Top ten books for girls

I’ve spent a good few summers with my head in a book and thought I’d share some of my best suggestions for holiday reading on the blog.

I’m starting with the type of children’s fiction that isn’t just for children. You may want to read this to your girls or together as a family at the end of the day. You could save it for a long car journey to a vacation destination or you may just want to hog in for yourself, curled up in the garden swing at the end of a long day with a glass of wine, until the bats come out and the first stars appear in the sky.

So many of us book lovers fell in love with reading as a child and retain a special place on our shelves for the the books that made readers of us. My old paperback copies are now falling apart and slowly I’m replacing them with beautiful new hardback copies or hunted down vintage editions. These are books I can return at any time to be transported, by a few familiar paragraphs, to that happy place of comfort inside a much loved tale.

Think back to a happy reading memory from childhood: a visit to the library, persuading your mum to let you order a book from the Puffin Book Club at school, an inspirational teacher who read at the end of every school day until the bell went, the close of day prayer was said and the chairs were put up on the table. These are the books we loved then, we have shared them with our children and as C. S. Lewis said, “I can’t imagine someone really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”

My top ten recommendations for girls are:

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert plan to adopt a quiet, hard working boy to help them on the farm but instead they are sent a garrulous red headed scrap of a girl who finds herself in all kinds of scrapes despite Marilla’s conscientious efforts to raise her right. Anne eventually wins the hearts of the Avonlea community of Prince Edward Island and she has been winning the hearts of readers ever since. This is with out a doubt my absolute favourite children’s novel.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods is the first in a series of American pioneers stories. Laura and her family are leaving their relatives behind in Wisconsin and travelling west. I have wonderful memories of reading this book and learning about a homesteading life on the American frontier that was so different form my own childhood experiences. My favourite scene in this Little House book is the sugaring party where the maple sap is collected and boiled down to make syrup and the occasion celebrated with a dance.

Noel Streatfield, Ballet Shoes

Pauline longs to be an actress, Petrova loves cars and Posy just wants to dance. The girls who were orphaned as babies are all the wards of the mysterious Great Uncle Matthew who they have never met. The are cared for by Great Uncle Matthew’s nice Sylvia and struggle to make ends meet. Posy wins a scholarship to a dance school in Moscow and Pauline is chosen to star in a Hollywood film, but what will become of Pauline? This is much more than just another stories of the stage book for girls.

Mary Norton, The Borrowers

In the miniature world behind the skirting boards, Pod, Homily and their daughter Ariety must continually fight to survive, ‘borrowing’ what they need from the people upstairs.Initially Homily will no allow her adventurous daughter Ariety to go out borrowing with her dad. When she is persuaded to give in Ariety befriends a human boy and the story really begins. Great story full of charming detail of tiny worlds and how they can be made form things we find around the house.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Set in the American civil war, Little Women traces the growing up years of the March sisters from girlhood through to their early married years. If this was all the book amounted to it would be unremarkable as a girl’s novel but Alcott creates fascinating characters and expertly traces their personal growth through the everyday tragedies and achievements of life.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Who can resist a story set in a rambling house with a mystery to hide? The orphaned Mary Lennox is an unwanted visitor in her uncle’s sad and neglected house. She spends her time with little to do but wander the gardens and the moors until she discover that the house hides a locked away child.

E. Nesbit, Five Children and It

Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane lived a charmed Edwardian childhood free to play and pursue adventures largely uninterrupted by interfering adults. This is the story of how they find a sand fairy in a gravel pit and the adventures they have together.

Johanna Spyri, Heidi

Everyone feels sorry for Heidi when she is sent to live in the mountains with her  reclusive grandfather. But Heidi loves mountain life and her grandfather grow to love her company and finds out that he isn’t as bad as people suppose. When Heidi is sent to be a companion to an invalid child in the city grandfather wonders how he will manage without her.

Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna

Orphaned Pollyanna does not appear to have much to be happy about when she is sent to live at the home of her austere Aunt Polly. She is however unrelentingly cheerful and teaches the ‘glad game’ to a variety of unlikely miserable people she meets in her new home. Very soon this glum community have learnt to find something to be cheerful about in any situation. But when Pollyanna suffers a terrible accident she wonders if she can ever be glad again.

E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Set on an idyllic storybook farm, this is a heroically sad and compassionate tale of one friend’s sacrifice for another. Wilbur is destined to meet the fate of all farm pigs until his friend Charlotte, a spider, saves the day. By spinning in her web the mysterious words, “Some Pig’ she convinces the farm community that Wilbur, her friend, is worth saving. The exquisitely drawn characters in this tale endow what is basically a talking animal story with surprising depths of care.

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 12.59.24

Next week I will be recommending some reads that are more suitable for boys.

Do you like to read and re-read favourite books? Do you return to the classics of childhood for your own pleasure? What childhood favourites would you recommend to readers?

Happy Birthday Lucy

Lucy

I’m re-publishing an old post today.

I wrote it to celebrate Lucy’s birthday two years ago and it stands out as an important piece of writing for me because depression stole so many precious baby memories. As I re-read it I know there is more of the story to tell but I’m still trying to find the words.

This was very clear to me a few weeks ago when I went back to Lancaster and bumped into and old friend in the orchard. She’d hardly realised who I was before I was sobbing in her arms at the sheer weight of the memories (she had beens so consistently kind to me back then).

But I’ll leave that particular story for another day … here is my little memoir of the day sweet Lucy was born.

photo

We had a friend, an acquaintance really. I can’t remember her name or her nationality, how I knew her, or if I even knew her at all. But Emily used to say she was built like an Amazonian Princess and she tilled the soil in the allotment next ours.

She had a majestic coach build Silver Cross pram and two small boys. In all weathers her baby sat, propped up in the pram wearing a hand knitted hat and a grubby vest, her toddler filled his bucket with stones, whilst she hoed and planted and tended her lettuces and raspberry canes. It is true to say I wished I was more like her and I wished my children were more like hers: propped in the pram watching, occupied with pebbles in a pail. I told Anna and Emily how much I loved that pram. How I had never had a Silver Cross pram though I remember the one my mother had used for me and my sister. Bottle-green (I think) with a sun canopy and long fringe. In those day the baby was put out to sleep in the pram in the garden every day, whatever the weather; or that is how I remember it now.

We had everything we needed and we were ready for our fourth baby to be born.

One afternoon, early in June I was sitting in my sunny garden watching the world go by and enjoying the soporific tiredness that comes late pregnancy when I notice a figure walking up the orchard path pushing a pram.

We had bought an exceedingly plain house with a beautiful view. At the bottom of our garden we laid the hedge in the tradition way and made a gate onto the community orchard that had been planted there: plums, apple and pears. A whole brood of long-tailed tits roosted in the hawthorn and we listen to the curlew cry and watched the fox return from his daylight hunt each day.

The figure with the pram moved purposely along the path and I saw that it was Anna and she was pushing the majestic coach built Silver Cross, through the gate in the hedge and up the garden path. The acquaintance of ours was going abroad and was apparently glad to be rid of the pram. Anna had acquired it, just for me. I parked it in my garage and marvelled at its size and the kindness of a friend who remembered how much I liked a carriage built pram and brought it to me as a gift

Lucy was born on a Friday evening at home. My waters broke early, a whole day before, but the midwives had done everything they could to keep me at home. I spent the day in and out of the bath, watching my goldfish swimming in their bowl, listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The midwife called in every few hours to see how I was getting on. We talked together about the plants in my garden: the miniature hostas with white striped leaves and the blue geranium called Thomas Hogg.

Just before Lucy was born the midwife had to run out to the car for more gas and air. The milkman called for his money just after she had been delivered and promised to tell my friends the good news as he finished his rounds.

On the Sunday evening the sun was shining and I wrapped Lucy up in a cardigan and a bonnet, tying the satin ribbon under her chin. I tucked her into that pram with a blanket and a quilt and marched down the orchard to visit a friend. My tiny new baby was quite lost in the great chassis of that immense vehicle and bounced around like a pea, as the beautifully engineered springs of the Silver Cross suspension negotiated the pot holes and high curbs along the way. Several times I had to stop to tuck her in tightly and stop her from bouncing out. I visited Emily who had bought me a raspberry pink Fat Face satchel and it was the first time in all those baby years that someone bought a present just for me.

I remember clearly parking the pram in the front yard, taking the baby, walking up the steps and ringing the bell. A surprise visit, cries of how I shouldn’t have come and Iris and Rose wanting a hold.

For the rest of the weekend I lay on the red sofa with my new baby watching Glastonbury: Cold Play, White Stripe, Isaac Hayes and Ash.

Happy Birthday Lucy. And to my friends – I miss those days, thank you xxx

photo

photo

Elisabeth Elliot in quotes

elisabeth

Elisabeth Elliot 1926 – 2015

One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.

When someone dies and we feel sad it often helps to do something. If it isn’t a close friend or family, but some one we know from public life, we can re-read one of their books, watch a re-run of a movie they made, read the obituaries or pick up a biography of their lives to remind us of all the things that made that person special to us and the rest of the world.

Yesterday when I heard that Elisabeth Elliot had died I did something. I re-posted a piece I wrote for my blog two years ago. It was a review of a book that Elisabeth Elliot wrote in 1957 called, Through Gates of Splendour. It is a classic of the missionary biography genre, made all the more special because it was written shortly after the young Elisabeth Elliot, who had only been married for only three years, lost her husband. He, along with missionary colleagues, died on his first big venture into the Ecuadorian jungle where he had set all of his heart on working alongside the Quichua Indians.

But the piece I wrote was headed with a quote from Jim Elliot and not Elisabeth, and it has been on my mind all day that my re-posting suggests that Elisabeth was nothing more than her husband’s wife when in fact she was so much more.

Elisabeth Elliot went on to use her considerable gifts as a writer to encourage and guide her readers in the work of walking faithfully with Christ. Always totally honest about her own weakness and failings, she matched this passion with an equally uncompromising devotion to God that was infectious and inspiring.

The mission which she and her husband began came under significant anthropological criticism in the years that followed and certainly raise important questions about our attitudes to evangelising in cultures very different from our own. Many of her views on dating, marriage and being female have fallen out of fashion, but as I read the obituaries and other journalistic pieces that were filling the internet I was persuade once again that she has something important to say to our hungry hearts. In her writing I continue to recognise a desire to grapple with the same difficult questions that occupy me now as I seek to make my faith more thorough and honest. She writes from a deep trust in Jesus and in scripture that was forged in a life of surprising turns, trials and triumphs, and for that, I trust her and wanted to share some of the things that she said.

On the renewing of the mind
Spiritual strongholds begin with a thought. One thought becomes a consideration. A consideration develops into an attitude, which leads then to action. Action repeated becomes a habit, and a habit establishes a “power base for the enemy,” that is, a stronghold.

On letting the word of God do its work
The Word of God I think of as a straight edge, which shows up our own crookedness. We can’t really tell how crooked our thinking is until we line it up with the straight edge of Scripture.

On being female
The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman. 

On living with questions and uncertainty
Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.”

On hard things
To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss.

Through Gates of Splendour

photoI just read that Elizabeth Elliot died yesterday and decided to republish this old post.

There is no other missionary biography that shaped me quite like this. I guess she has now gone to be with Jesus and if she had remaining questions about the things that happened all those years ago she is now at peace.

From a piece original published in February 2013
I came to know God as a young teenager through the pages of missionary biographies: Corrie ten Boom, Brother Andrew, David Wilkinson, Jackie Pullinger, Amy Carmichael, Joni Eareckson Tada, Jim Elliot et al.

In those days RE lessons were scripture based: a story, a picture and some questions to be answered, in full sentences, with all the correct spelling punctuation and grammar. This did not inspire me but I was hungry to read and my dear old RE teacher, who taught in a tumble down ex-science lab, left copies of tracts and Christian paperbacks lying out on the benches at the sides of the room (I think this is now against the law!). We were free to borrow these and I devoured them. I fed myself on tales of courage and devotion, eagerly reading these stories of ordinary men and women with extraordinary calling on their lives. I followed them on their journeys to far off lands, their kindness and generosity to the poor felt like kindnesses to me. I loved the miracles, the healings and the answered prayers. I began to believe as I read. I loved that they found faith in the smallest victories and in the dark dark times too. I had not known that God could speak to men and women in visions and dreams or in plain ordinary ways to bring them hope or show them something that was true and good.

I keep a shelf now, of missionary tales, and encourage my children to read . The story of Jim Elliot remains one of our favourites.

Wherever your missional theology lies, you can not fail to be inspired by the single minded love of God that compelled the 25 year old Elliot to leave the comforts of home, church and family on a mission to reach one of the most impenetrable groups of tribal people in the jungles of South America. Missionary history will never forget the story of Elliot and his team, savagely killed by a remote tribe of Ecuadorian Indians as they attempted to reach out to them with the love of God.

I would like to share this video. In it Elisabeth Eliott and the other widows recall their reactions to the terrible events and how they grew to reconcile what had happened with their belief in a loving God who had good purposes and plans for their lives

The other side of life’s hard things

knit1

I started some new knitting this afternoon. The house was quiet and I sat at the kitchen table with my needles and pattern. I have some cobweb fine yarn in a shade of light grey. I’m making a shawl and learning to knit lace.

The knitting did not go well. I had to undo and start again seven or eight times. I used to cry about my knitting but not anymore. I’ve learnt that it’s worth it; the dropped stitches and the unravelling, it’s a necessary part of getting where you want to be, this picking yourself up and trying again.

But in life (rather than in knitting) what is it that allows us to persevere when things are hard and not end up burned out and defeated? What is it that gives us a healthy energy to carry on rather than an overwhelming sense of defeat?

Gone are the days when I believed that for a thing to be good it must be hard. At one time I was never happy or satisfied with what I did or who I was. At home and at work I was hyper-critical of my efforts and always trying to improve. In spiritual things I would push myself to pray a little longer, memorise more scripture, fast more earnestly, serve longer more inconvenient hours. I did it all without joy because it came from a sense that I always needed to do better. Life became one long self improvement plan. Resentment grew. It was a miserable way to live.

At one time we had a phrase in our house, “if it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t work’. We used it to talk about disciplining the kids. We used to say that for the punishment to change them it had to cause them some pain. Turns out that was not entirely true. Several years into parenting we found we got the best out of our kids not through punishment but through loving kindness and positive affirmation.

After all, it was the kindness of God that led us to repentance and not his punishing anger.

I changed my relationship to difficult things when God changed my relationship to Him. I went from feeling subject to His disapproval, always looking to improve myself and justify my existence, to understanding the overwhelming unconditionality of His love for me. It is the singular most important thing that has happened to me and it didn’t happen the moment I became a Christian. It took much longer for me to see that if I never did another good thing as long as I lived God would still love me just the same. So now I know that a challenge is not a test that I pass or fail, it is not there to test me, trick me or catch me out. A challenge is something different and I’m usually happy to say yes to it because I know I can’t really fail.

If you were raised on the tricky idea that God sends hard things into your life to teach you something good, you may have started to believe that hard things is the only teaching tool in His kit. It’s a miserable way to live, constantly under the fear of punishment and failure, destined to live the rest of your life facing a long list of trials that you will almost certainly fail to be successful in.

It would seem that God does want us to be happy. Changing your focus and allowing your focus to be changed, from a punishment perspective to a love perspective will give you a new attitude to challenge and allow you to access some the good things that lie on the other side of the hard things in life.

knit4

knit3

Something lovely for the weekend (12.6.15)

IMG_5070

What are your plans for the weekend?

I plan do do something lovely!

I might get the sewing machine out in the morning. I picked up some vintage Laura Ashley curtains in a charity shop and after I’ve altered them to fit my kitchen window I think there will be fabric left to make something pretty for myself, like a bag or a skirt. I might do something in the garden, we have plans for an ambitious bug house from scavenged materials and I still have an empty planter to fill. If the sun comes out I might take a walk because this is a great week for enjoying all the shades of green that early summer has to offer. I might get on with some of my writing projects, I’m hoping to make a announcement about what I’m up to quite soon now.

The weekend really does calls for something memorable, or creative or beautiful, don’t you think? I definitely think we will be finding some time over the weekend to make muffins.

Last weekend Lucy made muffins with raspberries and white chocolate chips and mid week Peter made muffins with dried cranberries and almonds. They are very talented children but of course they have a great recipe. I’m sharing the muffin recipe on the blog today. I have shared it before but I’m totally unashamed of the duplication.

The recipe below is for cranberry and almond muffins but the recipe can easily be adapted to take other fruit, nuts and chocolate as you see fit. It really is a very easy, never-fails-me gem of a recipe that I devised after many years of experimenting with a million recipes from both sides of the Atlantic.

Send me a photo if you bake this weekend!

photo

Cranberry and Almond Muffins

Ingredients

9oz/250g SR flour

4-5oz/100-150g castor sugar

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

2oz/50g dried cranberries

1/2 teaspoon of almond essence (optional)

4-5fl oz/100-150ml milk or butter milk

3oz/75g melted butter

2 eggs

2oz/50g flaked almonds

  1. Preheat the oven, 160 or gas mark 3
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients, apart from the flaked almonds, in a bowl
  3. Lightly beat the eggs then, combine all the wet ingredients in a second bowl
  4. Combine the dry and the wet ingredients, being careful not to mix them too thoroughly
  5. Divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases in a muffin pan
  6. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with flaked almonds
  7. Bake until the muffins are well risen and lightly browned, 20-25 minutes
  8. Cool on a wire tray

Why not check out my inspirational board of Home baking on Pinterest, or check out some of my other posts about muffins.

Muffins

Choc-chip banana muffins

Snickers muffins

Infoxication (no, that’s not a typo!)

jamjarflower

In a bid to quiet the noise in my head I’m reviewing my online activity and trying to carve out plenty of time to enjoy being un-plugged me. For example, I have stopped turning my phone on when I wake up. I have a book by my bed that is chosen just because it is beautiful (currently, Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son). I read and sip my tea before beginning any online activity. I’m trying not to use my phone or go online until mid morning at the earliest.

Advertising, emails, social media, Pinterest perfect aspirations, and a big pile of books, there’s always a surplus of demands as well as far too many really brilliant blogs to read!

Information overload or infoxication is the problem of making meaningful choices in the midst of too much information. In the 1980s it was simply, so many books and too little time, but with the advent of the internet the pool of available information got much, much bigger. There’s a deep anxiety at the heart of our aimless clicking. An anxiety that somewhere on the internet is hidden the answers to our most profound questions, the secrets of meaningful relationships, the keys to happiness or a fast track to success and power. We want to be the first to find it, save it, share it and blog about it.

The writer of Ecclesiastes lamented the ultimate emptiness of book learning when he said,

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Ecclesiastes 12.12

Many centuries later the 18th century philosopher Diderot wrote a surprisingly similar thing,

As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.

Imagine an age when the number of written texts was small enough for an educated man to master them within his life time? How can we begin to negotiate the amount of information available today and the ever increasing ways of accessing it?

This doesn’t mean I’m about to give up reading! On the contrary I plan to share more book reviews and reading suggestions on my blog for the summer, just for fun. But I have however decided to take the advice of one of my favourite blog writers Emily Freeman and slim down the number of blogs and online articles I read. Emily writes at Chatting at the Sky where she successfully helps hassled people like me find a little space for the soul to breathe. Her soul breathing suggestion is a list of ten favourite blogs and some kind of weekly discipline that organises the reading around other less frantic activities and rest.

I like to think that my choice of 10 blogs reflects the best of what I do on the internet and the type of information I enjoy: some devotional reading, some social justice, a little well considered theological controversy, something bookish and intellectual, something domestic and mumsie and some pretty pictures, all from people who I find to be passionate, honest and insightful.

This is what I’m reading:

Sarah Bessey

Esther Emery

Emily Freeman

Rachel Held Evans

Ginny Sheller

Ann Voskamp

Brain Pickings

Momastery

Bored Panda

The Modern Mrs Darcy

Let me know which blogs you read regularly and how you organise your online time.