of the Professor. Lucy, the youngest, enters first, and makes friends with a faun (Mr. Tumnus) under a solitary iron lamp-post in a snowy forest. She finds that Narnia is under the control of the White Witch, who has made it "always winter and never Christmas." Her brother Edmund secretly follows her through the wardrobe a few days later, meeting the White Witch herself, and falls under her spell through enchanted Turkish Delight. Finally, one fateful day, all four children hide in the wardrobe and find themselves in Narnia. Edmund's deceit is revealed, and in his anger he runs away to the White Witch. Meanwhile, the children take refuge with Mr. & Mrs. Beaver, who explain that the true King of Narnia is Aslan, the Great Lion, Son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, and that his coming will end the White Witch's reign and her life. The children are to be a part of this, for so runs an ancient prophecy. Peter, Susan and Lucy reach Aslan, while Edmund finds himself imprisoned by the evil Witch in whom he had trusted. Aslan promises to help Edmund, and this he does, through one of the most beautiful Gospel analogies in all of literature. (read more!)

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The Chronicles of Narnia

The original allegorical Christian children's fantasy. My "gateway books" of choice to introduce young minds into the richness of fantasy and allegory; faith and imagination. Published in the 1950s.

C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis, friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the original Inklings. Great apologist and writer of allegorical children's fiction.

Books to Strengthen Resolve and Inspire Integrity

While I love fantasy, I didn't truly delve into it until well into high school. My Dad had whet my appetite with The Hobbit and stories from The Lord of the Rings, and we read Lawhead's Dragon King trilogy together as a bedtime story when I was 8 or so... but as we lived in France, far from libraries of English-speaking books, I read in French and what we had around the house (and what I got for Christmas!). The French aren't known for their fantasy or sci-fi (with the notable exception of Jules Verne). My favorite genre was historical fiction; my bread-and-butter and dearest joy. Sure, I loved mysteries, but they never impacted me like history did. I was forever changed by reading "La Jeunesse d'Une Petite Reine" (the youth of a little queen), a history of Mary, Queen of Scots-- it was the first book to make me cry, and birthed in me a lifelong love for the monarchies and family trees of Europe.

Books to Stir the Imagination

Originally published 4/6/09, updated 4/15/2011:

For any parents or doting uncles out there, here is a list of books I've personally read and highly recommend. These will draw in the young mind and foster wholesome imagination, creative thinking, as well as moral fibre. I've got several young friends & cousins who have served as my "test audience" over the years, too. All but one of them are BOYS, the oldest of whom is now a teenager. SO if they like it, you know it's good! I hope to upload full reviews of all of these relatively quickly. If there are books you think I've left off, please comment or email me!

Favorite Picture Books

A love for books starts early; when little eyes see pages turning in another's hands and watch eyes scan across little black dots. Literary love is kindled in a parent's lap, as pictures appear and exciting words are spoken clearly in a small, eager ear.

It's so fun for me to watch my one-year-old daughter pick up her books, and "read" them, with cadenced, expressive jabberings, or at times with silent changes of expression, as if she really is thinking about what is happening in the pictures. I love watching her "read" books I've read to her repeatedly, and hear her say the few words she knows at the appropriate spots, or make the noises I always do at a particular picture (a munching sound at a picture of a frog catching a fly, for instance).

A friend recently asked me for a list of fun books for little kids, and here is what I came up with (in no particular order):

G. K. Chesterton on Fantasy & Fiction

"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

"People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are."

"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity."
— G.K. Chesterton

Love this guy. If you enjoy C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, check out this lesser-read Inkling. Try The Wisdom of Father Brown or the more heady The Man Who Was Thursday.

Sally Lloyd-Jones

Author of The Jesus Storybook Bible. NOT related to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. :)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Bottom line? This is an odd-numbered HP book, meaning it is intensely psychological. We are all up in Harry's angst, identity crises, and confusion. Alchemically speaking, this book represents the "black" (nigriedo) stage, which is all about breaking the character down to prepare it for purification from of all impurities to create a pure and beautiful Gold in the end. This book is full of Harry being stripped of every part of his identity, with everything that he holds dear being taken from him in some measure: his identity as a wizard, as a Quiddich-player, as a part of the Weasley family, as "just like his father," as an honest and sane person (the newspaper reports that he is attention-seeking and slightly deranged), future career goals, and even as a hero are all questioned.

Series: 
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Harry Potter

The Harry Potter books alternate in focus. The odd-numbered books are more psychologically (inward) focused, with lots of character growth in them. The even-numbered books are more plot-focused, with chunks of action, and many pieces of Rowling's fascinatingly layered plot coming into play.

The Burning Bridge

The second book in the series follows hot on the heels of the first book, time-wise. While I still find the dialogue & humor a bit forced, and the movement of the plot to be less-than-smooth, the characters are engaging enough to make me want to read the next book. I am enjoying the relationship of Horace & Will progress from competitors who do not get along to trusted allies and best friends.

Students familiar with Roman history will delight to recognize the historical Horatius Cocles, who, along with two of his officers, defended a bridge against the Etruscans by destroying it behind himself. Horace, Will and Evanlyn, anyone?

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The Ranger's Apprentice

Another children's series introduced to me by my sister Nicole.

Set in a mythical, feudal land populated by humans (with a few fantastical creatures), this series follows an orphan Will as he is apprenticed to a Ranger... a mysterious, somewhat frightening type of person. Also keep in touch with his fellow orphans and friends as they are apprenticed to Diplomats, Cooks, Battlemasters (knights), and come in contact with varied folk in many ranks & places in society (barons, peasants, lords, merchants, inn-keepers, etc.).

John Flanagan

Author of The Rangers Apprentice Series.

The Battle of the Labyrinth

Entertaining, especially would be great for students learning about the Greek myths. This book has an absolutely hilarious (and insightful!!) chapter in which Percy & his friends are interrogated by a thoroughly modernized Sphynx... yes, it is a wonderful satire on the standardized method of testing.

Cautions? As with this whole series, the parents of the protagonists are immoral; every child (except Athena's children) are conceived outside of wedlock, often as a result of broken promises, and are raised in broken homes. Makes for a nebulous moral backdrop. BUT this is an accurate representation of the old myths.

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Percy Jackson & the Olympians

Introduced to me by my sister Nicole, through a gift of the first 3 for Ryan's 3^3rd (27th) birthday. I borrowed the last 2 of the 5 from a family in our church and really liked them. Great nursing books =D...

Entertaining, action-packed (at times too much so), appropriate for middle-school-aged kids. Humorous, even venturing into satire at times! Great for learning about the Greek myths--would be an excellent companion to a Classical education, as a class read-aloud or companion assignments.

One thing I didn't like is the fact that most of the kids are from broken homes, but that goes with the territory of Olympic gods and their forays with mortals.

3 1/2 stars overall for plot, characters/setting, originality, mediocre writing at times, and ambiguous morals (as mentioned above).

Rick Riordan

Author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Kane Chronicles and the newest The Heroes of Olympus series.

In Defense of Magic

Well, I've finally had enough "pushes" to actually do this, something I've contemplated for the past ... goodness... a long time. :) Here I am going to walk all who care to read through a defense of Harry Potter, and of fantasy literature in general. Here goes! Why do I care so much? Because I am passionate about two things: 1) leaving people's consciences free where Christ has not bound them, and 2) encouraging strong imagination in all people everywhere. There's a third reason, too. I love old stories, the myths, legends, histories so embellished they leave us wondering what actually happened, and those who so vehemently oppose Harry Potter logically have to throw those out, too. The story-teller in me just cringes at the thought of that happening.

Related books: 

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About Mama Szrama

I'm a wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, and always always an avid reader. I love stories in any form. I delight in words. Perhaps in another time I would have been a bard. Since childhood, I have been caught up in the Great Story of how a Great Prince planned an unbelievable Rescue Mission to save His One True Love, and to make that wretched, disgusting girl worthy of the crown He bought for her. Yes, I am talking about Christianity-- the Gospel; the Story of the Scriptures. This story runs deep in every human soul. Whenever we hear echoes of it-- and every good story has echoes of it-- they "ring true/ringing all the bells inside of you." That is why every child (and any person with a decent personality and modicum of humor) loves to hear a good story. I think it's why we struggle so much with gossip-- the stories are just too good to not repeat!