Summer Reading List

summerread

Something long, something poetry, something non-fiction, something recent, something faith building and something classic; this is how I’ve put together my summer reading list.

Long
David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks
Summer holidays and Christmas are a signal to reach for the tome. Relaxing on the beach or in the garden, car journeys, train journeys and long afternoons without term time responsibilities, this is a great way to eek out all the joys and slow the holidays down. Anything in excess of 500 pages will do the job and Ann Bogel, my favourite book blogger has written and recommended on this subject.
I’m not being too ambitious and have chosen a modest 624 pages. David Mitchell’s latest novel spans sixty years, from the early eighties of the previous century into the future decades of the next. Tracing the story of Holly Sykes and her troublesome psychic powers, the story moves between this world and another, masterfully combining genres and confusing expectations as only Mitchell can. Mixed reviews for this book, but fans will be delighted to find that several characters from previous Mitchell novels make an appearance.

Poetry
Alfred Habegger, My Wars are Laid Away in Books
I often use anthologies to help me chose poems but have decided to make a more serious study of one of my favourite poets. I have bought a biography of Emily Dickinson as a companion to the collected works.

Non-fiction
Robert Mcfarlane, The Old Ways
Andy recommended this to me as the best book he has read in quite sometime. The Old Ways is the narrative of a walker travelling our ancient by-ways, seeking to explain how the landscape has informed our imaginations over hundreds of years.

Recent
Antony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
So many readers are recommending this world war two story of a blind girl and the father who builds her a model of Paris so she can remember the city.

Faith
Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions
I’m saving a little space for making a purchase or two from the Greenbelt books store but I do have two books by Karen Swallow Prior on the list, an author who has been on my must read pile for quite some time. Fierce Convictions is the biographical tale of Hannah More, eighteenth century abolitionist and social reformer. I also hope to dip into, Booked which promises to explain to me those powerful places where literature and faith collide.

Checkout this piece by Prior for Ann Voskamp’s blog. It inspired me to buy the book.

Classics
In addition to this I have a kindle full to the brim with Antony Trollope and Christian classics, for the trips when I’m travelling light.

Other reading lists

Faith based reads – The (in)courage book club

A great list I could easily adopt as my own from my blogging friend Heather

Ann Bogel’s excellent guide (a woman totally committed to understanding what we like to read)

The Guardian – various summer reading lists

New York Times – summer reading ideas

What are you reading this summer? And where do you go for book reviews and recommendations?

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Top Ten Books for Boys

The summer holidays are almost upon us and there are plans to be made. The library is of course one of summer’s most abundant resources. You may want to approach those endless shelves with something of a list, to help narrow down the ever multiplying choice. If you are looking for reading for your children or something for yourself to remind you of those long summers of childhood, I have added some reading for boys to my previous post on reading for girls. 

All of the books are classics and by that I mean that they are older than me and well known amongst librarians, books sellers and bibliophiles across the English speaking world as an important part of every reading child’s experience.

The gender distinction is very loose. I think my boys are familiar with most of the fiction on the list for girls and Lucy is familiar with most of the fiction on the list for boys. The distinction matters more for some readers than others. Whatever your reading habits, gendering books is extremely problematic but often a helpful starting point.

Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
Four children embark on a summer holiday island adventure only to find their plans thwarted by the ‘pirates’ Nancy and Peggy, who accuse them of trespass. Set in the English Lakes this book has all the ingredients of a very successful children story: a long summer holiday ready to be filled, all the adults out of the way, an island, boats, camping, mild mystery and a strong sense of the joys of the great outdoors.

John Meade Faulkner, Moonfleet
A seafaring adventure in the tradition of Treasure Island, more smuggling than piracy, Moonfleet is the story of 15 year old John Trenchard who discovers a secret passage and the promise of finding a valuable diamond. John soon finds himself entangled in a smuggling ring but all the promise of riches and wealth are not what they at first seemed.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
When Bill Bones arrives at the Admiral Benbow Inn, Jim Hawkins has no idea of the adventure that is about to begin. Pirate treasure, mutiny and some of the finest characters ever written in children’s fiction, including Ben Gunn and Long John Silver. We enjoyed this many times over on audiobook and I also noticed you can purchase a Kindle version of this book this for free.

Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows
Ratty, Badger, Mole and Mr Toad! Is there anything as English as this tale from the riverside? My first port of call for beautiful character pieces and carefully observed description of the natural history of the English countryside. Most people are familiar with stage and TV version, but the book is more than worth a read. Perfect on a summers day, lying on a rug amongst the buttercups watching the clouds go by.

Erich Kastner, Emil and the Detectives
Short and very easy to read which are two important features of a book for reluctant boy readers. Emil is sent on his first train journey alone with strict instruction from his mother to keep his money safe. When the money is stolen Emil and his Berlin friends become the detectives of the book title, in their adventures to retrieve the money.

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I think it is a wonderful thing that readers of a young age can get to experience something by a writer as brilliant as Mark Twain. Something of a challenge for readers used to more accessible children’s fiction, the language and some of the structuring of the story is a little difficult.  You may want to try an audio book; look for one with good accents! if you are not familiar with the plot, Huckleberry Finn runs away from a violent father and finds himself involved with a run away slave. A great abolitionist story and an excellent introduction to slavery and race issues. You will find a free version of this book for Kindle.

Ian Serraillier, The Silver Sword
A traumatic story of war torn Europe told with compassion and sensitivity. I teach a little history these days and I find that kids love stories of how other kids survived the war. I think this classic from my childhood has fallen a little out of favour but it is an incredible tale of war refugees who escape the turmoil of Poland on a journey across Europe in search of their parents.

Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
In this wonderful fictionalised historical setting England is Ruled by King James and over run with wolves. The children of this story are entrusted to a governess who is not what she seems. Will Bonnie and Sylvia escape her evil clutches and unravel the mysteries of the criminal underworld she is dragging them into? I lost myself to the magic of this story as a child and I still find the same charms between its pages today.

Lucy M. Boston, The Children of Green Knowe
Tolly is quite at home with the magic of his Grandmother’s ancient home. He loves to hear the tales of his own ancestors and family histories and is barely surprised at all to find himself making friends with the children who lived there many centuries past. This is very beautiful story telling where magic and reality merge as naturally as the pieces of this unusual ghost story flow together seamlessly. A real winner with many sequels.

Clive King, Stig of the Dump
Barney strays too close to the edge of the disused gravel pit and tumbles into the home of a Neolithic survivor, Stig ,who has created for himself an enterprising life out of the waste that other people dump in the disused pit. A classic from the 70’s that needs resurrecting.

Philippa Pearce, A Dog so Small
This is a story written for any child who really wants a dog. Ben the hero of the story is disappointed when for his birthday he receives a picture of a dog rather than a real pet. But he is not to be defeated and with a little help from a powerful imagination his adventures as a serious dog owner begin. I came to this book as an adult, a recommendation from a writer friend whose judgement I trust, and I was not disappointed. A lovely short read for reluctant readers or read aloud parents who are tired at the end of the day.

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You may also be interested in, Top Ten Books for Girls

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

One stitch closer

stripesock

There have beens some challenges lately, I won’t pretend otherwise. Challenges of the heart and soul and a little unravelling of the fabric of expectations and aspirations in our family life. In it all, by God’s good grace, I’ve seen a sure and certain way ahead so I just keep travelling forwards, wrapping the yarn, slipping the loop and moving one stitch closer to the end of the row. I’m knitting through this tough place just as hard as I can.

On Saturday morning Lucy and I made eggy bread which we ate at the kitchen table. We sprinkled it with brown sugar and declared it better than bacon. I made a pot of coffee and took a cup upstairs for Andy.  I sat at the end of the bed knitting whilst he drank his coffee and he said he used to think it was nice for me to have a hobby but now he can see that knitting is much more than this.

On Sunday I broke my favourite bamboo knitting needle. Moving up the sofa, towards the window for more light. Work still in hand, I leant on the needle, the full pressure of my weight and heard the wooden fibre snap. In the kitchen we smoothed out the wound and wrapped it in a slither of sticky tape, smoothing out the rough parts with warm fingers and great care.

So now I’m knitting loose with a lot more slack in my yarn to help the stitches move smoothly over the rough place where the needle broke.

I’m writing this piece to share on Ginny Sheller’s Yarn On, a place where each Wednesday we are invited to share what we are knitting and what we are reading. I finished the wide stripe socks and I’m now knitting a similar sock in a blue space dyed yarn.

yarn

book

I bought Anne Tyler’s, The Beginner’s Goodbye on Saturday and finished it on Monday. Anne Tyler creates extremely human, flawed characters who instead of following the usual tragic routes find unexpected grace and transformation in the everyday circumstances of messy human relationships, loss, failure and discontent. In The Beginner’s Goodbye, Aaron is suddenly widowed and as he moves through the process of grief he comes face to face with the flawed nature of his past marriage through a series of unexpected meetings with his now dead wife. The story has a warm Tyler-esque ending full of hope and an unexpected love match.

You can join Ginny’s “Yarn Along” every Wednesday on her blog.

The Yarn Along began in early Fall 2010 as a way to share knitting projects and good reads; motivating ourselves, and inspiring each other.  Every week knitters, and a few crocheters as well, link up and share a photo (or two) of what they are knitting and what they are reading.  Knowing that Yarn Along Wednesday is coming up is a great way to stay motivated to finish those projects!  And I, for one, am always on the lookout for a great book recommendation as well.

The Man Who Gave Too Much – a trip to the gallery and a book review

A review of Anita Mathias’ children’s book, Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much

I seem to have taken a little writing break without even planning it. All across the internet big time bloggers are burned out and announcing dramatic online sabbaticals and somewhere along the way I just petered out …

On Wednesday Anita Matthias published, How can a Christian Blogger keep Fresh and Green Without Burnout?  and I remembered my unfinished blogging project: a review of her newest children’s book, all partly written, in fragments, unfinished.

On Saturday I took myself off to the museum. Up the stairs and across the landing, marching myself through four centuries of beautiful art, hardly looking up at the walls, because I wanted to be in the room with the moss green walls, sitting on the little bench in front of the copy of the Mona Lisa, with my note book and pen. I wanted to be amongst the fragments of rescued altar screens and the panels from triptychs and diptychs painted in red and green and gold. I wanted to study the skin tone of the cherub faces and the folds in the skirts of the weeping mother of Christ. I wanted to consider the  stature of the men who took the Christ form the cross and held his ragged body in their disappointed arms and to see the marks on the surface of the painting where the brush of the artist had once been.

angel

So there I sat with the room all to myself, for quite some time, thinking, resting and writing … until the Saturday afternoon children’s art class arrived, with their noisy clip boards and enthusiastic teacher.

Though I am committed to the idea of children in galleries, I quickly escaped to the adjacent room, Late Renaissance Italy, which is where I saw something I have never noticed before, a marble and pietre dure table, similar I guess, to one of the pieces described in Anita’s story, the one I have intend to review. Pietre dure is an inlay technique created using highly polished coloured stones to create images and patterns. The stone is sliced thinly and cut into intricate shapes that fit together like a jig-saw puzzle. Anita’s story is illustrated with fine photos of the most exquisite work; precious stone, laid like wooden pieces in a marquetry picture, birds and flowers, scrolls, fruit, and carefully arranged tessellating shapes. Though the Liverpool Walker’s example is beautiful it is nothing compared to the examples that Anita has chosen for the book: such fine colours laid against shining black marble, I notice how the natural grain of the stone is married to the shadow and contours of a fruit or the wing of a bird, the stems of the flowers are impossibly fine and the veins in the wings of a butterfly executed with a precision and symmetry that seem impossible.

table2

table

And this is how I come to finally pull together the pieces of this book review.  Exiled to the Late Renaissance room of the Walker gallery on a rainy Saturday afternoon I sat myself beside the pietre dure table and made myself a new set of notes. I am reminded of all the times I have sat in the museum with my notebook and spun a story of an artist or the people and places he had painted. A non-fiction of my own. A retelling of the story behind the artistry that helps me understand the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ of a piece of art or an artefact. I scroll back through the photos on my phone where their are murals from the ancient worlds, armour from the Orient, Anglo-Saxon jewels, tapestries and African masks. These are good starting points for stories.

Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much, is a brave children’s book: brave in subject and brave in human sentiment and spirituality. The starting point for this story is a sixteenth century artist who work in pietre dure. In a culture where almost all the most popular children’s fiction occupies a relatively small range of possible worlds, Anita has ventured into a rare time and place, a foreign cities, lost treasures and the exceptional yet ordinary people who made them. Not content to stop there she ventures into the emotional tensions of an artist’s life: an artist who must believe in himself and his gifting even when he receives no recognition or reward for his work.

stonewallpaper

stonebirdsFrancesco is a artist who loves his work, bestowing upon it an almost sacred significance, creating flowers that will never fade and birds that will never die. With every selection of stone, the colours and the grain, its sympathy to the final picture, he is creating beauty that will never die, and “painting for eternity”.  Yet Francesco is troubled, a victim of the astute bargaining skills of his customers and his over ambitious ideal that every eager customer should own something of beauty for their own home.  He is not a business man. Francesco must live with the pressure of his failure to make enough money and the wrath of his disappointed wife who constantly reminds him he has not provided for the family as he should. In church, under the gaze of Masaccio’s La Trinita, Francesco brings his weaknesses and failures to God. He must forgive the friends and associates who have taken advantage of his kindly nature and robbed him of the reward that is due for the art, but most of all he must forgive himself. He must show himself mercy, he has not fulfilled responsibilities for the un-paid bills and the much needed savings. Towards the end of the story  he says to himself, (or maybe to his God),

“I look forward to the latter day of eternal beauty, which shall be for all creation.

I look forwards to the day of eternal lowers, and the everlasting bouquet when the hard nosed shall sit with the soft hearted, when it will be safe for the lamb to be gentle as he sits down with the lion, for the lion will now be gentle too.”

francesco

 

24-Anita

 

Anita sent me a free copy of the book for me to review. You can buy an ebook or  a hard copy of Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much at amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Anita Mathias blogs at anitamathias.com

You can read Anita’s own review and presentation of the book here on her website

The pietre dure table I found was in the Walker Gallery Liverpool.

If you are a teacher or interested in sharing the themes of the story with your own children, I can recommend this review from Adrianna at Classical Quest. It includes informative  links and great craft ideas. Don’t miss the video from the V and A that shows a pietre dure artist at work.

The book would make a great present for primary age children who are familiar with museums and galleries and it would be a great illustrated read for older independent readers.