1. Catching Contentment – Liz Carter
Not a quick fix or cheap answers for shiny happy people, Carter invites us into a compelling journey of fiercely pursuing God, even when we are wearied by disappointment and loss. As someone who also struggles with chronic illness, I found empathy, hope and spiritual sustenance.
Biblically anchored, persuasively written theology, Catching Contentment is a must-read for any Christian who wrestles with a nagging desire for something more.
2. Through Martha’s Eyes – Corinne Brixton
3. Vintage Saints and Sinners – Karen Wright Marsh
4. 3-minute Devotions with Charles Spurgeon (Barbour Books)
5. Eye Can Write – Jonathan Bryan
I absolutely loved this memoir as a unique and important book, and it has really stuck with me.
You may already have heard of twelve-year-old Jonathan Bryan, as the ‘”locked-in” boy who learned to write with his eyes’, as he’s been featured on national TV and press as a remarkable writer, poet and campaigner.
Born with severe cerebral palsy, incapable of controlling his movements, it was assumed that Jonathan had very little brain activity. However, his mother, Chantal, always believed that he was more alert than the doctors told her, and she persevered with teaching him the alphabet and basic words until they hit upon a system where he could learn to ‘write’ using an alphabet board and eye movements.
What she discovered was astonishing: a clever, thoughtful, funny boy who was also a firm Christian, having encountered Jesus in visions. Jonathan’s memoir was ‘dictated’ by him and transcribed by his mother in a painfully slow process, letter by letter.
The world now has access to the inside of Jonathan’s mind, and we are the better for it.
The first part of the book is written from his mother’s perspective, telling the story of his traumatic birth after a car accident, her battle with medics and schools to allow him access to learning. The remainder is Jonathan’s own reflections of his life. Jonathan’s writing has its own mature voice, distinct from his mother’s, with an amazing range of vocabulary, consistent with those who have learnt to read before speaking. His poetry is remarkable and deeply moved me.
Highly intelligent and with a poet’s soul, Jonathan’s perspective on life and faith is unique and beautiful.
I devoured the book and it’s one of my favourites from last year – I recommend it to everyone as a unique and important story, beautifully written. Buy it immediately.
6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo
1. The Magician’s Nephew – CS Lewis. I had forgotten about the magic rings that lead to the other worlds. This was my favourite CS Lewis as a kid, and this time it was a joy to read how Aslan sang the world into being. (Age 8-10, reading age c. 10)
2. A Horse and His Boy – C S Lewis. This is, for the most part, a bit rambling and involves a long journey, but there were some real spiritual jewels in there that hit me in the gut. (Age 8-10, reading age c. 10).
3. The Explorer – Katherine Rundell. Really outstanding book, and perfect for kids who like Bear Grylls and surviving. Beware: swear words. Suitable from age 8/9 but also recommended for younger teens. I read it as an adult and it was beautifully written with real meaning, so this is a classic. (Age 9-11 and upwards).
Ramona books by Beverly Cleary #1-4 – If you’ve never read the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, no matter what age you are, you should treat yourself immediately. Starting with pre-kindergarten and following through each year of her life, this series is about an ordinary kid, in an ordinary family, in an ordinary town in America – and it’s extraordinarily good. Kids will love this series – she writes through a child’s viewpoint perfectly, bringing drama and comedy out of the everyday – and if you yourself are after a bit of comfort-reading, you can’t go wrong with these. Age 6-10. (Reading age is c. age 8).
4. Beezus and Ramona – This wonderful series of sibling rivalry starts with the elder sister’s perspective. Highlights include Ramona calling her own party and the apples in the cellar.
5. Ramona the Pest – Ramona starts kindergarten but finds herself a dropout when she gives in to the temptation to ping Susan’s ginger curls, just to see them go ‘boing’.
6. Ramona the Brave – About as perfect a book as you can get. When I’m teaching writing, I use the story of the paper owls as an illustration of how every day things can become extraordinary when you draw out the conflict: Beverly Cleary is one of those master writers where you don’t even notice how good a writer she is because you’re enveloped by the story.
7. Ramona and her Father – Slightly sadder themes here as her father becomes unemployed and her family feels different – but the happy and comic ending makes the tension worthwhile. Amusing scenes as Ramona persists in trying to get her Dad to stop smoking, and the parents row about who makes the best pancakes.
8. Five children and It – E Nesbit. I’d never read this and assumed it was about a cute fairy that kids made friends with. Actually, it’s about a grumpy sand-fairy who grants one wish to the children per day, but only until sunset. It ends up as a sort of feel-good morality tale that shows us that we should be careful what we wish for, and there’s plenty to be thankful for already. The five children feel like fully formed characters, with plenty of funny moments. NB mention of overcoming prejudice about gypsy travellers, and also they’re attacked by fearsome ‘Red Indians’. Age 7-12 (complex language but unthreatening themes).
9. Book of Dragons – Cressida Cowell. This is only really relevant to those who have loved the How to Train Your Dragon series, as it’s a fan book full of ‘top trumps’ descriptions of dragons and beautiful illustrations. My boy absolutely loves it. Age 6-11.
10. Second Form of Malory Towers – Enid Blyton. Someone is stealing money – but it’s not who you expect. Classic Enid Blyton. Age 7-9.
11. Wilf the Mighty Worrier series – Georgia Pritchett. These are really funny illustrated books about a boy who is anxious about many things but has to save the world from a (comically) evil but stupid man next door. Great, award-winning easy read for helping anxious children laugh again – plus several jokes about pants and farts. Age 5-8
12. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat – Chris Riddell. These are funny, award-winning detective books that provide a halfway house to chapter books because they are full of annotated illustrations. Age 6-8.
13. Lord of the Rings – J R R Tolkien. I last read this series about 18 years ago, pre-illness, and all I could remember was the film version. I had forgotten just how good it was. Tolkien knows how people think and feel and writes so well about the psychology of power. I still struggle with the second book and the lengthy battles, but there’s nothing in literature quite so terrifying as Aragog. The Grey Havens chapters at the end made me sob in a way I didn’t before. Here was a man who understood suffering. If you’ve not read this in a while, it pays to re-read. The boy wolfed it down by himself and declared it the best trilogy in the world, and he may well be right. Age 9 upwards (reading age of c. 10-12, complex themes and language).
14. Harry Potter Book 1 – J K Rowling. I had the joy of introducing my boy to Harry Potter. The kids were a bit ruder to each other than I had remembered (after all, this is aimed at 11-year-olds onwards) and some scenes are darker than I remembered (Voldemort drinking unicorn’s blood), but this is still a wonderful and special story. For anyone aged 11 and under, do make sure you read the HP books beforehand; they get pretty dark and scary, especially from Book 4. NB I know some Christians are wary of Harry Potter because of mentions of witches and dark magic: but having read the books I am convinced that magic is used as a metaphor for power and Harry Potter actually has Christian themes and messages.
Phew! Coming soon – a belated ‘Best Books of 2018’ – just so you know. 🙂
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