“She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble…”
That’s how Captain Crewe describes his 7-year-old daughter Sara’s love for reading in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess. And like Sara Crewe, my own girls always seem to be gobbling up books and starving for new ones.
Hunting down a steady supply of wholesome, captivating books to feed their souls, encourage their hearts, and inspire their imaginations can be quite a daunting task. I want my girls to read and think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, just as Philippians 4:8 instructs.
Specifically, I have felt God leading me to entire series of books written by trustworthy authors – some who lived a century ago and a select few from recent decades. Finding an entire series of books is a treasure! It helps satisfy my bookworms much longer than when I offer them a stand-alone novel. In addition, finding older books usually helps us steer clear of the objectionable worldviews that often characterize some recently published works.
Sometimes in hunting for book series, I realize that a well-known, classic book has a sequel or is part of a series. For instance, Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is one of four in a series, and Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time is part of a series of five books. Who knew?
More often, though, God leads me to an older, less popular series that tells the enchanting stories of lovable characters who demonstrate commendable virtues like perseverance, kindness, gratitude, creativity, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness.
For example, one of the older book series that we treasure is the All-of-a-Kind Family series written by Sydney Taylor in the 1950s. This delightful series relays the holidays and surprises shared by five Jewish sisters growing up in New York City in the early 1900s. The girls are genuinely kind to their family and to their neighbors, and they persevere through several challenges together. Reading this series has given my children a meaningful connection to people of the Jewish faith and their traditions. For instance, when we recently met and became friends with a Jewish-Christian family at our church, my kids were delighted to participate in the last night of their Hanukkah celebration. And then while we were out shopping a few days later, the kids found a Menorah on a clearance shelf, and so now we have added it to our Christmas decorating and have our own little way to honor the Jewish holiday.
Also based in the early 1900s, the Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart Lovelace features best friends Betsy and Tacy and their whimsical childhood excursions in Deep Valley. Their devotion to each other and their creativity in playing together make these stories sweet and memorable. These were first published in the 1940s, and they are based on true stories from the lives of two life-long friends. Reading the Betsy-Tacy series has inspired some of fun activities with my children and their friends, such as pouring layers of colored sand into old bottles, cutting up magazine advertisements to make paper dolls, and sharing a treat of hot chocolate and donuts. Because the books are based on the real town of Mankato, Minnesota, which is about an hour from where my family lives, reading these books has brought to our attention a few wildflowers, like Dutchman’s breeches and hepatica, that we now found in our own yard in early spring. Whenever we hear the city of Milwaukee mentioned, we cannot help but remember it through Betsy’s innocent eyes and giggle about how she imagined it as a faraway and exotic city with robed people riding on camels.
Another excellent series published in the 1940s, the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright introduces readers to the four Melendy children and their lively adventures while residing in the city and in the country. The siblings endure change, hardship and occasional disputes with one another as they grow in perseverance, forgiveness, and patience. Elizabeth Enright also wrote Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away, in which three brave cousins discover an abandoned lakeside resort and courageously make new friends. The Gone-Away books have forever added to our family culture by introducing the concepts of eating a “practice breakfast” and a “second breakfast.”
Of course, not all of our favorite book series are old. One newer but lesser known fiction series my girls cherish is the Sarah, Plain and Tall series by Patricia MacLachlan. It includes five books about a mid-western farm family in the 19th century. Like the Ingalls, they carry on through the trials of farm life and adjust to family changes with love, forgiveness, patience and selflessness. Reading this series has made my youngest daughter daydream about visiting the state of Maine. Although we have not yet visited The Pine Tree State, we have enjoyed watching the television mini-series based on these books.
The newer collections that my oldest daughter read over and over as a pre-teen are those written by Lois Walfrid Johnson. Her faith-based historical fiction work includes the Freedom Seeker series, which is set in the 1850s along the Mississippi River and features the daughter of a steamboat captain. Set in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the early 1900s, her Adventures of the Northwoods series portrays the life of a 12-year-old who becomes part of a new family. And in her Viking Quest series, a young girl named Bree is captured by Viking raiders and taken from her home in Ireland. I had the great joy of meeting Mrs. Johnson at a homeschool conference a few years ago, and I told her that my then 12-year-old daughter had already gobbled up all of her books – most of them twice – and was eagerly awaiting her next series. Mrs. Johnson gently told me to tell her, “I’m sorry I can’t write books as fast as you can read them!” We look forward to her next series.